On Grief

Grief. It touches all of us at some point.

I recently experienced the first loss of a grandparent. My Granny, Alice Ann Briley. A day after she passed, one of my friends and co-workers, Stacy, was killed in a car accident. She was 30 years old. Needless to say, it was a lot to handle at once. While I realize I was fortunate to have all four of my grandparents in my life as long as I have, the realization does nothing to lessen the pain of the loss. Although I know Stacy and my Granny are in heaven with Jesus, it still hurts. I do not pretend to be an expert on any state of the mind, but I wanted to share a bit about what my experience with these losses, this grief, has been, even if only for my own sake. A life-long journal keeper, I’ve always felt that writing things out does wonders for the soul, so here I am. Writing.

In November, 2015 Granny suffered a major stroke. Although she was at home with my Papaw when it happened and received immediate medical attention, the stroke did permanent damage. Her health began to rapidly decline, and although she fought very hard, it was a battle she could not win. She never went home again. She was admitted to hospice on January 7th, exactly one month after her 82nd birthday. I was able to be with her almost every day from then until she passed on January 20th, and it was one of the most awful experiences of my life. Watching someone in the process of dying is a horrible thing. There is nothing you can really do. Keep them “comfortable”, tell them you love them, and pray God will take their suffering away.

I wrote down some thoughts while I sat with her:

January 14

I never could have imagined how it would feel to be here. Sitting by my Granny’s bedside in the hospice ward. It feels so completely unreal and at the same time the reality of it presses hard against my heart. How could there be a world without my Granny in it? How is it that I might never hear her voice again, in that thick southern drawl? How is it possible that she won’t be there on the day I get married? Or have children? I need her to teach them the names of all the flowers and trees, like she taught me. How can my Papaw go on without her beside him, as she has been for the past 62 years?

My Granny is a remarkable woman.. as Papaw says, ‘one of God’s best workers’. So why would God want to take her home to be with him when there are so many of us here who need her so desperately? I am comforted by something my aunt told me last night, as I sat curled in a ball by the fire thinking about my sweet grandmother: ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Godly ones)’. I may not understand the reasoning, but I take comfort that no death is really an accident. I know Granny will go home to be with her Lord, but that doesn’t make her passing hurt any less for me and for all of her loved ones.

I read her a devotion today and I could barely get through it. My vision kept blurring and my voice kept getting choked up. It was about rest and trusting God and how He is always with us… it seemed written for her in this moment.

January 18

Every day has been worse for Granny and for us. I’ve taken off work again tomorrow. It’s the worst kind of waiting game. I can’t comprehend why she can’t either be healed or just go home to be with Jesus. It’s horrible. It breaks my heart. I wish she could comfort me. Tell me she will be fine. That we will go on our annual camping trip this summer, and have coffee together like we have a million times before.

The ward is crowded with hurting families. I see others like me, who come out in the hall and cry and try to pull themselves together – to be strong. There are so many hurting people all around us in this life that we never even notice.

January 20

Granny passed at 7:42 this morning. Her stroke happened on November 12, so she was in the hospital for a little over two months. My first thought was relief. She isn’t suffering anymore. She’s home with Jesus and her son and her parents. She’s in glory. My second thought was despair. She’s gone. Never to call me again. Never to tell me she loves me. Never to take us camping. Never to make coffee, or her amazing sourdough rolls. She will never see my children. She won’t be at my wedding. My family is reeling… Granny was the cornerstone – the center – the anchor. I miss her. I want to talk to her. To hear her voice telling me it’s going to be alright. Telling me anything really.. I wish none of this had ever happened. How can life go on without her? It doesn’t feel real. I feel like she will call me tomorrow. But she won’t. And she never will again.

Have you ever read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis? Lewis is my favorite author. In my childhood he introduced me to Narnia. In college helped me understand my faith via Mere Christianity and many other wonderful writings. Now, in my mid-20s, I am revisiting many of my favorite quotes from A Grief Observed. I highly recommend reading it to anyone going through any type of loss. Lewis wrote, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” It never feels how you think it will feel. You never react how you think you will react.

I stood in the snow on Saturday, the 23rd of January, said goodbye to my Granny, and felt nothing but thankfulness for her life and sorrow for her death.

Its been a week and a half now, and the pain hits me at unexpected times. In the middle of a shift at work. As I wait for sleep to come each night. In photographs. In the sunset. You hope people will notice and you hope they won’t. You dread talking about it, yet you feel the need to. You imagine all the might-have-beens.

Photo Jan 31, 5 46 02 PM

Grief experts, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler wrote, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” Whether it be death, divorce, or a breakup, you will be affected.

Grief is a complex thing. Everyone experiences it differently. You can’t say to someone who is grieving, ‘I know how you feel,’ because you don’t. I’ve noticed two things I personally do to cope. I keep myself busy, and I look for God. I don’t want to be left alone with my thoughts that run wild and unchecked. I cling to scriptural promises; two in particular:

“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” – Isaiah 57:1-2

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

There are so many verses I love that have helped me through hard times in my life, but those are two of my favorites. Again, I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote, this time in The Magician’s Nephew. He wrote, ” ‘But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’ Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. ‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.’ ”

As I sit here typing this, I remember something my uncle shared at the funeral; a list Granny wrote of things she loved. I’d like to share a few of them with you:

  • Gardenias
  • Lilacs
  • Roses
  • Honeysuckle
  • Camping
  • Shiloh/Heber Springs
  • Sunrises and Sunsets
  • My babies and grandkids and great grandkids faces
  • Rainbows
  • The smell of rain and also leaves burning
  • Whippoorwills and Turtle Doves calls
  • Jar Flys
  • Rom. 8:1-2, Isaiah 43:1, and Isaiah 41:13

Granny was a woman of God. She impacted so many throughout her lifetime, including me. I was blessed to have her for a grandmother for almost 25 years. I have memories I will always treasure and she taught me so much that I will pass down to my children and my children’s children. I can hear her voice in my head, saying my name, lifted in song, laughing – always laughing. The last thing she said to me was she loved me… I don’t have any doubt in my mind about how much she truly did. I miss her so much, and I would give just about anything for one more cup of coffee with her.


Photo Jan 17, 9 01 22 AM

Photography by Shelby Briley and Jeff Rose

0 thoughts on “On Grief

  1. Jenny Marrs says:

    This is remarkably beautiful and poignant. Thank you for giving us these glimpses into your grandmother’s life and for shedding such a unique perspective on kiss and grief. I will keep this post saved in order to share with others as your words are like a balm to someone in the throes of grief.

    • Shelby Briley says:

      Hi Jenny! Thank you so much for your kind response. I am glad that it resonated with you and appreciate your comment so much. The loss of loved ones is never easy but celebrating their lives helps. Thank you again!

    • Shelby Briley says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Erin! I’m a big believer it getting things out. Like I said in the post, writing always helps me! I am so happy that God has seemingly allowed my experience to resonate with others! Thanks again for your comment – I really appreciate it!

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