When you lose a loved one to death, you quickly recognize that a great number of people sympathize, even empathize (vicariously experience) with your loss. Close friends and family grieve with you because they lost a friend, a brother, a parent or grandchild too. Some simply grieve for you because they love you but were not personally connected to the one who died. But very few people actually grieve in like manner with you. Even parents experience grief in unique ways. Men often process their sorrow and loss far differently than women do.
I have been blessed by numerous friends and family who have grieved both with me and for me, but none grieved as I. No one grieved as “the mother” with the obliterated heart. None but one. None but one. And I count that one woman as one of my greatest blessings in the midst of all this heartache.
Her name is Teresa and I never would have guessed just what she would come to mean to me. (Pictured left, Teresa and her husband, Jakob).
Frankly, I didn’t know Teresa well when my daughters died. I knew who she was, we’d spoken briefly, she is the mother of the young man my oldest daughter had been dating for two and a half years.
Teresa, her sister and her son, Alex, stepped in and met practical needs for us following the accident that took Bethany and Katie’s lives. David and I were tied up at the hospital – not wanting to leave the side of our surviving daughter. Teresa and Alex took on the arduous task of purchasing burial garb for both girls. I never saw what they choose but was told Alex had insisted on a scarf in Bethany’s favorite color, pink. They also retrieved all Bethany’s worldly goods from her campus apartment and delivered them to our home. But none of those things explains why Teresa is so special to me.
At the time of Bethany’s death, Teresa and her family were living in Sweden. The family moved back to the states approximately six months after the funeral. Her family met us for lunch shortly after their move. I had no idea what to expect and I was a bit nervous. They had been so kind, so generous. Their daughter Emma had written and performed a beautiful song for which her father, Jakob, created a photo montage (Bethany’s Song). Emma also painted a treasured picture of Bethany that hangs in our living room. But in spite of all that, I didn’t know them well but I was aware that they didn’t share the faith that had become so interwoven into my very being. I was afraid my faith would be offensive to them and maybe even afraid that they could find the chink in my spiritual armor and open Pandora’s box in the midst of my suffering. I knew I was vulnerable.
It was at that lunch in an extremely crowded Freddie’s that I discover the blessing that is Teresa. She is God’s gift to me from an entirely selfish perspective. Let me say that Teresa is a wonderful woman in an absolutely average way; the way most women are. They work jobs, raise children, care for their homes and support their husbands. They don’t live in the spotlight but they are the glue, the strength and the heart of their homes. They are good friends, and contribute to their communities, largely behind the scenes. They are the heart and soul of this world far more than any politician, famous actor, musician or celebrity. Teresa is just such a woman – the world is filled with such talented, everyday but far from average women who make a difference in their small corner of the world. But what makes Teresa so special to me had little to do with any of those things either.
What I discovered about Teresa in that crowded fast food restaurant, what makes her so special to me, what sets her apart as a gift that could have only come from God is only one thing. Teresa loved Bethany with a mother’s heart. Not like a mother, but as if she had adopted Bethany as her own child. Teresa expressed grief that day that mirrored my own. I have not encountered one other person whose feelings and grief over Bethany’s or Katie’s deaths so closely reflected my own.
In the months that followed, Teresa and I got together many times. Over and over she expressed feelings so very similar to mine. The last time we got together, I told her that I find myself embarrassed because people always ask me how Gracen is doing. They always tell me that they are praying for her. And while I am so thankful for that, there is this quiet voice within that wonders if no one cares about how I’m doing, that wonders if anyone is praying for me. I feel selfish. And I feel as if everyone expects me, or David and I, to be finished grieving – to be moving forward.
Teresa confided in me that day that her friends and family also ask how her son is doing; not how she is doing. She too feels as if people expect her to be beyond her grief. What she’s really communicating is that others knew and expected Alex to grieve deeply, but didn’t expect Teresa to grieve as deeply as her son. They understood Alex’s close relationship with Bethany – his grief was expected, but they didn’t realize the depth of the relationship Teresa had developed with Bethany as well. Her grief was unexpected because her love for Bethany was outside the norm of parent relationships with their children’s girlfriends or boyfriends.
In part, Teresa is a treasure because she validates the progression (or lack thereof) of my grief journey. She makes me feel normal in the midst of my personal nightmare. But most of all Teresa is a blessing because her grief is mine. She loved my daughter to such a degree that her heart is as broken as mine.
Bethany was a fortunate beneficiary of Teresa’s love in life and I’ve been the beneficiary of her grief. I’ve benefited by the knowledge of how deeply Teresa loved my girl – I’ve benefited by the gift of someone to share the depths of my loss – to know I’m not alone in my deepest sorrow. I’ve benefited by the friendship she’s bestowed upon me.
While I would never wish my pain and sorrow on another, I can’t begin to describe the ways in which Teresa’s grief has been a consolation for me. There are so many ways in which words meant to comfort unintentionally diminish the value of the loved one lost. Teresa, added value to Bethany’s life and memory. That is why Teresa is such a special blessing to my aching heart.
Thank you, Teresa, for loving my girl and for freely sharing your grief with me.