One important lesson I learned through grief.

Kelley was my person.  We spent just about every Wednesday together for years. Walking in the neighborhood, around the track, on the treadmill, by the lake.  If she was sick or if my back was hurting, we’d walk slowly. If the stars aligned and we felt good at the same time, we’d walk quickly.  Some days we skipped the walk, in favor of a soak in the hot tub, conversation over lunch or a phone call to pray.

She was one of my most precious friends.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Cunningham

Photo courtesy of Sandra

Until Cancer stole her from us far too soon.

She left behind 3 beautiful young children, a treasured husband, cherished parents and siblings, countless dear friends.

Her steadfast presence.  Her deep friendship.  Her kindness.  Her keen wit.  Her servant heart. Her enduring faith. Her quiet strength.  Her patient perseverance.

Her delight in her children.  Her love for her husband.  Her passion for family.

Just a fraction of her legacy.

It wasn’t fair.  It never will be.

Not even my Dad or my brother’s death affected me as deeply.  I grieved for her more than anyone else in my life.  Before, or since.

Together we raised up little people, blossomed in our faith, created scrapbooks, attended church, bible studies and sporting events, vacationed, lived, wept.

And walked.  All those Wednesdays, and countless days between.

She beside me, through 4 back surgeries in 6 years.  I beside her, for 5 years as she battled cancer.

After she died, Wednesdays paralyzed me.

I could hardly walk around the block, much less go to the health club and face the gaping hole on the treadmill beside me.

I missed her walking alongside me.  

I didn’t want to “cheat” on her by walking with anyone else, talking with anyone else, sharing life as deeply with anyone else.

If I’m honest, I also mourned the responsibility I had been carrying.  During her illness, I spent a lot of time tending to her and her family’s needs. There was a very real absence of purpose when I no longer had to think about what I could DO to help.

Another gaping hole.

My sorrow unwittingly began to crush me. I spent many mornings on my bedroom floor in tears.  For months, I thought I could put on a brave face and my heart would catch up. But each day I struggled; life was moving on; I wasn’t.

I won’t forget the day I returned to the health club for the first time, 5 months later.  I texted a friend to say I was going, so I wouldn’t lose my courage.

I traversed the first mile in tears, tempted each pace to quit and go home.

And then, somewhere in the middle of mile two, someone quietly stepped on the empty treadmill to my right.

Her treadmill.

He didn’t say much at first.  Just turned on the machine and slowly began to walk beside me.

Very few people understood the sacredness of that space for me.  Fewer, would I dare allow entry.

But he was the perfect one.

His grief had to be far greater.  And yet I knew, after getting my text, he came that day for me.

Her husband.  My close friend.  We’d been through a lot.

And he fully understood getting back on the treadmill meant so much more than exercise for me.

He knew I was trying to find my way back.  

That was over 6 years ago.

He might not remember that day.  But I will never forget.

That simple gesture remains one of the most powerful demonstrations in my life of what it looks like to be there for someone who is hurting.

It wasn’t about saying the right things, it was about doing the right thing – with me.

God didn’t intend for us to do this life alone.  Not the good stuff, and not the bad stuff.  He gives us community so we can carry one another’s burdens.  He brings others into our life to lend us their strength and hope when ours is gone.

He gives us people who have our back.  Who are present with us.

On the treadmill, in the hospital, at the funeral home, around the kitchen table, over coffee, on the sidelines, by our bedside.

And ironically, at a time when what I grieved most was my friend beside me, God gave me someone else, to come alongside me and stand in her place.

A friend recently wrote in an email, “Sometimes walking next to someone, even if the path is uncertain, is what matters most.

I couldn’t agree more.

Question: If you’ve faced trial or loss what helped you most? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Sarah Beckman inspires people from the stage and on the page. She is the bestselling author of Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving your Neighbor in their Time of Trial, which is filled with practical tools to love people well in the rough patches of life. Sarah speaks to audiences across the country on topics such as loving your neighbor, sharing your faith, safeguarding your marriage and digging up your talents.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “One important lesson I learned through grief.

  1. Wow, Sarah!

    I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face after reading your story. My person was Shelly. She was my best, best friend all through high school. Anything I did, I wanted to be doing it with her.

    Strangely, when it came time to pick a college, I didn’t pick LSU and go with Shelly like we had always planned. I got a call out of the blue from a college two states away that I had never heard of, much less applied to. They had gotten my ACT scores and wanted to offer me a scholarship. I went to visit and decided to go ALL ALONE. I didn’t know a soul.

    Four months later, when Shelly was killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a highway, I was left with my NEW friends at my NEW school to try to deal with my grief over the loss of the person who was still my best friend. Now, looking back, I know why.

    I could never have faced that empty treadmill.

    • Jennifer, What a hard experience for you! Interesting how you had someone beside you on your “treadmill” – a new school, new friends. : ) It’s never easy, and oh, so tragic. I’m sorry for the loss of your Shelly. I’m sure it still hurts. But if you’re like me, it always feels good to speak it out loud to make them real again at least to one other human being. So thank you for that. Blessings ahead, as you step on the treadmill of the next gal who needs you when they lose their “shelly or kelley” Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Great post. It’s hard to lose someone close and move on. I lost my dad to cancer 5 years ago, but having moved to another state, he wasn’t a part of my daily life. I spent time with him at the end, and grieved his death while he was still living, pleading with the Lord to heal him, but somehow knowing subconsciously he was slipping away. When he died I felt nothing. No grief and no remorse. I thought something was wrong with me. Then I realized I grieved him during my last visit as I cried while cuddling next to him on his bed like a child.

    As Christians we often think we shouldn’t be grieving. But grieving is healthy and normal, for us too. I wrote a post about it on my blog if you care to read it, called “How Tears Wash Away the Pain.”

    I think what makes it especially hard in your situation is you did life with this lady, and you miss her absence in your daily routine. But time is healing, and you are moving forward! Thank you for your post!


    • Matt, I agree, we need to give more permission to people to grieve – or not, and let it be personal and on their timeline. I think you’re right we did so much life together and when I lost my dad and brother I was an adult with a family of my own. they weren’t in my “daily life”. I’m glad you spent time with your Dad. And grieved him your own way. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll check out that post!

  3. I am so proud of you!
    I too always wondered why you never shared this story. Somewhere deep inside I knew you were not ready and I never asked. I am so glad I was online today and read this for many reasons. With tears flooding down my face I thank you. You see, tomorrow is my mothers birthday, cancer took her way too soon also. She is heavy on my mind. With the loss of her I also lost so much family. Some days it’s just hard.

    • Stephanie, OH! I’m so sorry about your Mom, and I know you get it! I will be lifting you before the throne in the days to come. You are and always have been such a blessing to me. Thank you.