Steel Magnolias: Women Growing in the Midst of Grief

“I have your dinner reservation confirmed. Is this a special occasion? What are you celebrating?”

Well, yes, in fact, I thought to myself. This is a special occasion. And celebrate we will.

I checked in at the hostess stand. One by one, each guest arrived, and within minutes the chairs around our table were filled. As the pimento cheese fondue and fried potato chips were served, five individual women bravely shared their personal story and listened with empathetic and open hearts as the others spoke.

In the hours, days, and months since dad’s passing, I have been motivated to tell my story. A story that is unfolding with each passing day. I have always wanted my story to be a romantic comedy where Tom Hanks comes ‘round the bend with his dog Brinkley, as ‘Over the Rainbow’ is cued up on the soundtrack. Some days it feels more like a scene from ‘August: a Osage County.’ But throughout the story telling process, whether therapeutic or insane, I have found that the most healing and restorative result is when someone tells me their story back. In that moment, whether a dear handwritten letter arriving unexpectedly at the bachelorette bungalow or a Facebook private conversation with a reader I have never met, a connection is formed. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief on each end. “Yes, she gets it. “ or “He truly understands.”

I poured myself a glass of ‘two buck chuck’ and settled in for my chosen therapy for the evening. What better way to gain some perspective than watching “The Real Housewives of (insert any of the cities)”? I paired my exclusive wine blend with cheese—eh, baked Cheetos. I am not sure why I am continually surprised, but I watched in shock as these women tore each other down during a dinner party. (And I am absolutely not making a point about reality television. Andy Cohen may be my favorite TV personality. True story. It’s American entertainment, my friends—if you want something more ‘enriching’, C-SPAN is always on. I digress.) I laughed out loud as the craziness that was ensuing on screen, and thanked God those were not the women in my life! At the risk of sounding like the Bravo channel was providing me the same lessons of an after school movie special, it did give me an idea.

Since dad’s death, several women who also have just recently experienced a sudden and tragic loss of a parent, were placed in my path. It’s crazy weird how God works. Each one as beautiful inside as out. And each one open to telling their story, as ugly and vulnerable as it may be. Gosh, I thought, how fierce would a dinner party with these chicks be!? So with the help of social media, an event was created, and five women’s paths intersected over more wine and cheese. This time, though, with wine not by Charles Shaw and real cheese instead of processed cheese product.

The dinner was everything a dinner party should be. We ate delicious food, we laughed a lot, and we connected and bonded with the best of conversations. Over two hours, our stories were weaving into one another’s. The, “I get it”s and “me too”s echoed throughout the night. There was sadness and recognition of the great loss in our lives, yes. We carry our own regrets, guilt, and pain. But, it did not stop there. These women shared it, choosing to be vulnerable and real. It's so interesting how strength can often look like 'weakness'. But really that bravery to embrace the story God is telling with your life is one of the most beautiful types of strength. A ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ can take the form of a ‘steel magnolia’ over sweet potato fries in Greenville, SC.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.” (Proverbs 31: 25-26)

We cannot change the past or always control our circumstances, but we can look at the unknown future, not with fear, but trust and hope. We can fill in each other’s doubts and anxiety with empathy, encouragement, and faith. Anne Lamott says, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” And that is what I had a front row seat to last Wednesday night. A community of people building each other up, limping yes, but not without hope. Oh sweet friends, may that continually, always, point us to the WHO we can have our true and everlasting hope in.

“Now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.”( 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)