Walking With Grieving Friends

I was reminded this past week that there are a lot of hurting people in our country, particularly those walking through grief. My heart goes out to Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. As they mourn the victims of this senseless shooting, I can’t help but think of those left behind, in the wake of tragedy. Because of my own experience, my mind races to the loved ones of the victims, trying to empathize with what they are going through, asking God to intervene and comfort them as only He can.

A couple years ago, when a friend was walking through his own tragic loss, I was asked to put together a list for those walking alongside the grieving. I based it on how my closest friends and family rallied behind me in my darkest hour. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but here’s some things that really helped me.

Some general info:

  • Loss of a loved one can be one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s exhausting; it’s overwhelming. Had you told me on day one that I’d be here to tell others how to help their friends through it, I would have never believed you. It’s a day by day, often hour by hour, journey. God’s provision of family and friends literally carried me through; they got in the “trenches” with me and would not let me give up.
  • The first stage of grief tends to be a fog. My counselor explained it as God literally “bubble wrapping” the brain because the pain is too intense otherwise. Over several months, that bubble wrap slowly peeled off, leading me into the other phases of grief.
  • Know this is a long journey. For anyone who loses a loved one, most grief books say to allow for a year to get through the “firsts.” For those whose loss is sudden, unexpected, and/or complicated, sometimes that means additional time. If it was a long-term illness, grief can start the day of the terminal diagnosis. Of course, these are just guidelines. There’s no “formula” for grieving and everyone does it differently.
  • The greatest thing my best friend did to help me was to educate herself on grief and what I was going through. No, she had not lost a spouse, but she did everything she could to understand. A few resources I found helpful are here.

In the immediate:

  • Pray. I mean, really pray, not just use it as a hashtag. I have countless stories of my friends who sent me just the scripture or song I needed, or told me they were praying for me at a specific time, when I could truly sense God bringing me comfort and peace. I saw it as God working through my friends to tell me “hi”…. that He was WITH me in the darkest moments.
  • Until the “dust” settles, reach out in ways other than a phone call. Texts, email, Facebook messages, cards were all good because I could read them (and if I chose to, respond) in my own time. My phone was blowing up those first few days as I planned the memorial and took care of urgent needs; I had to have friends and family manage my calls for me.
  • Acknowledge the loss for what it is: it sucks, it’s heart-breaking. It’s not something we can make sense of this side of heaven. I wanted to sucker punch folks who tried to over-spiritualize it or give Christian-ese responses. I knew Tony was in heaven, I didn’t need to be told that God got an angel, that he was in a better place, that I would see him again, that God has a plan, that I’d get married again.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell stories. I was able to stand for 3+ hours at the receiving line for Tony’s memorial because of person after person who gave me examples of how their lives were impacted by Tony. I kept all the emails and cards from those who told me stories about him. They brought such comfort, and even a few good laughs, and, in time, have translated into a legacy I now carry forward.
  • Listen; you don’t have to have the right thing to say. I appreciated those who let me ramble on about Tony. I needed folks to just sit with me, sometimes saying nothing at all. Sometimes I asked for advice, but more often, I just needed to get out frustration/anger/sorrow without anyone trying to “fix it” or be shocked by what came out of my mouth.
  • Be sensitive about questions surrounding the day the loved one passed away or the cause of death. The details surrounding Tony’s fall were extremely sensitive. My parents and friends protected me from the trauma of “retelling and reliving it” by only discussing details if I brought it up and said it was okay to talk about it. It took me over a year to even walk through that day with my grief counselor.
  • Offer to help in specific ways, but be okay if you’re not taken up on it. I was in such a fog, I didn’t always know what I needed. However, I do remember the folks who helped do yard work, pack up our home, be a sounding board for financial decisions, bring food, and take me out to dinner. Stand by your offer in a non-pushy way; and offer again a few weeks or months later, and again after that.

In the months to come:

  • Make “work hours” a safe space. My 8 hour work day was a welcome escape from grief where I could actually do something that felt somewhat “normal” and productive. My colleagues gave me permission to have a melt down or to talk about Tony if needed, but they did not purposely interrupt my day by repeatedly asking me how I was doing.
  • Recognize each loss is unique. I was the only one who lost Tony as a spouse. However, I found myself drawn to those friends who had been through their own grief journey (and there weren’t many at my age). Being around them, even if we weren’t talking specifically about grief, provided an unspoken “knowing” that they understood pain and sorrow while also giving me hope that God had carried them through.
  • Plan some fun or relaxing outings but allow for flexibility. I often only accepted invitations to do things with friends who would be okay if I cancelled at the last minute. But I seemed to pull myself together if I knew I was going to do something I would enjoy. Grief is so unpredictable. Be that safe friend who is okay with laughter or with tears or with random ramblings that don’t even make sense.
  • Make note of anniversaries and dates. It stills means so much to me when my friends reach out on Tony’s death date, his birthday or even our wedding anniversary. For my friends who have lost parents, I know that a text or note on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be such an encouragement.
  • Interrupt the loneliness when everyone else is back to “normal.” I had hundreds of people who came to my rescue in the days after Tony’s death; I had far fewer who offered their presence 6 months in. What helped the most was that random weeknight when a friend invited me to dinner or just sent a text to check in. Even better were weekend plans. Specific for widows, losing a spouse means no longer having a constant companion to “do life” with, even the most mundane tasks. I slowly learned to be okay with the loneliness, but I’m still so grateful for the company of friends.
  • Realize that you can’t fix this. Grief is a journey I had to face; no one could endure the pain and hardship for me. But I did not face it alone. I count my family and closest friends as my greatest cheerleaders. My best friend equated it to the story in Exodus of Moses and Aaron and the defeat of the Amalekites. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. When Moses’ arms became tired, Aaron and Hur held up his arms so that his hands remained steady until sunset. The Israelites overcame the Amalekites and Moses built an altar and called it “The Lord is my Banner…for hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.” (Exodus 17:15-16).

Will you join me in holding up the arms of the grieving?

Dearly loved,


What I’ve learned 2 years later…

It’s so hard to believe it’s been 2 years since Tony departed this earth for heaven. Some days it feels like it was just 2 days ago that I was in his arms for the final time; other days it feels like it’s been an eternity. Most days I shake my head in wonder at just how I’ve made it this long. Only God.

I started this post earlier this week. Tears were streaming down my face as I reflected on this hard milestone. Good thing, I’ve got one of the best things that’s come out of these 2 years by my side – my very own tear-licker, Ralphy Edge. She just tilts her head to one side and loves me through those innocent puppy eyes. Melt my heart.

I’ve spent today mostly to myself, in quiet; I’ve thought a lot about Tony, even more about his legacy. His life continues to impact mine, for good, for very good. I would certainly not be the woman I am today without his influence; I am better for knowing him, even if that knowing was much shorter than what I had hoped and dreamed.

It’s amazing the things tragedy has taught me. Sure, I’d give it all back for Tony, if I could. I find myself wishing I had learned these things long before Tony’s passing, even before we were married.

Best I can do now is carry them forward into my future. Here’s a few at the top…



I’m chewing on a new word for 2012. I suppose you could call it a New Year’s resolution of sorts. For the past 3 years, I’ve been finding a word to focus on each year…2010, in retrospect, was HOPE, for that’s what the Lord gave me to keep me going that unbearable year. 2011 was RESTORE as I trusted the Lord to begin to gently restore my life and my heart.

And 2012…this year’s word is RELEASE.

Release…to let go. One definition in Webster says it means to “give up in favor of another.”

And one of my verses to go along with this word is Phil. 3:13b-14:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

In the first verse above, Paul includes the word forgetting. In doing some study, I learned that in this context, he did not intend for that word to mean that we are to have no recollection of something in our past. Instead, he was encouraging that we leave what is in the past behind us…to keep things in perspective as far as what must be left behind for the benefit of moving ahead in the journey toward heaven.

Leave what is behind.

For me that means, that though I will always carry Tony in my heart, that his life and his love for me has made an eternal impact on my life, my husband in the physical sense is in the past. He must be left there; at some point, in some way, I must let him go.


It’s hard. It’s so very hard. From the moment I said “yes” to Tony’s marriage proposal, and even more so, from the moment I said “I do,” I couldn’t help but feel a sense that my spouse would always be a part of my future. Always. Sure, every married couple says that part in the vows about “until death do us part,” but I would imagine the majority of us envision ourselves as very old before that ever happens, while in our hearts, hoping the good Lord takes us both at the same time.

I mean, that’s what happened in “The Notebook.” Am I right? 

Today marks just 3 days short of it being 23 months since Tony departed this earth. 

3 days short of 23 months.

That’s the exact amount of time we were married.

Yep, that’s it. That’s all we were given. That was our allotment of days. Of course, we never knew it; we didn’t see our marriage ending. I dreamed of growing old with Tony… old, and still as stuck on each other as we were those first few months we dated. We were inseparable.


Yet, God, in His infinite wisdom, was not surprised when our time came to a close, when the final hour darkened on our beautiful love story.

I often reflect on my entire life, all 3 decades of it, and wonder how God felt as He watched it unfold until now, as He knew the road carved out for me, uniquely just for me. He has seen my triumphs, my success, my joy; he has seen my missteps, my trials, my sin, my pain. He has orchestrated moments that impact my faith, my relationship with Him for eternity…moments of pure bliss, moments of utter desperation.

Yet, all those moments join to create a breathe-taking painting, a one-of-a-kind story, the story of Melissa Gardner, now Edge. He sees the scenes, the chapters yet to be lived. He sees what’s ahead.

And because I am His, He knows that in the end lies my Ultimate Prize—my Jesus.

So, He calls me to press on … to let go … to release

… that which must remain in my past so that I can strain with all that is in me toward my future, whatever my future may hold.

I’m slowly, ever so slowly, in the process of letting go of my sweet husband. Letting go, always remembering. And I know that Tony loved me so very much, he would not want me to hold on for too long.

Dearly loved, 

Comparing Tennis Shoes

Off and on this past year, I start to feel anxious over the amount of stuff I have in storage (in about 3 different places, and that’s down from 5!); stuff of Tony’s, stuff of mine, stuff of our lives together.  Stuff.  Suffocating stuff.  No one ever teaches you in school what a daunting task it is to figure out what to do with all that stuff left behind.

I honestly don’t know all the stuff I even own.  A few months back, I finally cleaned out an extra large storage unit I moved most of our belongings into a few months after Tony died. As I sorted through box after box, bag after bag, memories flooded my mind. I fought most back; I was in “clean out” mode, not reminisce mode. But there was one item that I just couldn’t let go.


Prizes…and a bag of marbles…

I just put up my vacuum cleaner after stepping over it for several days, right smack in the middle of my bedroom. You’re probably thinking, “well, whoopee do, Melissa, glad you can clean up after yourself” (which actually would have been a major feat this time a year ago).

I was slow to put it up because it now holds the shattered pieces of the most prized possession Tony ever gave me.

Last Friday was a heavier than anticipated day as it marked the 1.5 year mark. Other milestones had come and gone with little effect, so this one took me by surprise. I finally pulled myself together, even decided I’d “look cute” for the day to perk myself up. I reached into my beautiful jewelry case (another prized gift from my Tony) to get out a necklace, shut the door, and crash.

My jar of marbles fell from the top. My jar of marbles Tony gave me as an engagement gift. My jar of marbles spoken of at Tony’s memorial service. Shattered. Marbles everywhere.

I just stared at the glassy mess. I pressed my back against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. I didn’t know how or what to feel.

What was I supposed to do now? Tony had clearly given me instructions that we were to throw one marble away every year on our anniversary.  I had faithfully done that for the past two years without him.  Was I just supposed to put the marbles in another jar? But it’s not THE jar. Who knows if I’ll even live long enough to completely empty the jar anyway. What do I do with the marbles?  Tears began to flow.

I finally got up, walked to the kitchen, and pulled out a ziploc bag. I got on my hands and knees and put the marbles in the bag, being sure every one was accounted for, all 74. I looked down at my hands at one point and noticed they were cut in a couple places and bleeding from the glass. How fitting.  Then, I put on my big girl pants and I swept and vacuumed up the pieces of that jar, keeping just two larger jagged pieces.

My jar was gone; my marbles now intact in a ziploc bag.  And after walking past them, stepping over my vacuum for several days now, several days filled with heartache for another dear friend in the midst of tragedy, I’m finally getting some clarity on what I am to do.

I am to let them go.
I am to let my marbles go.

As I wrote in my last post, I’m memorizing Phillipians 3. These are actually the very verses I awoke to on the one year anniversary of Tony’s passing…Phil. 3:12-14 ~
“12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

At first reading several months back, I wondered why on earth would God bring me verses about “forgetting.”  But as I studied those often-quoted verses, I learned that Paul wasn’t saying that he was not remembering the past or permanently deleting the past from his memory, but instead he was encouraging believers to leave what was in the past behind them, to not let it hinder what God has placed ahead of them.

So “forgetting” what is behind me in this season means beginning to let go.  For as I let go, I am able to “strain” toward my goal, to press on to take hold of my ultimate prize, my Jesus.

And it’s quotes like these from Tony (this one written to his best friend over a decade ago) that give me peace that I’m continuing to honor his legacy as I press on.  He writes:

“I am understanding more and more about what Paul meant when he said he was seeking the prize in the race of life.  I get so tired in this race, and the only thing that keeps me going is the hope of the future “prize” and my friends.”

So I press on. I hope. I get tired. I keep going. I lean on my family. I’m there for my friends, in good times and in bad.  I allow God to use my story, allow God to use me, all of me.

I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with that bag of marbles just yet, but I am confident that one by one, I will honor my precious time with my husband, as I let each marble go.

Dearly loved, letting go, straining forward,