Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Growing Through Grief from Afar


Hello To All,

As some of you may have heard, my dear Grandma recently left this earth to be with her Savior.
Her last days came suddenly upon us and I was unable to return to the U.S. to be with her in her last moments, or to be with my family for the funeral.

In moving overseas I had put the possibility of such a scenario in my mind, but I think little can really prepare you to grieve alone, away from family, away from familiar cultural grieving experiences and without accepted time away to process- in essence- grief from afar.

Working in an ICU, I have spent so many late nights holding the hands of family members and singing patients into the presence of Jesus while attending to their final medical needs, as the incessant "Beep. Beep. Beep." of the heart monitor slows to a silence. 
But this time I wasn't there. 
I can only hope a nurse was there for my grandma.

The morning after her death I was scheduled to do some anesthesia in the OR.
I tried to push past the numb reality that she was gone and the vat of loneliness which tried to swallow me, in longing to grieve in the arms of my family.  
But one by one the surgical cases rolled in and with it, the responsibility before me. I welcomed the busy distraction, but with every "Beep." of the monitor came the pungent reminder that I hadn't been there for her.
As each patient lay before me, fearful and anxious in remaining awake during the operation under spinal anesthesia, I found God giving repeated opportunities to bring comfort and peace.
In fact that day, I was able to connect with patients more closely than I ever had in the OR, and God brought an opportunity to pray with every single patient after their operation to rejoice with them that God had brought them through-each with a smile spread wide across their face.
God has brought me here.
My Grandma wouldn't have wanted me anywhere else.

I have discovered that cultural adjustment does not stop for anyone- not even for grief, in fact I have found that it is perpetuated by it.
In coming overseas I expected I'd be giving condolences differently, I never expected I'd have to receive them. 
I was somewhat caught off guard by the way people greeted me. They would very sincerely come and shake my hand and say how sorry they were for my loss, all the while smiling and giggling! At first I felt taken aback and then I tried to remember not to feel hurt, since it was something I definitely did not understand. I sat down with Mama Jackie, my Gabonese mama a little while later and asked questions about death and dying here, she said when a grandparent dies, the grandchildren are expected to make elaborate skits about the grandparent, humorous skits that "mock" the quirks of their grandparent, they move around the coffin during the performance, using humor to try and lighten the mood. Maybe the giggling while giving condolences was a heart felt effort to make me feel better.  

Mama Jackie also shared with me the deep sense of blame woven deep in the culture here. When someone passes away, whether by an accident, illness, old age, anything, someone is always to blame. It is always someone's fault, whether directly or through a curse- it was someone's fault. She said to me, "No one will ever erase from the mind of the Gabonese that when a husband or wife dies, their spouse is always to blame for taking their life. No exceptions." 

I confess that in my grief, in my sadness, I didn't want to be learning more. I didn't want to adapt to culture, I didn't want to keep finding myself outside of my comfort zone. I was so exhausted, I just wanted it all to stop for a little while so I could wrestle through my grief.
Yet there I was, in the thick of it all, learning a part of the Gabonese culture that is probably their biggest bridge to the Gospel- that Jesus Christ stepped in to claim the blame that was theirs.  

There have been many unexpected blessings from the Lord during this time of grief from afar.
Getting to say a last farewell to my Grandma through a very broken and choppy vonage connection of one of the missionaries. Both my brothers were granted leave from the Army and Navy to attend the funeral and support my Mom and Dad. A couple of the ladies here very kindly mourned with me in "attending" Grandma's funeral with me on audio skype, living out Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Finally, the presence of a peace and a joy that transcend all understanding. Despite being beyond my grasp, in the midst of the sorrow and the turmoil of grieving so far away and alone, peace and joy did come, and I knew that it was many of you who were lifting me up in prayer. Thank you.

So here I am, working to make sense of this grief from afar, and yet growing, which I suppose means it must be cultivating something good. There is still a final closure which has not yet come, though I sense that perhaps it will on a day when I can return to the States, rush into the open arms of my family and see with my own eyes my dear, sweet Grandma's grave.
For it really is just a vessel, Grandma is laughing and dancing before the Lord right now, and as my brother put it, "talking the ear off of Jesus in Heaven."

Goodbye for now Grandma, I'll see you on that joyous day when my time comes....

Love from the Jungle,

With both of my spit-fire Grandmas before I left


  1. I was so sorry to hear of your grandmother's passing, Amanda. (((HUGS))) to you!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Hi Amanda,
    I know this is a tough time. My grandpa died the second summer I was in Swaziland and it was very hard to grieve from so far away, without being with family. Praying for you as you go through this, that God would give you utmost peace. Love you. Tiffany

  3. Jesus holds you in His arms. May you feel His comfort and love. I am sure your grandmother was blessed by your journey with God. Our sympathy and prayers for you, dear Amanda. Elaine Miller

  4. Amanda,
    I am sorry for your loss. As I read your post, I thought of you being there for others as their loved ones finished their journeys and went home to their Heavenly Father. Maybe you "stood in the gap" for others as they could not be there. I know it isn't the same thing, but just a thought.
    God bless you through this difficult time and hold the wonderful memories in your heartmofmyour grandma.