Recently I moved back to my hometown. Back to the place where my parents are buried and the most painful parts of my life came to pass.
It was easier to hide from and avoid the details when I was 1,000 miles away… not always driving past the cemetery or over the train tracks where it all went down.
Yet, all of these little moments of remembering haven’t messed with me as much as this one:
I was sitting at my desk, at the office where I work a few days a week right now and someone stopped in who I haven’t seen for years, someone from my parents church.
We chatted about this and that and as he was leaving he said:
“Hey! Tell your folks I said hi!”
Inwardly I panicked. Boy was he out of the loop, I thought everyone in town knew our story.
Should I fill him in or just let it go? He knew them, he deserved to know.
So I did what I have to do sometimes and laid it all out at once, the breakdown of what’s up with my family.
“I have a sister, but she was in a tragic accident and lives in a group home and my Dad died of a massive heart attack and then my mom took her life. So I have a brother, but he joined the army and lives in Kansas for now.”
Typically when I have to do this I am absolutely fine and it doesn’t phase me. After all, nothing about my life changes in that moment.
But in that moment, remembering who we all were way back then and then explaining how it ended, It undid me. And when he left I hid in the storage room and cried.
It was awkward and painful.
Grief is awkward.
Usually the moment I explain my backstory is no big deal and it doesn’t hurt … much. In fact, usually I end up feeling worse for the person on the other end of my story and find myself trying to make them feel better about it all.
This is always my least favorite moment of “getting to know you.“
Grief is awkward.
Sometime this is because you find yourself suddenly hurting, stinging from an unexpected, painful memory… in public.
Maybe a song comes on in church and you crumple to the pew and burry your head in your hands, or you see something while you’re out and about that brings everything crashing down on you.
The people around you see this and don’t know whether to intervene or let you have your moment. They may wonder what’s going on, they may speculate or they may grab you a tissue… even if it’s tender and sweet… it may feel a little awkward.
This is because you suddenly have to “go there” with someone you may not be ready to “go there” with.
But this is life, and life is awkward. It’s a big jumble of experiences we weren’t expecting and feelings that arrest and overwhelm us at the most inopportune moments.
Since it’s bound to get awkward… here is a list (that I’ve developed from years of awkward moments) that may help you.
1) Breathe. If you stop you will pass out and that’s super awkward.
2) Gain perspective, everyone has experienced pain and can likely identify with what’s going on. You’re not the first person on the planet to hurt.
3) Drop your shame, you have no reason for it, healing takes vulnerability and it’s not always pretty. Shame is just going to lengthen the process.
4) Remember that we were created for relationship and that this forced, accidental group therapy may very well turn into something lovely, if you let it.
5) When you say the wrong thing (like: “your mom” to someone who doesn’t have one or “do you have kids?” to someone who is infertile) apologize but move on in grace. What you’ve just learned isn’t new information to the person you’re chatting with they’re probably okay… so you can be too.
Overall remember that life is just messy and uncomfortable. You will fall apart sometimes, and it will usually be in public. I think this is because God’s trying to teach us to be real…. although it’s not my favorite method of his.
The more we all admit this messy awkwardness and stop pretending that grief and pain are quick and easy, the less awkward moments we will actually have.
And we will create authenticity…
And generally feel less alone in the pain of it all.
And that my friends is a very, very good thing.