On September 25th of this year, my beautiful sister-in-law, Jenny, died after an 18-month battle with brain cancer. I have had several grandparents die, but I have never really known grief and the painful, sobbing, heartache of losing someone so young. She has five children—the oldest is 9 and the youngest is 9 months. Late in the afternoon on the 25th, a new MRI showed her cancer had moved which prevented any future treatment and any options, so her doctors recommended we quickly arrange to say goodbye. There is nothing so heart wrenching as watching a little boy sobbing, trying to say goodbye to his mom. I took Jenny’s kids home after their goodbyes to put them to bed while the rest of the family remained at the hospital. Try putting babies to bed knowing their mother will never be home to put them to bed again. Luckily, the kids went down quickly, except Bruce, the oldest. We stayed up and we talked about things 9 year old boys talk about. And I was the one who told him his mom had passed after I got the call. We both cried in his bed.
Now how do you find happiness after that? What is there to be optimistic about when three of them don’t even get their mom for their first day of kindergarten? Jane wont have her mom to help pick out a dress for a school dance. Their mother won’t be able to write them letters on their missions, meet their first loves, read them stories, or see the artwork they hang on the fridge. Jenny’s death in no way shook my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I admit I had a hard time singing “I Stand All Amazed” at her funeral. What was amazing about 5 motherless children?
But I have learned a lot about my Heavenly Father. One: He is kind. Two: He lets us really feel our emotions, and then when we are ready he wraps us in love and comfort. He won’t rush us through the process. He lets us take the time we need. He let me feel raw, bitter heartache, overwhelming grief, and sob down the freeway with hot angry tears—but I was never alone in my pain. Looking back, and I can’t quite explain it, but if those emotions were in a painting, they would all have undertones of peace and love and understanding.
There is a silver lining to this kind of pain and grief. My family has never been closer. Our hearts were all broken, and in our effort to put the pieces back, we stitched our hearts all together. The time we all spend together seems magically sweeter. We love more and more fully, because what’s the use of holding anything back? We speak more appreciatively of each other. In the Book of Mormon, during particularly difficult time, Nephi said, “We did wade through much affliction… and so great were the blessing of the Lord upon us.” (1 Nephi 17). Everything felt dark and awful, but we are starting to feel the first rays of hope, and we will learn how to work this out together.
If someone you know is dealing with grief and you really want to help, pray about what specific thing you can do to help them. Saying, “Let me know what I can do,” is kind and heartfelt, but most likely never used. Find a way to minister to their current needs. I had a friend who came over and didn’t say anything and literally let me just cry on her shoulder, and I will love her forever for that.
It has only been a few weeks, and everything is not better, and we do not have all the answers in trying to figure out a new normal without Jenny, but we have learned a few things. In dealing with grief, the pain does slowly become less raw and more bearable. And there is still joy, happiness, silliness, inside jokes, tickle fights, Christmases, school years, summer vacations, weddings, years of good times, and a happy forever family in store for me and my four nephews and niece. There can be grief and happiness.