Jesus in Everyday Life, My Story

Graduation, New Normals, and Helping Loved Ones When It Hurts

Hello! Man alive, it’s been a while. I have missed you!

Graduaiton diploma

For the last six weeks, I’ve been held captive by the vast and beautiful whirlwind that was our oldest son’s high school graduation.

For some, this may not seem like a big deal. It’s a “been-there-done-that” event. For you, it may not have been an all-consuming occasion. It was just another party—just bigger, with a lot more people and food and beverages, and, and, and.

For the rest of us—namely me—it’s a different story.


I’m aware graduations and weddings have a superpower that propels us to get things done. Things we’ve been putting off. Things we’ve not gotten to due to other pressing priorities. But as The Date approaches, things that once seemed minor all of a sudden become major. Even the mundane, the it-could-wait-until-after-the-event, things seem to find their way onto the Must-Do-Now list.

Why is that?

Is it just the looming deadline?

The desire for everything to be perfect?

Or is it the knowledge that this event will never happen again, so we strive for it to be special, memorable, perfect?


For me, these things were all true, but they were symptoms of a deeper issue.

An issue that at this very moment makes me dissolve into a puddle of tears. An issue that makes me want to tighten my grip and hang on with two hands—

It’s time to let go.

But, dang-gummit, I’m not ready to let go!

But I know it’s time.

I’m just not ready…even if he is.

I tried to drown these raw emotions out with the preparatory work. I tried to distract my fractured and jagged heart by exhausting myself with the organizing and planning; digging and planting; cleaning and purging. And it worked—for a little while.

Then the party ended.

graduation hat toss

After everyone had gone home and my family was asleep, I went into my office and let the first torrent come. As each new wave came, more and more memories surfaced. And then it hit me. It not necessarily that I’m not ready to let go (although that is part of it, I can’t lie), it’s that I’m going to miss my son. Horribly.

I’m going to miss the dailiness of:

  • The inside jokes & laughter
  • The non-verbal communication that conveys exactly what the other is thinking
  • His dark, dry humor
  • The quips & quotes
  • The late night talks about love, life, and faith
  • Singing Irish music together & listening to him practice viola
  • His world news updates (I know Alexa can do this, but he does it better)
  • His hugs, just because
  • The times he “fumps” in an exhausted hug when he is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted
  • Our close friendship

Graduation orchestra

I know I am not the first mama to experience this. I know I won’t be the last. And I know I need to do this three more times.


And for one who doesn’t usually get emotional, these raw emotions are new to me, as is this transition to a whole new normal.

I share this because, during this season, the things I’ve learned from years of mentoring have become personal. Wisdom I’ve gained has become more valuable. The knowledge I’ve taken for granted isn’t as commonplace as I assumed it was.

Over the years I’ve guided people through the pain inflicted by well-meaning, sincere, and loving people. People whose words were meant to offer comfort and reassure but in reality had the opposite effect. I’ve encouraged them not to let their reaction to those words take root and sour their attitude, relationships, and confidence; but instead, accept the love those words were meant to convey.

Now that pain has become my pain. Those well-meaning platitudes are salt on my jagged heart rather than the soothing balm they were meant to be. And I know I’m not alone.

Are you feeling this too? Are you nodding your head and saying, “same?”


I also know there are so many who don’t know what to say or do when a precious friend or family member is hurting. You want to help. To take away their pain. To offer comfort. To DO something, anything to hold back the storm! But you’re not sure of what.

Let me provide a few ideas, some advice, and a few pointers.

  • When someone shares from their heart, listen—without interruption
    • Unless it’s for clarification on something you don’t understand or find confusing
    • Most people will shut down if they’re interrupted
      • They want and need to share their story, not listen to yours
    • When people are continuously interrupted, they get the impression that you don’t care about them, their feelings, or the situation they’re facing
      • This can lead to anger and animosity
      • This can also damage or destroy your relationship
  • They came to you because they trust you and believe you care about them
    • Sharing is hard and scary—you have to open yourself up and become vulnerable
      • This is both an honor and a responsibility
  • Let them pour it all out before interjecting anything: counsel, words of advice, or thoughts
    • Get a good handle on the story/situation before offering advice
    • Ask good questions
      • How are you? How can I help? How can I pray?
      • Make sure there is no ambiguity—have all the information you can have without breaking confidences
    • I have made a mess by jumping in too quick with “words of wisdom and advice”
    • Know what you are talking about
    • Give good advice
    • If something is beyond you, say so and offer to help them find the right person to talk to
    • Stay away from the “This is what you should do/need to do…” attitude
    • We don’t appreciate that
    • Those we listen to don’t either, no matter how much they love us
  • Don’t say “it will all be okay” or offer other platitudes
    • I promise you, in my present season, I know that. I believe that. But for now the pain is real, and the platitudes hurt more than they help
    • We can’t guarantee anything will be okay because we have no control over the future or know what it will hold—so don’t promise it
      • It may sound nice, but it’s often a lie and therefore taken as an insult
    • For some situations—death, divorce, illness, financial ruin, etc.—“okay” doesn’t seem to apply anymore
      • Your dear one must first heal as a new normal gets established and accepted
      • It may take a long time before any sense of “okay” becomes a reality.
  • If you’ve experienced the same hurt/challenge/situation before, start by saying, “I know. This was hard for me too. How can I pray for you?”
    • You have now joined forces with this Dear One; they are not alone
    • Instead of taking the attention by making their story about you, you stay focused on them and their present needs
    • This brings more comfort than one can explain when you’re sincere—a healing balm to a hurting heart
  • Then you can say, “I would love to share how I survived this situation.” BUT DO NOT FORGET TO ADD, “Would you like to hear my story now or would another time be better?”
    • Sometimes people are so raw your story won’t resonate at that moment; no matter how much they want to hear it
      • Realize they could be overwhelmed by their intense emotions and any wisdom you have to offer may not have the opportunity to take root
    • If now is not a good time, set a time in the near future to take them to coffee or lunch
      • Even then, they may not be ready to hear your story, but your companionship has its own comfort, message, and ministry
    • The gesture of giving the listener the option to listen to your story later provides a reprieve if they are spent
    • When you do share your story, incorporate and compare this Dear One’s story with yours
      • It shows you were listening and remember what they told you
      • They are more likely he hear what you have to say when they see how your situation relates to theirs
  • When you share your story with an attitude of, “Well, let me tell you how I did it…” the issue becomes about you and doesn’t minister to the brokenness of the one you’re speaking too
    • Despite your best intentions, the listener perceives that their situation/story is being “one-upped.”
    • Instead of hearing your what you have to say, they feel diminished
  • Offer a hug
  • Offer to pray for them, and follow through
  • Remind this Dear One
    • It’s okay to feel what they’re feeling
    • It’s okay to ugly cry
    • Stay on your knees! Don’t stop praying!
    • Cry in His presence and let Him hold you.
    • Let HIS WORD be the balm that soothes you, heals you, and restores you.
    • Let His promises be what you cling to and hold out in front of you as you live every day.
    • Pray for His will to be done, not yours. And that your will, desires, and ambitions will conform to His—knowing He knows the end of the of the story

IMG_7158Life has its ups and downs. And when you are in the midst of the lows, having loving and supportive friends make all the difference. They are a light that pierces the darkness and offers hope, comfort, and perspective.

4 thoughts on “Graduation, New Normals, and Helping Loved Ones When It Hurts”

  1. The pain is pretty bad for the first three years. One thing that helped me was meeting two other moms who had lost sons about the same age who had also died suddenly. One became a penpal for years and we met and prayed near my son’s grave when she was visiting her parents near where I lived. Then God arranged an unplanned meeting with the other at a homeschool convention where I was exhibiting.

    This mom was unable to write to the two of us — she said she just couldn’t talk about it. We prayed for her. We had all been homeschooling. As I was exhibiting in Denver about three years after our sons had died, she walked into my booth and I saw her name tag. Mine just had my business name, so I walked up to her and told her who I was. It turned out we were in the same hotel just down the hall from each other, so after the exhibit hall closed for the day we had dinner and talked the rest of the night in my room. By this time she was ready to open up and we were able to be a blessing to each other. God’s ways are amazing.

  2. I cannot thank you enough for your beautiful words and for sharing your story. I have a precious friend who lost her son in a car accident 18 months ago. I pray she will heal to the point where you are. I can only imagine the ministry God has given you out of this tragedy. And how many peoples lives you been able to help and bless through your own pain.

  3. Those are very wise words. Separation is painful. Loving friends,the support of our church, and the grace of God helped us get through the death of our 14-year-old-son in an accident on a church outing. Our unwise young pastor decided after the memorial service for another young man to distract our young people from the death of their friend by inviting them to a lake to water ski. He would have been far wiser to help them grieve. I guess he learned from the death of our son, and treated it differently. God had helped prepare us for his death, but one is never fully prepared to send away a healthy happy son and never see him alive again on this earth.

    Those in one of my former churches use the word graduate when a believer dies. I’ve always been grateful Jason professed his faith publicly six months before his “graduation.” That gives us a lot of comfort. Family and friends helped plan his graduation “party,” in the courtyard of our church, so I didn’t really have to think about food, etc. I’m so thankful that our Christian brothers and sisters were there for us. I found much else to be thankful for in the midst of the pain.

    Compared to what many parents have gone through, Jason’s “graduation” was a good one. I was able to thank God he died doing something he loved, that he suffered little pain, and that he was not sick for a long time before he died. He died in the arms of his pastor, not a human monster, as do some children I read about in the papers or in books written by their parents. I’m thankful this isn’t the end of our relationship. I wish I could call him, or see what he might have grown up to be or whom he might have married or what he might have done with his life, but I can also imagine his delight in getting to see his Lord face to face and finally get his endless stream of questions answered. It won’t be long now before we join him. Much as we still miss him daily, we know he couldn’t be in better hands or in a safer place.

    One more thing we are grateful for is that our friends who knew him aren’t afraid to mention his name or share memories even now, 27 years later. It’s as natural to talk about him as it will be to talk about your son after he’s away at college, after he’s married and no longer living with you, or a job takes him far away. That’s how we’ve come to think about our son — moved away so far we just can’t talk to him anymore. Both you and you son are moving to a new phase of your lives in which you will both stretch and grow. The adjustment will probably be more painful for you than for him, but he knows you will always be there for him as long as God leaves you here.

    I offer you a hug and a prayer of thanksgiving that God gave you this special son and his brothers and let your family have this special day to celebrate. You can now look forward to seeing him bloom even more in the places where God takes him. I pray that God will show you beauty in this transition and give you all the grace you need as your family experiences this new phase of growth.

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