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

I just spent my 14th Mother’s Day without my mom.  It’s still hard to believe she’s gone.  I remember the first Mother’s Day after she died –how much I dreaded it.  The fear of wondering what it would be like to celebrate her without her was almost worse than the day itself.  I’ve found that to be true with grief – the anticipation of an anniversary or holiday can sometimes undue me before the day even arrives – and then the day itself is not nearly as bad as I had imagined.

Other times it’s more sneaky.  Like an unwanted guest that arrives without warning – a song on the radio or a smell in the air can transport me back in time to raw memories and moments I haven’t thought of since they first occurred. Sometimes it’s quick, other times the memory lingers, but it’s almost always unexpected and comes without warning.

What surprises me the most about loss is the loneliness that can come with it.  I’m an extrovert but in times of grief often find myself feeling utterly and completely alone. After my mom’s death, I felt like no one in the world could understand my pain.  After suffering a miscarriage six months into our marriage, I pulled away from my closest family and friends – fearing no one could befriend me in my heartache. But the sense of separation from God has been the most painful of all. That place where my beliefs in an all-knowing, all-powerful God, collide with my circumstances and pain, has left me grasping for air – and asking one simple question – “Why?”

I sometimes hesitate to share how my mom died for fear of comparison – as if one loss could outweigh another.  My mom was murdered but that doesn’t make my loss any more or less painful than a woman who lost her mom to cancer.  At the end of the day, we’re both daughters trying to navigate our lives without our moms.  And we both just celebrated Mother’s Day without the women who gave us reason to celebrate in the first place.

My mom’s close circle of friends quickly became “other mothers” to me and tried to fill the void. My first Christmas I received 14-pairs of pajamas from those who knew her annual tradition was to give us pj’s on Christmas Eve. They wanted to do all they could to keep the memories alive.  But there was one holiday no one knew about… our “Gotcha Day”.

This was my family’s intimate celebration of our adoption anniversaries.  It was simple – each year I would find a brown paper sack on my bed, with my name painted on the side of it, and goodies inside.  Always included would be a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I assumed that tradition had been lost – gone with her to the grave.  But six years after her death, a family I met through friends offered for me to stay with them while I was transitioning between apartments in NYC. I hesitated since I didn’t know them well but agreed when they said they had prayed about it. After all, it would just be a couple of days. This family didn’t know anything about my story, much less about our “Gotcha Days”, but when I walked into their home that afternoon and went into the bedroom, there I found…

  • A brown paper sack on the bed
  • With my name painted on the side
  • And a batch of chocolate chip cookies from my favorite bakery in NYC!

I was speechless.  No one knew about “Gotcha Day” or the chocolate chip cookies.  No one in the entire world could recreate this tradition.  No one, that was, except for God.  Tears began to roll down my face as I heard these words in my head…

“Stop running!  Stop trying to do this without me.  Let me love you!”

It sounds silly to say that God spoke to me through a bag of chocolate chip cookies but it’s true. Up until then I had feared I was unseen by God. But in that moment I knew He was with me – and that He saw it all.

I wish I could say I’ve “mastered” the ability to deal with loss.  The truth is my journey has continued to have twists and turns (and more questions of “why?” than I’d care to admit).  Through it all, though, I can’t forget that day in NYC and the knowledge that He meets me in my darkest moments and in the most surprising of ways.

Sacred Story is honored to hear from guest contributor Melissa Tamplin Harrison, a broadcast journalist and founder of PURE Women’s Ministry. She lives in New York City with her husband and one-year-old daughter. To process loss further, read Kathryn’s story, “Losing My Best Example.”