The middle seat was the last one left. I shoved my carry-on under the seat in front of me and tried to get comfortable without nudging the sleeping man on my right and the masked woman on my left. My plan was to just get through this flight. Maybe I would work or watch a show, but I was just anxious to get home. I briefly chatted with the woman beside me as the plane took off, “Where is your final destination?”
“Ohio, I am going to visit my son who I haven’t seen in over a year!” Her eyes beamed with excitement.
“That sounds wonderful.” I smiled and nodded along with her joy.
I dropped down the tray in front of me and propped open my laptop. Over the next three hours, I closed my eyes, worked on a project, and listened to a podcast. As the flight prepared to land, I stowed away my belongings and refastened my seatbelt. I felt a nudge in my spirit — ask her what she loves about her son.
I’m not one to chat on and on with a stranger beside me on a plane. But I do find it fascinating how you can connect with a stranger and then never see them again. I had nothing to lose. So I turned my body towards her and asked the question that God initiated inside of me.
Her body relaxed. I felt the ease in her words as she shared about her son. He is bright and kind and, at the moment, a little brokenhearted. She went on to talk about her grandson who she takes care of and then … she paused.
“My mother died six months ago.” She went on to tell me about how she had cared for her mom for years, but the dementia got so bad that it finally ended her life.
Another long pause. She went on to describe that when the paramedics took her mom away she begged them not to go. For so long she had managed her mom’s needs and she couldn’t let them take over now. As she spoke, her jaw quivered. Her tears gathered like water in cupped hands and spilled over, down the curve of her cheeks. I listened. My eyes aching with compassion for her pain.
She broke out of the sacred moment by patting my knee. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know I needed to talk about my mom, but I guess I did.”
I gently brushed off her apology. “I believe in God and I believe God always makes space for our grief.”
She patted my knee again as a way of saying, thank you.
It’s true though. Grief comes out in the most unexpected ways. Just when I think I am done with the unwanted company of sadness, I cry at a stoplight or when a random song comes on. Grief is wretched. It can be heavy and hurt me and last for so long. I just want to be done with it.
I am tempted to have power over my grief. I want to master it, control it, dictate it. I can also swing the other way. I am tempted to become powerless in my grief. In essence, I give way to it. I let the storm of depression and helplessness overcome me. I lose my will to the waves of sadness crashing down on me.
But grief is not a wild horse to be tamed nor can it destroy me entirely. Grief is a gift. It marks how much my heart loved another.
Grief is not meant to control or to be controlled by us. The invitation is to be with Jesus in our sadness for however long necessary. Let Jesus be your guide. Let your heart feel what it needs to feel. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 ESV). I take great comfort in knowing God cares for the brokenhearted.
The plane landed with a bobble like the dribble of a basketball and then slowed to a halt. My seatmate gathered her things and hurried to catch her next flight. I never got her name.
I think these moments in life are divine. The kind of moments we can’t plan, but walk through by faith. God meets us behind kitchen sinks, in long lines, at drive-thrus, and high in the sky with strangers. God makes space for our sadness and we make space for others. This is the way of love.