Let me tell you about Madison. She had her 18th birthday in October. She graduated high school just this year. Earlier in May she went to prom. In March, spring break happened. Sounds like an ordinary Spring for a graduating senior right? She had a sweet schedule, done early every day.
But none of these things were “ordinary” for her. In fact, every bit of it was hard and sad.
Because Madison’s mom died in February.
I’ve met Madison multiple times over the years – she’s been friends with my granddaughter Lexi since they were in fifth grade. The doorbell at Lexi’s house would ring often, and she’d be smiling on the other side of the screen door, floppy hair in her face, eager to hang out with Lex. But I connected with her deeply over Spring Break this year. I knew her mom had died recently, so when I got a call from Lexi’s mom asking me if I could go check on Madison because they were worried about her, of course I went over immediately.
I found her huddled up in the corner of her couch, a blanket around her like a cocoon, a stuffed animal and her dog held close to her body, and her bottom lip was quivering.
I sat down next to her, hugged her hard, and watched the tears spill over. I didn’t know what she was feeling or thinking. I had no tools in my tool box for this broken little girl. Eighteen? She looked more like she was eight. Or four.
I cried with her for a bit, and I whispered, “I’m so sorry.” She just stared. No other words were exchanged until I said, “Let’s go get some stuff. You’re coming home with me.” And she did.
No, I didn’t have tools for an 18 year old girl about to start her life. One who is so wrapped in the grief of losing her mama that she couldn’t even speak, except to tell me her stomach hurt. I had no idea when she’d eaten last, or slept, or showered. I just knew I needed to care for her, and I took it one step at a time.
I put her to bed, snug as a bug, and brought her some ice chips. She pretty much slept the rest of the day, and if she was awake when I checked on her, it wasn’t for long. I seriously doubt she’d slept much at all for a number of days – being alone for a week in her house, where her mom should be, except she’s not. It’s not fair.
Later she told me how sad her dog was, and how her dad couldn’t even go into the master bedroom and had been sleeping on the couch. He is lost in his grief, which is understandable. And she is too.
Normally, she would put on her tough capable exterior, say something like her mom “is in a better place,” and end the conversation. But in that right now, her toughness was gone, and so was her capability. I saw the rawness and pain in this girl – this child. Because even though she’s 18, she’s still a child as much as any 18 year old is. Right then, at my house, she was reduced to the pain and grief that her “younger self” was experiencing.
Her burden is heavy. Besides her grief (and that’s enough to deal with), her dad works nights, and her 22 year old mentally disabled brother lives at home as well. She has the responsibility of looking after him often now, and she’s basically trying to run the household. She doesn’t know what to do next year because she feels so trapped. Her stomach hurts all the time. I get it.
She needs someone to be looking after her, too. I’m so grateful that she has Lexi, who is wise enough to just let Madison BE however she needs to be whenever they’re together. I think Lex is a lifeline for her in a way I can never be.
During that time at my house, she slept, ate more than usual I think, and slept some more. It sort of reminded me of the story of Elijah, when God told him, “The journey is too great for you.” Then God told him to sleep, and eat, and sleep some more, and then God promised to send Elijah some help. He did, in the form of Elisha – and not only Elisha, but there was a great army with him.
I pray for an Elisha in her life. I pray for an army to come around her.
By Saturday night, when her dad and brother returned, she was back to her “normal” self – and the change from Thursday’s pitiful broken child to this so sure of herself woman-child was a bit astounding. Her pain was invisible, and she has buried it so deeply inside her that she doesn’t even realize how big her loss is. And how OK it is to be feeling lost and alone.
Since then, she’s been over a lot. We mostly chat, and she freely talks about her mom now. She’s told me some stories that made my skin crawl about the way her teachers and administrators “handled” her – forcing her into class when she just could not stay another minute. Or putting her in ISS (in school suspension) when a certain principal found her out in the hall, falling apart.
She went to school the day after her mom died. Her reason? She didn’t know what else to do, and being alone at home felt like a terrible choice to her. I don’t know why, but it seems like most of the staff were apparently shocked to see her, and badgered her with questions and comments like, “Why are you here today? You should be at home!” What did that do for her? It made her feel guilty. Not helpful. One in particular seemed to think she needed to take on the role of Madison’s mother, and nothing could have made her more angry.
In the midst of all this, Madison somehow managed to organize a blood drive at her school, and she did it because her mom received 13 blood transfusions while she was in the hospital. Not surprisingly Madison doesn’t remember much about putting it together – except for the fear that accompanied making an announcement over the loud speaker at school, and most importantly that tons and tons of kids donated. Remarkable.
She has made mention to me that the blood donations were so very good for her and her family to experience. The multitude of plants they received, on the other hand, turned into a nightmare for them. They are all allergic and literally wore masks and slept with towels under their doors to keep the pollen away. And there were just so many plants. Madison would come home from school to “three more every day, I swear!” What exactly were they to do with all those plants, sent in remembrance of her mom? They could hardly throw them out, and they couldn’t keep them. Such a small thing to us, even a thoughtful thing, we might think, but it was a big ordeal for them. Her words: “Give blood not plants!”
There’s analogy here, for when we are with grieving people. Give them yourself, not something else for them to deal with.
We are working through her pain. Slowly. She still can’t face the depth of her loss, but I think she’s getting closer. And I’m pretty sure her stomach might start feeling better if she could let some of that grief loose, open the locked box of Mama pain, and start to slowly sift through it.
But this is ultimately her journey alone. I will continue to listen, and love on her, and support her however I can, until God tells me otherwise.
Isn’t this so sad? Imagine if your mom died (try, even though it’s hard) when you were 18, just beginning to launch into your grown up life. That tough exterior shown to the world might say, I’ve got this handled, but underneath is a broken child who can’t handle it at all.
She needs to believe in the real Jesus. To feel the comfort and care that He offers. To experience full acceptance, and the understanding that she’s been CHOSEN.
Because otherwise it’s too much. I’m doing my best to be a light and a comfort to her, and my prayer is that she is drawn to Him in an unmistakable way.
She’s lovely, and I had the privilege of taking prom pictures and helping her and Lex get ready for graduation things.
I told her the boy taking her to prom was being a jerk (truth) and threatened to break his knees if he didn’t treat her right. And she told him I said that, right as I waved goodbye and stared him down at the same time. Apparently he was terrified and treated her like a queen the whole night.
It is a sacred privilege to walk beside this woman-child as she tries to figure out how to grow up.
Know anyone in this kind of impossible grief? Scared to enter into it? It’s not that hard, really. Just show up and listen and cry. Whisper a few words. It is enough, and more is too much.
Let’s pray for Madison as she walks out her life without a mama. She desperately needs an Elisha and his army and especially she needs our prayers.
PS My original book Peering Into the Tunnel: An Outsider’s Look Into Grief is still available on Amazon. A revised and expanded 2nd Edition is currently in process.