Time Around and Under the Table

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Only a few hours earlier, we’d finished digging his grave, the shovel scraping into the dirt, a sound that had yet to leave me. We had just lost our yellow lab, Brody. People said he would tell us when it was time, and it was true, we had seen it in his eyes and had heard it in his labored breathing the previous night. He could no longer stand up on his own. If he had not let us know so clearly, I doubt we’d have had the strength to take him to the emergency vet in the early morning hours and go through with something that so completely broke my heart.

Alone Seems Easier

A part of me wanted to curl up and not move, knowing even the most basic things would be so different now. The next time I stretched into downward dog in yoga, he wouldn’t be there taking up part of my mat. If I dropped something on the kitchen floor, calling, “Brody, clean up on aisle 1!” he’d no longer come running. When a movie’s end credits rolled, there would no longer be the sound of his happy tail whapping rhythmically as I got down on the floor for some “hug and bug the B” time. He was gone and the house was silent.

Talking about this loss was too fresh. For my husband and I, to stay on our own seemed easier. But if I’ve learned anything from all the upheaval and tragedies that so many of us have experienced in 2020, it’s that no one fares well in stuffing away grief and pain.

My brother knew what we needed even before we did. He and his girlfriend invited us to dinner to get us out of the house. We talked via text because I couldn’t say the words. And he needed time, he said, to get himself together so he could be supportive. My husband and I needed family and friends—to be around people who had loved Brody, too—who understood.

“God knows what will help us take a calming breath when our hearts are tender, and what will carry us through the worst of days.”

Grieving Together

Those you love can give you space to grieve loss in many ways. For me, it helped to be able to sit at the dinner table across from the faces of my family, including my parents, with extra physical distance set between us. They were willing to go with me into the sorrow as much as they were to celebrate a birthday or milestone. To be honest, I wasn’t hungry at all—but I was going to try, knowing how much effort had gone into all the preparation. It wouldn’t have mattered to me what we had for dinner; it helped just to be with them. But my brother and his girlfriend went all out, making fried green beans with wasabi ranch dipping sauce, leg of lamb with rosemary, and creamed potatoes with roasted red peppers—their way of showing they cared. Through my family, we felt God’s presence, the stability of his Word on a day when it felt pulled out from under us. 

As my dad reached for my mom’s hand and prayed for a blessing over our food, for my sweet Brody, and for God’s comforting hand on our shoulders, I peeked up at the bowed heads of my family and then down at my brother’s dog, who had come to sit beside me. Also a lab, he stared at me, pressing his front paws to sit taller, and wagged at me, adding his own rhythmic beat to my dad’s soft words. I had to get down on the floor and hug him tight. 

God knows what will help us take a calming breath when our hearts are tender, and what will carry us through the worst of days. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). He designed us for relationship. 

It’s a challenge to gather together in a time like this, but please don’t underestimate what it can do for you to see the faces of those you love most, whether safely in person or virtually, this Christmas season. Now is not the time to go it alone, especially if you are hurting. Reaching out may not be what you feel like doing, but it might be exactly what you need.

This Christmas is likely to be different for most of us, but bring the faces you love to the table—and hug that pet who is probably under it. 

Next Steps:

  1. Who might need to join you at the table this Christmas season?
  2. Small groups are one of the most important ways that people connect and grow in their faith together. Find a group where you can support and encourage each other.