Bringing spices: A lesson in dealing with grief

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I wasn’t looking forward to the funeral. My friend’s daughter, Krissy, had been killed by a drunk driver a few days earlier. She was only 26 years old.

I’d known her practically forever, having worked with her mother for over 20 years. When Krissy was a little girl, she used to play next to my desk while she waited for her mom to finish up her work. Her smile and laughter were always welcome distractions from the routine of my work. As she grew older and took a job at the same company, we became co-workers. Unable to reconcile the harshness of her young life taken so suddenly and in such a senseless way, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy saying goodbye to her.

There was also the matter of what to say to her heartbroken parents. I wanted to comfort them, to erase their pain, and to somehow fade their grief even though I knew that words would never be enough to help them through this inconceivable loss. Was there any action at all that would be big enough?

Whenever I’d think of Krissy’s passing, I’d automatically imagine how I’d feel if this had happened to one of my own children. These thoughts were never productive. My mind would shut down, refusing to even consider such an outcome. If I couldn’t even imagine losing a child, how would Krissy’s parents handle having to endure it? My heart ached for them and yet at the same time, I felt utterly powerless to help them.

As I struggled to come to terms with this tragedy, a friend of mine offered some advice. He told me of a sermon he’d heard at his church on Easter Sunday. “You know how when Jesus died, Mary Magdalene showed up at his tomb with spices?”

I nodded, although perplexed at what relevance Mary Magdalene could possibly have to the sudden death of a young woman. He continued, “If you think about it, it was pretty ridiculous. She brought spices, as if they were going to do any good. I mean, Jesus was dead. Still, she wanted to help, just like you. When something tragic happens, we all want to do something, but maybe the best thing is to just show up and bring our spices.”

Just show up. I could definitely do that. It didn’t feel like enough, but it was something.

So that’s what I did. I showed up. I hugged Krissy’s parents and cried with them. I sang hymns and joined in prayers. I listened as family members and friends told stories about Krissy’s short life and how much she meant to them. I cried into an embarrassing amount of tissues.

A family friend spoke about Krissy, describing her as a free spirit who had to do things her own way and in her own time. “Krissy was like a butterfly who needed to fly free, ” she said. Indeed, Krissy would rebel at any attempt to confine her spirit. She had her own ideas for her life and wasn’t about to allow anyone else to define it for her. The butterfly analogy couldn’t have been more precise.

After the funeral, my husband, Dan, and I walked outside. It had been raining earlier, but now it was a bright sunny spring day. Birds were chirping, and I felt refreshed by the abundant reminders of life all around us.

Suddenly, a butterfly flew right into us as if in a hurry to somewhere else. It lingered a bit between us, then floated upward, seemingly confident of its mission, until it finally disappeared into the sun.