(Un)happy Anniversary

As we move through grief, we inevitably encounter the dreaded “firsts:” First birthdays without our loved ones, first holidays, first Father’s Days and Mother’s Day, and the big, bad, scary first: the anniversary of our loved one’s passing.

This week marks one year since I held my Dad’s hand as he took his last breath. In some ways, it feels like only yesterday. Other days, it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’ve tried to live my life as normal as possible this week. I’ve gone to work, come home, played Mom taxi, walked the dog: I know my Dad would have wanted me to keep going, to think about him with a smile, to remember all the good times we had together, and not to wallow in misery. That’s what I have been trying so hard to do: just keep going. Don’t look back, don’t slow down, don’t stop to think.

As much as I have tried to keep this week “ordinary,” I can’t help but thinking, one year ago today, I heard him laugh for the last time or one year ago today, we brought him home from the hospital. The memories of that traumatic week creep into my thoughts despite my best efforts to keep them away. His absence is almost palpable: at times, it still feels absolutely unreal that he is gone.

Today, I grew tired of trying to hide behind the mask of normalcy. The memories and the emotions became too overwhelming to ignore any longer, so I went into my closet, wrapped myself in a blanket made from his old shirts, and opened a “memory box” containing all sorts of tear-jerking keepsakes. Then I cried. I cried big, ugly tears, curled in a ball, on the floor of my closet.

And it was just what I needed.

time-calendar-saturday-weekend-60032.jpegMaybe instead of ignoring the “anniversaries”–instead of trying to push through the pain, pretending it doesn’t exist–maybe we need to embrace the mourning. Perhaps we should acknowledge our heartache, accept it, and allow the waves to drag us under for a brief time. We cannot live under the waters of despair forever, but perhaps it is necessary every so often to take a deep breath, dive down into the abyss, feel the weight of the pain, and then resurface. Maybe after a quick trip into the hurricane, we come out lighter, able to continue on our path without the sorrow threatening to pull us back under and drown us.

I dove into that darkness so that I could resurface and go on breathing tomorrow. I might have to visit there again in the days ahead, but on this unhappy anniversary, I give myself permission and grace to feel the loss, to mourn a world without my Dad, and to be with my grief. Perhaps that’s how we move forward: by occasionally taking the time to just sit still.


Christmas Morning

It’s Christmas morning: the presents are under the tree, the kids are wide-eyed with the excitement that the holiday brings. Joy is all around.

It’s Christmas morning, but I don’t feel the joy.

This year, I won’t hear your voice. I won’t see your face. My joy, it seems, is somewhere far in the distance. It’s not a very Merry Christmas for me.

It’s my first Christmas without you, and my heart feels the void you left behind. I can’t help but think of you at every moment, wishing I could hear your voice.

This Christmas, I am trying to enjoy the small moments of happiness. But I will also allow the tears to flow when your absence grips my heart. I will remember you fondly, but I will miss you tremendously.

Looking Up: Remembering My Dad During the Solar Eclipse

I remember the last major solar eclipse that passed through my home state: May 10, 1994. I was 11 years old and all the kids in my class were out in front of my elementary school looking through a solar telescope, amazed as the moon slowly blocked out the sun’s rays.

I remember that day because the solar telescope belonged to my Dad, an avid astronomer, who came to my school to share his enthusiastic love of science with a bunch of kids. That was who he was: just a big nerd with a big heart who wanted to pass along his love of science to the next generation.

My beautiful picture

Solar Eclipse of 1994

Tomorrow marks another huge event in solar history: A Total Solar Eclipse visible from everywhere in the Continental United States. My Dad had been talking about it for more than a year before he passed away. He had reservations in Wyoming along the path of totality, he purchased solar glasses a year ago, and was actively trying to convince me to take my kids out of school on their second day of class to join him. I wish I would have had the chance to make that trip with him.

It’s a bittersweet day for me as I anticipate the Solar Eclipse, wishing I could share in the excitement with my favorite amateur astronomer.

After my Dad died, we donated his biggest and best telescope to the Museum of Nature and Science. We were told it would be used to view the solar eclipse on Monday, which is something I know my Dad would have loved. We also bought about 100 pairs of solar glasses to hand out at his memorial service, along with a reminder to look up at the sky on August 21 and remember my Dad.

My beautiful picture

Solar Eclipse of 1994, Photo by Tim Mustard

It’s a good reminder for all of us, actually: Sometimes we need to stop what we are doing, put our busy schedules on hold, and look up at the sky. It’s important that we take the time to notice the incredible world around us, to marvel at the vastness of our universe, and to be grateful for the time we have on this beautiful planet.

Tomorrow, when you look up at the sky (using proper eye protection, of course!), take a minute to be thankful for the people you have in your life. Take a minute to be still and stand in awe at our amazing universe. And if you think of him, please take a minute to remember my Dad. I know I will be missing him more than usual tomorrow, but as I look up at the sky, I’ll remember him looking through that telescope, his smile wide, ecstatic about the cosmos above. Oh, how lucky I am to have had a Dad like him.

The Guilt of Moving On

Recently, I was working on a photo project and came across numerous pictures of my Dad. Strangely, I didn’t shed a single tear; instead, I smiled when I saw him smiling back at me, chuckled when I came across a silly picture, and even when I felt the sting of loss, my eyes stayed dry. Once I realized I wasn’t crying, a wave of guilt came over me: what does this mean? Why am I not upset? Does this mean I’m forgetting him? Shouldn’t I be missing him every minute of every day? I’m a terrible daughter for moving on and thinking of him less.

This realization made me cry, which was pretty ironic.

I sat with this guilt for a while and reflected. I realized something important: I’m not forgetting. I’m just starting to heal and starting to move on. With that comes some amount of guilt: I am still alive to enjoy family and friends, to love and be loved, and he isn’t. In a sense, it’s survivor’s guilt. I realized I feel like I am forgetting him if I’m not living in the midst of that grief, as if I am dishonoring his memory by moving on and beginning to live my life again.

In reality, of course, it’s just the opposite. By moving forward and embracing life, I am honoring his memory in the best way possible. After all, isn’t that what we all want after we are gone? For our loved ones to remember us fondly, but to move forward with happiness and peace in their lives? I’m sure my Dad wanted exactly the same thing for me and my family; he would never have wanted me to shed a single tear, much less to be stuck in grief forever. He would want me to live life fully, to laugh out loud until my sides hurt, explore new places, meet new people, learn new things, watch the sunset, and appreciate the stars in the sky. He would want me to be happy.

Of course, I won’t ever forget him – I doubt there will ever be a day he doesn’t cross my mind. Nearly five months after his death, I think of him multiple times a day. But I’ve realized that moving on begins when I smile at his memory rather than cry. It’s remembering him fondly, thinking of the life he lived instead of focusing on his absence.

Moving on certainly won’t happen all at once. I’m sure there will still be days when I will be hit hard by the waves of grief, and I will let them carry me under. The hope comes from realizing that I won’t drown: I will come back up, the waves will end, and I will find peace on the other side of them.

For now, I feel like I have finally come out of the fog: the storm has subsided, and in between the crashing waves I can look up, enjoy the stars shining brightly in the sky, and whisper softly to my Dad, “I miss you so much, but I’m okay.”

I’m okay.



Why I Quit Praying: A Brutally Honest Look at Faith After Loss

When I started this journal, it was meant primarily as a means of personal reflection, expression, and therapy. Whether or not anyone ever reads these words or finds value in them, I have found writing extremely therapeutic. It allows me to process my thoughts and feelings in a way I cannot do in spoken words: my emotions solidify best when I write them on paper.

This essay in particular is extremely personal and reflective, more so than anything I have written so far, but it’s one that has been burning inside me nearly from the moment of my Dad’s passing. I’ve decided to write it down, to get it out, because it has been boiling in my thoughts and my soul for months now. If you’re reading these words, I ask for grace, for understanding, and for patience as I work through some of the darkest days of my life.

Let me begin by saying I consider myself a Christian. I grew up in the church, I attended services with my Mom every Sunday, served in various capacities, I was baptized at age eight, I attended youth group, I went to Christian camps, I attended a Christian college, I was the director of our church’s Children’s Ministry, and I currently work at a Christian school.

I know the Bible. I memorized the verses, I know the history and the theology, and I know what it says about grace and mercy. I know what it says about prayer and God’s loving kindness. I know what it says about free will. I know how “Before” me would have responded to what I’m about to write: I would break out the verses and the “God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we want, but he is still good! He works everything together for the good of those who love him! Trust him no matter what!”

Well, that was when I lived in the Before. Now here in the After, it’s a different story.

There are many verses in the Bible about prayer:

  • “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)
  • “Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:12)
  • “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

On an on, verse after verse, God tells us to call upon him, make our requests known to him and he will answer us. Prayer is powerful – or so I used to believe.

I haven’t prayed in four months.

I’ve never been one to see God as a Genie: a magical wish-granting factory who gives us everything we want. Rarely have I prayed that God do something specific in my life or in the lives of those around me. I’ve followed the standard “not my will, but yours be done. Please just give me peace and help me to do your will” protocol for most of my prayers.

Actually, there has only been one specific, targeted prayer in all my years as a Christian: I’ve never prayed for someone or something as hard, as often, or as fervently as I prayed for my Dad.

Ever since I can remember, my Dad has struggled with issues that have affected his health, both emotionally and physically. The nature of these issues is private and irrelevant at this point, but I knew from an early age that he might not live as long as I hoped he would if he didn’t make some serious life changes. He was a great Dad, a brilliant man, and he was so much fun, but like many of us, he faced down demons that he could not overcome on his own. Had he made changes to his lifestyle, he would likely still be here today.

I spent countless hours literally on my knees, face to the ground, tears streaming down my face as I begged God to save my Dad, to change his proverbial heart, to heal him. Over and over, year after year, I prayed this prayer. Never in my life have I prayed so consistently and so passionately for one person, believing the God was powerful and good, that he would hear my pleas and answer my prayers.

Then, in the blink of an eye, those hopes were dashed. My Dad’s health deteriorated, sickness took over, and he lost his battle. My prayers were not answered. My Dad was gone.

Since then, I’ve really questioned my faith. If I’m honest, I became angry. Not with my Dad or with the doctors or even with myself (though I have been that, too), but with God. Why didn’t he save my Dad? Was he even listening? Did he even care? Was he even there at all?

How can a God who claims to hear our prayers, to be gracious and loving, and to be all powerful also be a God who turns his back on his children? How can a God who claims to hear my prayers allow this ending to my Dad’s story? What good is prayer if, in the end, it does no good at all?

Moreover, I certainly wasn’t the only one praying for my Dad’s healing: my Grandparents, my mother, my aunts, family friends, even acquaintances through our churches prayed diligently for my Dad, but even that didn’t make a difference.

Even now, when I try to pray, the words get stuck. The cynic inside my head has taken over and has clouded my once firm belief. It’s easy these days to find myself steering towards a place of anger and skepticism, a place where prayers aren’t worth wasting the breath it would cost to utter them. “What’s the point?” I think. “If there is a God up there, he could have saved my Dad, but he didn’t. I don’t want to waste my time pretending to be thankful to him for anything.”

I know it’s a cynical, bitter sounding dialogue, but if I’m brutally honest, it’s the dialogue raging through my mind these days.

I wish I could tell you that the end of this entry will be tied up with a pretty little bow and a message of “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” but that’s not where I’m at in my grief journey. I’m still deep in the midst of doubt, of anger, and of devastation. I am mad at God and in this dark place, I am questioning all that I believed to be true about him and about my faith.

I write this because it feels good to have it out my head and onto paper and because I know I cannot be the only one who has ever experienced such a loss of faith in the face of tragedy. I write this because I want to be honest and open about where this path leads me, and right now it is leading me through some dark valleys. I hope there are brighter days ahead, days where my faith is restored, days where I believe God is good and he hears my cries.

Until then, I wrestle with this question: how can we find our faith once it has been lost?

How Long It Takes to Heal a Broken Heart

Four months. Seventeen weeks. One hundred twenty three days.

That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad and my world changed forever.

In the beginning, I thought the pain would be infinite. I thought I would never be able to smile again, never be able to laugh again. In the beginning, I was in a fog: unable to think, unable to function, unable to sleep, unable to eat. I woke every morning with his loss on the forefront of my mind. Every moment of the day reminded me of his absence. Every night, I lay awake for hours, sobbing into my pillow.

In the beginning, the grief was so heavy, I was sure it would crush me with its weight. It was by far the worst time in my life.

About three months after I lost my Dad, the fog began to lift. Maybe it was because we finished the Estate Sale, we sold his house, and the stress of that piece of the nightmare was over. Maybe it was the solo hike to my Dad’s favorite lake in Rocky Mountain National Park that brought me peace. Maybe it was just that time passes, and with it our heartache eases just a bit.

It’s been four months today. Yes, I have thought about my Dad dozens of times today, I have cried, I have looked at his picture and held his t-shirt to my face to breathe in his scent. I wear his fingerprint on a necklace every day and when I start to miss him, I reach up and grasp the charm in my hand and close my eyes, fighting back tears.

I still miss him every day, but I am convinced I have hit the darkest point in this journey and have started making my way again to the light. One small step towards Life Without Him: the life I never wanted but somehow knew someday would be. Just one step away from the deafening roar of grief, where I can still hear the noise of loss, but I can also hear the laughter of life somewhere in the distance.

The pain isn’t as punishing as it was in the beginning. At first I felt like anxiety and guilt and heartache were crushing my lungs, making it nearly impossible for me to draw each breath; now I feel like I can finally exhale. The pain is still there, but it’s faded to the background of my heart, allowing joy and laughter to step into the spotlight. I know it’s there – the ache – hiding in the background, rearing its ugly head when joy and laughter end, when I sit in silence, when I feel alone. It’s then I feel the terrible ache, and I imagine it will be that way for a long time.

Perhaps the hardest part now is the loneliness: not just the loneliness of being without a Father, but the loneliness that comes from being stuck in grief. My friends have all moved on with their lives, and who can blame them? I have been in their shoes before: sympathetic for a while, but then life goes back to normal. We assume grief is a short-lived process because we have not been through the grief ourselves. We think there should be a time limit to the grieving. We stop being sympathetic and simply don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I’ve been there when I lived in the “Before.” I’ve shied away from talking about loss with those who were grieving, not wanting to “open wounds.” I’ve avoided people I knew were grieving because I didn’t know what to say. Now here in the “After,” I understand that grieving takes time, and that “not talking about it” feels the same as forgetting. I understand that there really isn’t a right thing to say, but not saying anything at all feels even worse. I’ve learned that what grief really needs is someone to say “hey, let’s talk about it. Cry on my shoulder. Tell me about the good times, the bad times, what you miss and what makes your heart hurt.” Let me tell you: the wounds are already open. They have just barely stopped bleeding. Don’t be afraid of tearing them open; instead, be the one who helps them heal.

In addition to this loss-centered loneliness, my husband has been gone nearly this entire time. He was able to come home on Emergency Leave for two weeks after my Dad passed away, but he returned to his deployed location and has been there ever since. So at night, when the grief feels the heaviest, when everyone else is asleep and I just need a shoulder to cry on, my greatest support system is on the other side of the planet. Grief is a lonely enough journey, but facing it without my greatest partner has been unbearable.

Yes, the pain is easing. Yes, I have started to enjoy life again when once I believed that would never be possible. Yes, the fog has lifted and I can think clearly again. But healing takes time: those who have endured the loss of a loved one may never be whole again, but they certainly won’t be whole within just a few months. A time frame that feels excessive to the outsider is nothing but the blink of an eye to the one traveling through the loss.

How long does is take for a broken heart to heal? Four months, seventeen weeks, one hundred twenty three days: It takes longer than that.

Father’s Day, Minus a Father

Today was my first Father’s Day without a Father. My Dad passed away just over three months ago. Even though he is gone, I still managed to spend the day with him. Before you stop reading here, believing me crazy or into some kind of voodoo witchcraft, let me explain.

My Dad will always be a part of me. I am a part of him. He is in my DNA, he is in my memories, he is part of who I am. Growing up, my Dad instilled in me a great love for nature, the outdoors, and the mountains. We would spend days in the wilderness as a family, backpacking into the National Forest, cooking over campfires and sleeping in tents by the river. He would point out every detail of the forest: he would name the trees, stop to show us the wildflowers, have us listen to the birds, and remind us to leave only footprints and take only pictures. I grew up respecting the outdoors because of his influence.

Of course, while we were hiking through the beautiful Colorado landscape, my Dad could always be found behind the lens of a camera. Over the years he must have taken tens of thousands of photos. It’s a passion I shared with him over the past two decades: we would share our “trip photos” with one another, and between the two of us, our photos would pretty much fill and entire flash drive.

When I started to think about how I wanted to spend Father’s Day this year, I instantly knew that I wanted to spend it in the mountains – the wilderness he taught me to love – with a camera in hand and memories in my heart.

I headed to Rocky Mountain National Park, to Mills Lake, where he had always told us he wanted his ashes spread. I never dreamed I would have to make that trip so soon. We will head there as a family next month to say our final goodbyes and scatter his ashes in the beautiful Colorado Rockies.

IMG_1926 Mills Lake BEST

Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park   Photo by Rebecca Stewart

Somehow I knew that I needed to do that hike alone first, to honor my Dad and all he has done for me. I needed the solitude, I needed to listen to the mountains and let them restore my aching soul.

From the time I got into my car this morning, I felt at peace. I popped in one of Dad’s “mixed CDs” and listened to Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and the Eagles as I drove further west, the tall peaks coming closer into view. The skies were a perfect Rocky Mountain blue, not a cloud in the sky. I slipped on my hiking boots, threw my Dad’s backpack on my shoulders, grabbed my camera, and set off.

As soon as my feet hit the trail, my Dad was there with me. Not in a physical sense, and perhaps not in a spiritual sense either, but I saw him in the wildflowers, I heard him in the wind, I felt him in the warmth of the sun. I thought back 15 years when he and I hiked along the same trail, smiled as I heard his voice ring in my ears as we passed Alberta Falls: “Alberta, Alberta, Where you been so long?” I carried him with me as I listened to the birds chirp, as I felt the sun on my face, as I crossed the raging creek.

IMG_1971 Alberta BEST

Alberta Falls     Photo by Rebecca Stewart

It was bittersweet reaching that lake. With tears running down my cheeks, I held my camera in front of me and clicked away. This is a beautiful place to be at rest, I thought.

If nothing else, I honored his memory by hiking alone into the wilderness – unafraid, confident, and prepared – because that’s how he raised me. I didn’t have enough time with him, but the time I did have molded me into the person I am today.

His presence was with me up there on that mountain.

I spent the day with my Dad at Mills Like. Not in the way I would have liked – it was a day filled with both happy memories and tears – but I was at peace knowing he is always with me, no matter where I go, forever.

IMG_1921 Mountains reflected BEST

Mills Lake   Photo by Rebecca Stewart

IMG_1940 The Tree BEST

Mills Lake    Photo by Rebecca Stewart

Where Hope and Heartache Meet

We are all together in this world: our grief, our pain, our challenges, and our journeys intersect with one another in ways we can scarcely imagine.

These past three months have been unbelievably difficult for me, but through it all – every step of the way – I have been surrounded by friends and family who have both literally and figuratively held me up and helped me continue to put one foot in front of the other.

I recently finished reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. When Sandberg’s husband died suddenly in 2015, her life was shattered. She was a widow with two small children and she was hopelessly crushed in the grip of grief. She writes, “There was no escape. My grief felt like a deep, thick fog that constantly surrounded me.” But after a while, with the help of friends and family, she began to put one foot in front of the other, to choose joy and thankfulness, and to start living again.

I am still in the deep, thick fog, unable to escape on my own, but I have hope that one day, I can start living again.

Moving forward from grief cannot happen alone. Even when I am in the darkest of places, stuck in the tunnel and unable to see the light at either end, I remind myself that I have people beside me who are encouraging me forward, telling me that the darkness will subside and the light will shine again. Some have traveled through this darkness before me and can give me insight that helps me find my way out. They call to me from the other side of the fog, “it doesn’t last forever. Keep moving forward. Eventually the sun shines again,” they say.

Others have not been through this tunnel before, but they are standing with me and behind me, coaxing me forward, gently guiding me through the thick fog and back into the light on the other side.

Sandberg writes about a “collective resilience:” the joining together of people with shared stories, experiences, and beliefs. By joining together and surrounding one another, we provide hope to the hopeless. Sandberg continues, “We find our humanity – our will to live and our ability to love – in our connections to one another.”

Never has collective resilience meant more to me than it has during this chapter of my life. Having friends who write letters, who pick up the phone and ask, “no really, how are you? How’s your heart?” has been instrumental to my healing.

One friend who lost her dad suddenly not that long ago came alongside me and simply said, “I understand your grief. This pain will subside. Someday, the memories will make you smile instead of make you cry.” Just having someone to whom I can reach out and say “is this normal? Will I ever be happy again?” has been instrumental.

Other friends have filled our house with food, weeded and planted my garden, watched after my deeply neglected cat, sent flowers, sent cards, and sent emails. Family members have held me tight while I cried so hard I ran out of breath, while they whispered softly to me that I will be okay, eventually, someday.

I appreciate every single person. Each act of kindness keeps me moving forward and helps me find my way out of this deep, thick fog.

Even in the midst of my own crisis, I remember that others are fighting their own battles. I may not have the energy to fight along with them right now, but eventually I will take up the proverbial shield and help them find their way out of the fog, too. My experiences now will help someone else down the road and, even though I wouldn’t wish this pain upon anyone, I know it is a part of life. By traveling down this path and coming out on the other side, I will someday be part of the “collective resilience” for someone else.

What can you do to help someone who is grieving? There is no right or wrong answer. Ask what the person needs. Be there for them in the silence, allow them to cry to you, and know that you can’t fix what is broken. Provide an arm for them to grasp, and give them hope that the darkness will eventually fade and the light will shine again. Tell them it’s okay to NOT be okay.

Thank you to everyone who has come alongside me and carried me over the past three months. I’m not there yet – it may be a long, hard journey – but because of your support, I know that I can make it out of this fog and back into the light.

“Everything Must Go”

How do you put a price on a life? How do you advertise a loved one’s hobbies, passions, and joys? How do you say goodbye to all the possessions that made a loved one happy?

This week, we hold the Estate Sale: the dreaded days-long purge of the “things” my Dad loved. We have taken what we want to keep, given away what we know means most to family and friends, but everything else goes to the highest bidder. 

It puts life in perspective. In the end, the things we work our whole lives to purchase and pay for and keep end up in a yard sale, sold to strangers for pennies on the dollar.

Thankfully, my parents always valued experiences more than “stuff.” I have memories with my Dad: vacations, experiences, camping trips, and photographs to cherish: that means more to me than any physical item ever could.

In the end, everything must go. All our possessions stay here on Earth when we die, so focus instead on building things that last: relationships, memories, experiences. Those are what truly matter in the end.

How do you put a price on a life? Measure it by the amount of experiences had and memories made. Those are priceless. Those are what I treasure from my Dad’s life.

Everything else is just “stuff.” 

“I’m Fine”

Over the past two months, I’ve had lots of people ask me how they can help. Do you need anything? they ask. How are you doing? Or worse, some say nothing at all.

Our culture conditions us to reply with the obligatory “I’m okay” or “I’m fine” or “we don’t need anything, but thank you.” Our culture conditions us to lie when we are hurting.

Honesty is truly the best policy, but it is not always comfortable. Perhaps that’s why our natural tendency is to shy away from those in pain: we don’t want to subject our “I’m fine” lives to the “I’m not fine” lives of others. I know because I have been there. I’ve been the one who didn’t know what to say or what to do. I’ve been the one who didn’t understand, so I was the one who didn’t say anything at all.

During our time overseas, one of the things I came to appreciate about Germans is their blunt honesty. They do not understand the American greeting of “how are you?” and our mandatory conditioned response of “I’m fine.” If you ask a German how he or she is doing, you will get an honest answer: “Agh, this weather is sheisse, my dog ran away and got hit by a car, and I have a very bad toothache.” It might be uncomfortable at first, but the Germans will tell you exactly what is on their mind. If they aren’t fine, you will know it.

American culture is vastly different. We plaster on a smile, we stuff the pain down inside, we tell everyone we are fine. In order to help the hurting, we need to be able to peel away that mask and see the pain underneath.

What exactly can you do for those who are hurting? Don’t ask. Just do. Bring over a meal without asking. Send flowers or a card—even a brief email with a note of encouragement. Have a cup of coffee with them, ask them “no really, how are you?” and listen to the response. Allow them to cry on your shoulder. Don’t try to fix the problem because, honestly, it isn’t something that can be fixed.

You don’t have to know what to say. Honestly, those who are grieving don’t need you to say anything at all other than “I’m here for you, and it’s okay to not be okay.”

It’s been interesting to see how my friendships have shifted during this time of mourning in my life. Friends who I thought were my closest confidants have faded into the background, not sure of what to say or what to do. People I thought would call or email have remained silent.

Then there are those who have been through heartache and loss have come to the rescue, offering me support and invaluable advice, encouraging me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There are family members who have held me close as I cried. There are friends who stocked our fridge with food without even being asked, invited us over for a meal, sent cards and messages letting me know they are thinking of me. Those messages and acts of kindness have kept me going.

If you have someone who is hurting in your life, reach out. You don’t need to have the right words. The only words you need are I’m here. Sometimes that’s enough.