There are 2 girls in my ministry that lost their dads to cancer in the past 2 months. I have a close relationship with both girls and it has been extremely difficult watching them navigate their grief. When something like this happens in a studentâ€™s life, I am always thinking about the right way to respondâ€¦to ministerâ€¦to be there for my students. The thoughts below come out of my reflection of the past couple of months and my interaction with Madison.
I am not intruding…When I hear that someone has died, often times my first response has been, â€œI donâ€™t want to intrude on the familyâ€¦I will wait a few days before I call or visit.â€ While there are appropriate times to visit/call, I believe that students grieving just want a physical reminder of those that love them. It doesnâ€™t have to be a 3 hour visit or a long awkward phone call â€“ it really could just be a moment on the phone or a quick stop by for a hug. When I heard that Madisonâ€™s dad passed away, I texted her telling her I was going to stop by for a short while after church. Her response was in all caps, â€œCANâ€™T WAIT TO SEE YOU!!!!â€ I honestly think students really want us to intrude sometimes.
Itâ€™s ok that I donâ€™t know what to say…When a student experiences a devastating loss, there really isnâ€™t any right thing to say. When students are going through something difficult I am often tempted to fix it or give advice on how to fix it. But when students are experiencing grief, there are no textbook answers. When I arrived at Madisonâ€™s house, she opened the door and ran into my arms. When I looked around her house, I realized she was in a house full of grown-ups that didnâ€™t know what to say either. I brought her a Starbucks and stole her away to take a walk. We walked around the block 4 times. I really donâ€™t think that I said anything super profound, but I do think my presence helped lift her spirits. I donâ€™t think we need to â€œsay the right thingâ€ we just need to be there to say something.
Checking in later…I realized that a few months after Madisonâ€™s dad passed, she was really low. I think after all of the visits, memorial service, etc. ended she was left with a lot of silence, sadness, and questions. People around her were moving on but she was still grieving. I have been trying to make it a point to shoot her a note, a text, or call once a month to just check in. I see her regularly at church, but I am trying to be intentional about remembering her loss when no one else does.
After spending time with Madison, I have been reminded that students donâ€™t need the “right response/words/answers” to their grief, they just need the wide open arms of Jesus and someone to point them there. Â Grateful that God uses me even when I have no clue of what I am supposed to do.