Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Good Grief at what our little community has gone through recently. In just one week, our town lost a beloved police officer, William Buechner, killed in the line of duty and one of Auburn’s favorite characters: Rod Bramblett (also known as “The Voice of the Auburn Tigers”) who died in a car accident along with his wife, Paula. Today adds another grievance. It is Memorial Day; a day that painfully reminds us of what it actually took to achieve the life we have. My family remembers three infantrymen in Josh’s platoon (1-23 Infantry Battalion, A Company, 2nd Platoon) that are no longer with us. SGT Juan Navarro who was KIA July 7, 2012 at the age of 23 as well as SPC Thomas Yacovella and SSG Joseph Murphy who both died suddenly of a heart complications on September 17, 2015 and July 2, 2018.
Psalm 88:8-9 I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you
This was me in church yesterday. I reflected on the hurt of recent days. I thought about standing on Gay Street on Friday afternoon for the funeral procession of Officer William Buechner. For forty-five minutes I stood in complete silence waiting for the motorcade to escort him to his final resting place. We waved our flags and held our signs, but no one said a word. I also thought about the Bramblett family leaving behind two precious children and a whole athletics department at Auburn University. I could hear Rod’s voice hosting Tiger Talk, SEC Network Broadcasts, and Rod screaming “they’re not gonna keep ‘em off the field tonight!” after the Kick Six vs. Alabama. Who will do that now? Finally, I thought of all of my Gold Star Families who sent their loved ones to battle then buried them months later. I thought of people that were close to home like CPT Kyle Comfort of Jacksonville, Alabama who was KIA on May 10, 2010 while I was a college student at Jacksonville State. I remembered the guys that died while we were in the hospital at Walter Reed from either taking their own lives or unexplained complications. As I did my best to stay on my feet, all I could do was spread my hands out to God and sob.
Josh and I are no strangers to death. But this weekend reminded me of a time when we were estranged to grief. I’m talking about the act of feeling sorrow, distress, and anguish. We can’t allow ourselves to feel it all the time, otherwise, we would never move on with life. However, when someone else leaves this world too soon, our natural response is “not again, not another one. I don’t think I can do this.”
Not many people know this, but I had to force Josh to go see Juan’s grave in 2017. I told him I had an Alive Day event planned for him so he wouldn’t make any weekend plans. As the weekend drew closer, I handed him a plane ticket to Texas where his platoon sergeant (a triple amputee) would be picking him up so they could spend the weekend together visiting with Juan. For years, I had told Josh he needed to go see him but Josh always responded with “I don’t think I can.” I found myself in yet another situation where I wanted to be respectful of Josh’s mindset but I also wanted to do the right thing. I kept thinking When, then? When will you be able to see it and feel it and know that he is okay and you’re okay? By 2017, I realized we had to be done with logistical and emotional excuses. So, Josh went to Texas to spend the weekend with his brothers-in-arms.
After a weekend of reminiscing with his platoon sergeant and visiting his fallen comrade, Josh returned with closure. They cried, reminisced, cried some more, thanked each other, and thanked Juan for his sacrifice. Telling me about his trip, Josh realized his anxiety could not be a reason to not show up anymore. Nerves are a selfish emotion. They make you obsessed with how you feel which makes you forget what someone else might be going through. Everyone has a valid reason for nervous feelings, but bad grief is birthed when anxiety makes us believe we can avoid the inevitable hurt by not acknowledging it. So, can grief actually be good? It doesn't even seem right to say that. Isn't it supposed to be dark, ugly, angry, and terrible? Yes, but not forever. Grief can ruin us in both neglect and rumination. Is there a way to grieve without jumping off the emotional cliff or hardening our emotions to it? Here’s what I’ve learned about good grief…
1. Just show up. Accept that it will be hard, awkward, and gut-wrenching, but show up anyway. When our nerves make us selfish, we picture ourselves in a room full of people who are grieving and we obsess over What do I say? or What do I do? You will not be asked to perform. Just show up. That’s it.
2. If we show up, a pretty magical thing can happen. We see the pain from other people’s perspective. We walked into the room worried about our own feelings, then we catch a glimpse of the mother, the children, or the people that tried to save them. Our selfishness melts into empathy. Empathy is the most powerful human ability we can possess— to lay aside what we feel to truly try to understand what someone else may feel. Unfortunately, empathy cannot be birthed in the privacy of our safe place. Experience will lead to empathy.
3. If we show up and allow empathy into our hearts we open ourselves to the community that pain can bring us. Everyone walks in weak and wounded from the loss of a loved one. Not one of us can stand on our own. But maybe if we go together, we can borrow strength from each other. “For two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
4. If we show up, allow empathy, and borrow strength from each other, I believe the best thing can happen. The good grief. I believe that we can feel empowered to carry out a legacy for those that we lost.
What if the world knew them without ever meeting them because of us?
What if we loved deeper, listened more, and populated Heaven in response to heartache?
Those who are in Christ will never taste death. As their souls rest in Heaven, let’s run the race for them on earth. Show up for each other, empathize, borrow strength, and carry on their legacy. Even though today is so painful, it can be a great reason to look around us and keep living. How can you thank them? Let this loss become your why. We keep going for them. We use our lives and resources to thank them. We honor them by choosing to pick our heads up and take one more step.
Gen 50:20 "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
Let their lives continue to save ours. I pray your Memorial Day is defined by Good Grief.
Josh visiting Juan in 2017, SGT Juan Navarro, SPC Thomas Yacovella, SSG Joseph Murphy