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 student’s life, I am always thinking about the right way to respond…to minister…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, “I don’t want to intrude on the family…I will wait a few days before I call or visit.” While there are appropriate times to visit/call, I believe that students grieving just want a physical reminder of those that love them. It doesn’t have to be a 3 hour visit or a long awkward phone call – it really could just be a moment on the phone or a quick stop by for a hug. When I heard that Madison’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, “CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU!!!!” I honestly think students really want us to intrude sometimes.
It’s ok that I don’t know what to say…When a student experiences a devastating loss, there really isn’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 Madison’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 didn’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 don’t think that I said anything super profound, but I do think my presence helped lift her spirits. I don’t think we need to “say the right thing” we just need to be there to say something.
Checking in later…I realized that a few months after Madison’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 don’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. Grateful that God uses me even when I have no clue of what I am supposed to do.