Limping through the loss of my mother

What a sprained toe and a book release taught me about grief

Five weeks ago I was with my three daughters and four nephews behind my parents’ house in West Texas. A game of touch football (the American version) broke out between the four teenage boys.

My daughters (ages 11, 8, 6) felt left out. So of course, I stepped in and yelled to the boys, “We’ve got next. Me and my three daughters will play whichever team wins.”

Their game ended, two boys exited and my team stepped onto the soft grass. The well manicured grass felt great under my bare feet.

On the second play of the game my 16-year-old nephew tried to run past me. I quickly sized up the reality of the athletic competition between my six-year-old daughter who can’t reach my shoulders and my teenager nephew who is already my height. I reverted back to my high school football days, or at least I tried to. I dropped my hips and start backpedaling to keep up with him while also keeping my eyes on the quarterback. Then, he made a cut in front of me and I tried to turn with him, but my barefoot feet weren’t that interested in helping. My big toe got stuck in the soft grass and I began to stumble.

I couldn’t do anything to stop it and I fell to the ground.

I tried to stand up quickly before I was completely mocked by my nephews.

I failed on two fronts: one, I’m being mocked and two, my foot isn’t working any longer.

I tried to walk on my big toe, but it was not having it.

I considered whether to quit the game and give up all self-respect or play the old man game i.e. cheating.

And cheat is exactly what I did. For the next five minutes, I held on to him for dear life, knowing that a penalty of pass interference would be more tolerable than the embarrassment of him running past me. A small victory.

The next morning, though, I could hardly put on my shoe over my swollen toe as we set off to the home of our family friends, Brad and Debra.

When Brad saw me limping, he asked what happened. I wanted to lie, because his son was also limping around then from a football injury, the only difference being his injury (a broken leg) was suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFL game last December.

That day, in their backyard, we were having a socially distanced funeral for my mother.

But I limped around Brad and Debra’s yard that day and also the next, because I didn’t have another option.

That day, in their backyard, we were having a socially distanced funeral for my mother.

The sprained toe has continued to bother me for the past five weeks, but not as much as it did the first week. It was so bad then, that I was hobbling around trying to avoid putting any pressure on the injured toe. But then the hobbling around put pressure upon my knee.  My compensation for my hurt toe caused my knee to hurt.

Now, I don’t pretend to know how God works in times like this, but it was as if God used that injury to describe what was going on within my soul.

My mum had unexpectedly passed away two days before the football game.

A phone call on Saturday morning from my uncle had tried to explain to me the unexplainable. My mother’s been ill for much of my adult life, yet I never imagined that she would pass away at sixty-five years old. Just like I’m sure nobody reading this who has lost someone ever expected to lose them. The words “your mum has passed” seem so impotent to describe what’s transpired. But hearing those words caused me to feel things I didn’t want to feel.

I felt regret for the ways that I wish I would have been a better son.

I felt sadness that my daughters never got to know their grandma in her fullness, unfettered by Lyme disease.

I felt a sense of incompletion, because her death happened too soon.

And every time that my grief seemed too much, I found my soul try to hobble around the pain.

I would compensate for the pain with anger, distraction, or any other accessible scheme. Temporarily, those tricks did prevent me from feeling the pain in my soul. But then I’d feel my sore knee. And I’d be reminded that the more I tried to not feel what I didn’t want to feel, the more I was creating other problems for me down the road. Sometimes we just need to be okay with being hurt. Sometimes the only thing to feel is sadness.

A month after she passed a book was released. The book argues that, in order for us to become everything we were created to be, we have to go where we don’t want to go. That monsters, which we all know don’t really exist, put fur, flesh, and skin on the very real fears that truly do exist within each and everyone one of us. And that those monsters get us to go into the dark, where we don’t want to go, so that we can experience the light that helps us become our truest self.

It’s a book that I wrote in what seems now like it was a different lifetime.

I had a sprained toe and a new book both reminding me that I needed to do what I didn’t want to do, so that I could become who I was intended to be.

In fact, when I wrote Befriending Your Monsters, I had no idea how much I was going to need this message about my own grief.

Maybe that’s one of the silver linings of this time for me. I had a sprained toe and a new book both reminding me that I needed to do what I didn’t want to do, so that I could become who I was intended to be.

But that doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s not easy to remember that this age doesn’t last forever.

It’s not easy to accept part of your life will always feel incomplete.

It’s not easy to say goodbye when there’s so much more you want to say.

It’s not easy, for me as a preacher, to conclude a funeral by saying, “may you rest in peace and rise in glory.” And it’s especially not easy, when I start that phrase with the word, “Mum.”

But the easy thing and the right thing rarely are the same thing.

We go on, despite the pain, because we have the promise that God stays with us in all of it. And maybe, just maybe, God will lead us through the pain, to find the truest version of who God created us to be.

While I’d rather be more immature and have my mum still be around, I didn’t get to make that decision. The only decision I have left is to stop hobbling around to avoid the pain, and instead to trust the God who stays with me in the dark.

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