Things You Learn Going to Church

18 Mar

This post has been a long time in the making, but it took awhile to distill my thoughts and longer still to find the time and energy to write it.

Walking to work one morning in February after missing the bus I was thinking about a family I know who lost their two year old daughter. Anna was killed by a distracted driver when they rear-ended a car that had stopped for Anna, her mom, and siblings to cross the street. This happened at the end of September, just two weeks after we all celebrated Anna’s aunt’s wedding. Five months later I found myself wondering how the family’s need for support had changed as time passed and they moved through the stages of grief. Not to mention court proceedings had recently started to determine how, if at all the distracted driver, a minor would be charged.

A memory came to me about one day in October when the kids’ aunt, uncle, and I were over after we took them to the pumpkin patch. At that point in time members from their church were bringing the family dinner most nights. We were there when a woman from the church showed up with that night’s dinner. She was so cheerful and seemed so at ease as she exchanged a few pleasantries, dropped dinner off and then left us to continue on as we were.

As I walked to work I found myself in awe of this woman and the other people I encountered at Anna’s vigil and funeral service. There was a reception, I guess you could call it, after her funeral and there were so many church ladies there taking care of the refreshments, which I learned were also provided by members of the church. Later I learned about all of the other ways the church family stepped up to support Anna’s family. I thought also about all of the children I saw at the services. Maybe part of that reason was because of the ages of Anna and her siblings but it seemed that many families were in attendance because they were part of the same church family.

Anna's flower girl dress from her aunts wedding.

Anna's flower girl dress from the wedding. This picture was like a punch to the gut when I saw it. Photo credit Tyler Mitchell Photography.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been a part of a church family, why is not important to this entry. As these memories came back to me I started to wonder what it would be like to grow up as part of a church like this. To grow up being exposed to loss and sadness in more abstract ways, like going to a funeral of someone you may not really know, or witnessing your parents do acts of caring and support for people you may not know well. Would it then make it easier to support people you care about through a loss?

I feel like I’ve been to too many unexpected funerals in my early 20’s. Not that there’s ever an appropriate time or number in your life for funerals, but as you move through life and people you know age, it becomes a little more likely that someone you know will die. I don’t think I’m at that point in my life and each time it happens I feel incapacitated with sadness and hurt. I want so bad to know how to comfort the people I care about but always find myself at a loss about what to do. The one thing I have learned is how not to be a stressor in my desire to comfort, how to take cues from those in need. I’ve also learned that comfort and support is needed long after the funeral. It never feels like enough.

In less than two months I’m moving to a country where any one over 16 years of age has lived through extreme violence. Where the majority of people have tragically lost a relative, if not entire families. Where people die before making it to old age more frequently and of causes that are preventable here in the US. As part of my training I will visit genocide memorials as well as live and work with people who have experienced tremendous loss and trauma. My challenge is to find the grace and strength in order to live through this experience and find the balance between suppressing my feelings of sadness and letting it take over entirely. Leaving me unable to do anything.

I look to Anna’s family as an example of strength and grace in the face of loss. Anna’s mom has taken on a new mission, not out of anger or a desire to see justice served, but so no other family will lose a loved one because of distracted driving. She has met with Legislators and testified before the Senate in support of a vulnerable user’s bill in Washington state. Anna’s mom and aunts have started a memorial foundation to raise awareness and prevent distracted driving. Visit the website or Facebook page to find out how you can get involved.

Remember Anna keep your eyes on the road.


3 Responses to “Things You Learn Going to Church”

  1. Auntie K March 20, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I think each person grieves and processes so differently that it is hard to know how to help. Where they are in the grieving process changes how to help also. I think most important is to show you care and are thinking of them. That isn’t always with words or a hug, like bringing them dinner. I am taking a psychology class right now that the final chapter is about death and dying and how we process it at different ages. Its easy to get into an anger mode but it makes no positive impact on us so we find ways to manage and move on from the pain a little bit. Honoring those that have left seems to be the easiest way to do that. I’m sure that is part of Anna’s mothers process in making a foundation and educating people. You are about to step into a different culture and every culture grieves very differently. From what I have read about Rwanda there are many youth head of households that weren’t given time to grieve properly before being put in a role of taking care of younger siblings. I think as long as you are caring and giving support you are helping with their grieving process.

  2. Kelly March 29, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Beautifully written Heidi. I think many have similar feelings about loss and how to be of comfort, even those who have had significant losses don’t always feel like they know what to do in difficult times. What matters though is you have a great heart! LOVE YA!

  3. JR April 2, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    Heidi – I have only recently come across your blog (from a comment you left on mine) but I have felt so connected to the sentiment in this post that I have to comment.

    I share your sentiment. I have taught 15 year old American students in wealthy areas of New Jersey about the Rwandan Genocide, and I have watched as they could do nothing but just sit there in shock and awe at what happened. They asked a lot of questions I couldn’t answer because I have not experienced such debilitating loss in my life. Once I got over the initial excitement of my invitation and sat down to really research Rwanda, I wondered how I would approach this. I had a dream the other night actually of a student of mine (in a year or two from now) coming up to me in a classroom and asking me “Could this have been stopped?” – it was a line from a movie “Sometimes in April” (Which you should see I think). Its definitely going to be a challenge, your group is only the 2nd group of education volunteers to return to Rwanda since ’93. I’m interested to read how you handle these very delicate situations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: