Leah, or grief is a very big feeling

January 25, 2010

On Saturday, I took a day-long course in First Aid and CPR.  The class was a mixture of watching videos, lecture, and practicing skills on mannequins or other classmates.  At one point during the day, I think while watching one of those videos (“Bill!  Bill!  Are you okay?”), a twinge of a thought occurred to me:  What if Leah, my friend who is fighting cancer, is at this very moment going into cardiac arrest?  What if the nurses and her family are rushing to her bedside, frantically starting CPR and scrambling to get an AED machine to restart her heart?  I dismissed the thought as quickly as it came: too morbid, too final.

When I got home later that day, I had an email waiting for me from Leah’s mom, sent earlier that morning.  The subject line was “URGENT” and the email contained only this: “PRAY NOW OR NEVER!”  Leah’s sister had established a page on facebook for updates on Leah.  On the page, she had written that the doctors treating Leah had given her until Sunday to live.  24 hours.  One sunset, one sunrise.

I cried Saturday night and called my mom and a couple of friends.  I talked in “ifs”–if Leah dies, if I go to her funeral, if I never have another conversation with her.  My roommate and I (jokingly) began brainstorming a t-shirt marketing idea: “I wish cancer were a person so I could punch it in the face.”

I woke up early Sunday morning to find another email waiting: Leah had died that morning, at 4:45 a.m.  Not even another sunrise.

In my mind, I immediately turned into the pouting 3-year-old, stamping my feet and shaking my tiny fist in accusation at God: It’s not fair!  It’s just not fair! There’s never anything right about death, but taking someone who was vibrant, faithfully serving God in radical ways, just seems like the ultimate in unfair.  In fact, the word “unfair” does not even capture the wrongness of the circumstances of Leah’s death.

I won’t even begin to describe the spectrum of emotions I have experienced in the past 48 hours, but I will highlight one aspect of my grieving process that had me baffled:  The depth of my grief for someone I have not actually seen in four-and-a-half years.  I knew Leah when I lived in Wheaton, Illinois, for just over two years.  But before those two years were over, Leah left for Austrialia to work with Youth With a Mission.  So really, the time I spent with her adds up, I think, to about a year-and-a-half, with another brief visit when I went back to the Chicago area in 2005.

But Leah has always been there. She has always been a phone call or email away, and she supported me, despite the distance, through some of the toughest and some of the most joyful seasons of my life.  She has always understood. She is a kindred spirit whose heart echoes so much of mine.  She was always going to be there, and now she is not.

So I had been hesitant to approach God with my grief, afraid that His response would be, “Your grief over Leah is out of proportion.”  But just a little while ago, as I was writing these very thoughts in my journal, I began to weep.  It was as though God was erasing that dreadful sentence even as I wrote it.  His response, instead, was “Your grief is not out of proportion.  I am grieving with you.”  And God’s grief, as I understand it, is at a much greater proportion than man’s could ever be.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes something that captures perfectly what I have been experiencing:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.  I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.  The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.  I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed.  There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.  I find it hard to take in what anyone says.

I know the fear-like feelings will not last forever.  In fact, I am anxious for them to lift so I can truly celebrate Leah’s life.  But for now, with Lewis as my companion, grits as my comfort food, and “Pride and Prejudice” as my escape, I will walk through the grief.  Grief is, after all, a very big feeling for a very small human.

I love you, Leah.  I look forward to our next chat, which will be unchallenged by distance and uninterrupted by…well, anything.



  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Life-giving friends are an incredible gift to us from a gracious Father. I am blessed by your very open/vulnerable thoughts, Allison. And I’ll pray for all those affected by Leah’s death.

  2. So sorry to hear of your loss. Thinking of you, friend.

  3. I am so sorry for you loss Allison. I think that you captured a great thought when you wrote:

    “Grief is, after all, a very big feeling for a very small human.”

    May God give you the courage to grieve well. Feel free to call if you ever want to process your feelings over coffee.

    Blessings, Bob

  4. Thanks, all. Bob, I think I’ll take you up on that coffee offer…some time next week, perhaps?

    Leah’s memorial is this Saturday, and I’m making plans to go. Closure is good.

  5. Your words are precious friend. She I am sure was just as blessed to have had you as a friend. I will pray for both you and her family.

  6. We love you, Allison, and grieve when you are grieving. Asking God to comfort you. – Sarah and Dennis

  7. Hey Allison,

    Thanks for the note! it was a blessing to hear your heart for my sister. I know Leah would be honored to have read this! but don’t feel bad about morning, laughing, screaming or yelling! its all ok. it is good to let it out and God understands and He knows that when she left us she was going to be deeply missed. and I really feel that He weeped in knowing that. but She is with Jesus and what better place to be then to be with Him! Leah would want us to not morn for long but to celebrate her life and to remember her as LIVING. because she is LIVING, she is living the really life! again thank you for the note.

    Much love from Leah’s baby sister Becky

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