I sit with them in the homey living room, their eyes cast down toward the floor. I have no words because there are no words. And so it is quiet for a time.
A little over a week ago, a student in our community died in a skateboarding accident. I didn’t know him, but our students did. And tonight, as I gathered with my girls for our regular small group meeting, the few who knew him talked about him. They talked about how school is different now, how nobody sits in his seat in class, how counselors are available in the library, how they don’t like change.
They have questions they aren’t asking, and so do I. There are things that don’t make sense to them, or to me. And so we sit in the quiet for some more time. I read a verse from Psalm 34, and promise that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and I know it’s true. But that’s easy for me, with all my children, watching from a safe distance. But if I were his mama, it’s hard to say if I would let anyone get close to my broken heart.
And in the midst of all of that, in the midst of sitting there and listening to the few there who knew him talk a bit, do you know what I’m actually thinking? I’m actually worried about the fact that I don’t have answers, worried that maybe they think I should, worried about what I should say, and knowing there is nothing, really. At least nothing that will make it okay. And then, I feel ashamed for thinking of myself. Shame never takes a break, you know; not even for death.
I’ve heard other leaders who work with youth say similar things during times of grief: what should we do? say? how do we help these students? Grown ups don’t know how to deal with death any better than kids do. Maybe worse, actually, because we carry a burden of responsibility around grief, as if we should have something profound to say or some comfort to offer that will make a difference. To love them well, we have to release ourselves. If I’m looking at me, I can’t see them. And in times like this, they need to be seen, heard, and loved well.
Still, in this place I’ve made for soul breathing, things like this tend to knock the breath clear away. And the song by Regina Spektor comes to mind No one laughs at God in a hospital/No one laughs at God in a war. . . Because you can be apathetic about God for only so long. There comes a point where you have to decide what you believe, who you trust, where you’ll make your safe place. We have to do this for ourselves, sometimes by the minute, in order to have anything to offer those grieving teenage girls.