Bindings: Reflections on faith, life, and good books
2/18/13 at 05:06 AM 0 Comments

A Seventeen-Year-Old Receives a Lesson in Grief

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“Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” -Thomas More

Kayla is dead, Lord. I know that comes as no surprise to You. You simply reached down, whispered her name, and she was gone.

Kayla and I were so different. She seemed cool and confident. I felt shy and awkward. The boys buzzed around Kayla like bees after nectar. The boys confided in me about Kayla, as good buddies do. But somehow, even in my jealousy of Kayla, I felt an admiration and respect for her. In many ways, I wanted to be like Kayla.

Kayla and I grew up in different towns in Tennessee, both small, within an hour of each other. Our fathers served as full-time missionaries with a Christian camping ministry. From babyhood, Kayla and I spent countless summers at camp involved in one way or another in the ministry—sometimes just making pests of ourselves, running in and out of the camp kitchen, snatching food from the large walk-in refrigerator. As we matured, we actually got to help. We peeled an endless heap of potatoes and washed stacks of dishes over a steaming sink, all the while laughing and carrying on as if we were having the time of our lives. We were.

Kayla left for college a year before me. She chose a school we had visited with our camp youth group during a "College for a Weekend" trip. I enrolled the next fall.

By the time I arrived on campus, Kayla was an old pro at doing this college thing. Again she appeared to glide around with an air of confidence. My confidence level had not improved all that much. One thing I did know: Kayla and I both wanted to love and serve the Lord, and we were in this place to learn how to do it right.

In October of that year, Kayla chose to help at another Christian camp for a weekend retreat. The camp owned horses. Kayla adored horses. Not many things were more special to Kayla than camping and horseback riding, except maybe boys. Kayla was riding bareback with a young camper when something spooked their horse. The horse reared up and Kayla, sitting behind the little girl, slid off to the ground, knocking her head on a rock. Kayla was immediately rushed to the hospital where she underwent surgery. Her folks flew in from Tennessee to be with her. Back at school, we were all fervently praying for Kayla's recovery, but Kayla never woke up.

Kayla never woke up, Lord. I remember the shock we all felt when news reached campus. There were so many different reactions. Some quietly walked away. Others verbally lamented. One fellow tried to right everything by saying how happy Kayla was in heaven, that we should not be grieved by her absence, but excited for her homegoing. Most of us looked at him in disgust. It was just too soon to hear those words. We needed time to grieve.

I was one of those mourners who chose to run. I pushed open the heavy cafeteria doors and bolted out, hot tears streaming down my cheeks. I ran down the hill to the porch of the administration building. I had sat there many a time reflecting on life. Now I sat reflecting on death. All the hows and whys came charging into my mind like intruders bombarding a home on a peaceful summer’s eve.

Later, at the graveside service in Tennessee, my dad grabbed me and squeezed me like I'd never known before. I'll never forget that crushing embrace, as daddy wept with uncontrollable sobs. I knew he was not only thinking of Kayla and her family, but also about me. I could have been the one in that grave. At that moment, the thought seemed more than daddy could bear, having lost his first-born son several years earlier.

Back on campus, Lord. Same dorm, same classes, same friends, except for Kayla. The sameness, permeated with sadness, is so loud. Doesn't anyone realize things aren't the same? That they never will be? I want to run away and hide from the noisy sameness. I cover my ears and run to you, Lord. Where else can I go? You are my Savior, my Refuge, my Strength, my Comfort. I can't bring Kayla back, but someday I will see her again. We'll be with You forever, talking and laughing just like old times, only much better.

Thanks for whispering my name, Lord, and enabling me to hear You above the deafening pain. Thanks for showing me I don't have to have all the answers. I just need to trust the One who does.

Eileen Rife, author of Second Chance, speaks to women’s groups on a variety of topics. She and her husband counsel those who grieve and serve as consultants to hospice and funeral homes. The above piece is an excerpt from their book, When Mourning Comes, Living Through Loss.,

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