We’ve often talked about “what matters” together, focusing our lives and actions on what we hope will last. Loss is one of those experiences that shows you clearly—painfully—what actually holds lasting value in our days. I wrote these reflections as my dad was in the hospital, as he transitioned to hospice, and in the moments following his death. I was struck by my own experience and what truly mattered in the end. While everyone’s experience is different—truly—I hope these reflections guide my children and encourage you in grief and in life!
People matter. Love them.
Memories matter. Make them.
Stories matter. Tell them. Relive them. Keep them alive at family visits, at birthdays, at bedtime, on phone calls, and around the dinner table. Stories build family narratives and add up to lasting legacies. Ask for stories to be told. “Tell me a story about the time…” is one of life’s most valuable requests.
Capturing life matters. Photographs, audio recordings, and videos matter. I saved every voicemail my Dad left me. I knew I’d want to hear his voice one day, which proved true. Take a million pictures and videos. You’ll be so grateful you did.
Words matter. Share them. Generous words heal and give hope. The long texts, letters, and words offered in person from friends have continued to be sustaining nourishment in grief.
Checking in matters. Everyone’s grief and circumstances are different when anticipating or experiencing loss. Ask people what they prefer, and err on the side of often, with no reply expectations attached. Friends checking in to see how we were doing or to say they were praying or thinking of us meant the world. For us, it mattered.
Coming over matters. Come over with food. With nothing at all. With just yourself. All a huge gift. Community matters.
Shared grief matters. I am grateful for people who shared their stories of loss with me: friends from childhood, people I had never met before, the mail carrier, the grocery clerk, nurses and doctors, old friends and new, neighbors, and more. Knowing you’re not alone changes how you grieve. We pass courage to each other, and it matters.
Listening matters. Letting a friend process what they are experiencing can be life-changing. Friends did this for me. It was selfless and one of the biggest acts of love. I will never forget their generosity. Help your grieving friends make space for their experience. Ask them how their grief is. Ask them what they are experiencing lately or just at that moment. This is a gift of time, vulnerability, and love. It will make all the difference.
Sharing memories matters. People sending stories about my Dad and things they loved about him made a huge difference for us—and him. We read encouraging words from friends and sweet memories to him as he was in hospice. He felt loved. He felt valued. It brought him peace. It mattered.
Making space for grief matters. Our culture doesn’t know how to honor grief, so this is something you have to fight for yourself. Talk to a trained counselor or join a grief group and actively process your loss. Journal, take care of yourself, and let yourself experience this safely. You will feel like a mess. You will feel a lot of things. There is no set process for moving through grief. It comes in waves when you least expect it and, over time, it just gets different. Know that God is with you, and ask for what you need. Ask for help and receive it. Grieving matters.
Most of all, this life matters. Life and breath are a gift. Watching my Dad’s breath leave him, I knew—painfully at that moment and in every moment after—that we cannot take the things of this life to heaven with us. All that remains is the legacy we leave and the seeds of faith we plant in the hearts of others.
May we faithfully use the time, talents, and love we’ve been given. Our little-by-little steps add up. My Dad’s life proved this to me once again. It was the small things done in love over time that left his legacy of love and encouragement. You never know how your small seeds of faith will grow long after you are gone. It matters.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12.
P.S. This 4-minute podcast episode is everything. I needed every word, and I hope it encourages you as we begin to close this year. Endings can be new beginnings.