It is a few hours before Thanksgiving Day. This Thanksgiving will be very different from any I have ever experienced. It will be my first Thanksgiving without my mother. My mother, Sandra Creel, passed away a couple of weeks ago on November 7. I must admit that it doesn’t quite seem real to me yet. I almost expect mom to be here in the morning when I wake up. But I know she won’t be. But with all of my heart, I wish she could be.
My wife and I spent the day today driving around my hometown. I lived here until I went away to college. My wife and I have l lived here on two separate occasions as I served on staff at my home church. We drove by the house where I grew up and the creek where I played. We saw my kindergarten, elementary school, and high school. We looked at the football field where our team won two state championships. We drove by the house we lived in when we were a young married couple and also the pastorium where we lived when the family was growing older. We even looked at the gas station where I filled up our van in 1993 after returning from the Auburn/Alabama game. Auburn beat Alabama 22-14 that year. War Eagle! We remembered the way life used to be for us. And we remembered my mom.
We parked for a little while across from the house where I was raised. In that house, my mom took care of me. She comforted me and encouraged me. She fed me and clothed me. She put up with me. She taught me. She wrapped my Christmas presents and washed my clothes. She laughed with me and cried with me. She was my mom and I miss her. And that brings me back to the reality of this Thanksgiving. For the first time in my life, my mom will not be here. The house will be much quieter. Her laugh will be absent. We won’t all know where to sit without her here to instruct us.
In a way that it never has been before for me, grief will be my companion on Thanksgiving 2021. In fact, grief has been my companion for a little over 2 weeks. It is not the first time we have journeyed together. But this time is definitely different. I am grieving the loss of my mom.
I am learning that grief has many different faces. It shows up at different times and in different ways. On some occasions, it comes in slowly like the rising tide. Other times it hits like a raging river. Sometimes it brings tears. Sometimes it brings anger. On some days, it is like a shadow. I barely notice that it is there. On other days, it feels like a 500 lb. gorilla is riding on my back. I am not grieving on behalf of my mother. She is fine and with the Lord which is far better for her. I am grieving for myself. I am grieving that a chapter in my life has been completed. I am grieving for my dad and for my sister. I am grieving because I miss my mother.
I would describe my experience as waves of grief. When my kids were younger, we would go to the beach and ride the waves on a blow-up raft. A wave would come and we would ride over the top of it. There would be a lull. Then another wave would come. Sometimes the waves would get bigger and knock us off the raft and sweep us toward the shore. Grief has been like that for me. Sometimes it feels like I am riding over the top of it. Some days there is a lull. On other days, it knocks me down and sweeps me toward the shore.
There have been many friends who have helped me to ride these waves of grief. They have prayed for me. They have sent cards and expressed their concerns. My Ranger buddy and his wife drove 5 hours to be with me during my mom’s funeral. He sat with me, shared Scripture with me, and prayed for me. The Lord used a child and a young teenager to minister to me as well. One of them walked up to me on a Wednesday night and gave me a hug. He said, “I’m sorry.” He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t need to say anything else. He said what I needed to hear. On Sunday, a child walked up to me after the worship service. He didn’t ask me how I am doing. He didn’t try to explain things to me. He simply gave me a hug and said, “I hope that makes you feel better.” Those two young men were used by God to minister to their pastor in a simple but powerful way.
I expect to be riding these waves of grief for quite some time. As a pastor, I have learned that grief lingers longer than people realize. I expect that the waves of grief will change over time. The sharp pain that I feel now will be dulled over time. But I expect that the shadow of grief will be with me for a long time. But I know that the Lord is faithful. He is with me. He will walk me through the valley of grief. He will help me today to give thanks even while I am grieving.
In the midst of grief, it is important to remember hope. Hope makes grief bearable. We have hope through Jesus Christ. We grieve, but not like people who have no hope. But Christians do grieve. We see examples of it through Scripture. I know that my mom is with Jesus. I will see her again. That gives me hope. I listened to a song today by Steven Curtis Chapman. It expresses well how I feel today. The title of the song is “I’ll See You in a Little While.”
I hold your hand and watch as the sun slowly
Far in the distance the Father is calling your name
And it's time for you to go home
And everything in me wants to hold on
But I'm letting you go with this goodbye kiss and this promise
I'll see you in a little while
I'll see you in a little while
It won't be too long now
We'll see it on the other side
The wait was only the blink of an eye
So I'm not gonna say goodbye
'Cause I'll see you in a little while
Lord, thank you for the hope that we have in Christ. Thank you that you are with us. Thank you for the promise of a better day.