Grieving for Rachel Held Evans
At one point it seemed like everyone was asking me if I knew about Rachel Held Evans. She and I were the same age, and we had similar Evangelical backgrounds. Rachel had written a book about her childhood in Evangelical culture. I read it and related to a lot of it. Rachel was from Tennessee and I was from Alaska, but the culture she described reminded me of my Christian school and churches I had attended. I appreciated how well she described this subculture and the care she took in describing these people I recognized.
A few years later, I connected with Rachel Held Evans on Twitter. She and I were both bloggers who traveled a lot—though she did this on a much larger scale than I did. I remember bonding over an ice cream place in the Atlanta airport, a place we both ended up frequently. We followed each other on Twitter and interacted occasionally, but that was probably the high point of our communication. We never met in person, though I thought we might someday.
Now I blog a lot less, and my stomach won’t let me eat ice cream anymore. And this morning I found out that Rachel Held Evans has died.
I first heard that Rachel was in the hospital from my friend Anna, who sent me a text. Anna went to the same college as Rachel, and they would meet up for coffee. Anna asked if I was Facebook friends with Rachel, and told me that Rachel’s husband had posted saying that Rachel was in an induced coma after a severe reaction to antibiotics. Over the course of that day, this news became public. It was all over my feeds: people praying and sharing stories about Rachel. I followed the updates about her health and prayed for the best.
When I went online this morning, I learned that Rachel had died. My partner and I were both surprised by the wave of grief that hit me when I read the news. I didn’t know Rachel personally, and we both knew this might happen. But I had really hoped that she would pull through.
I posted on social media how sorry I was to hear this, and I am feeling sorry about a lot of things. I am sorry that Rachel received so much vitriol online for sharing her story. I am sorry that people used her illness to promote their own harmful theology. I am sorry for her friends and family who are mourning her sudden death. I am sorry that she will not be able to see her children grow up. I am sorry that she did not live to 38.
My partner suggested that I feel this grief because I identify with Rachel, and that is part of it. But I also realized that I identify Rachel more strongly with my friend Anna, who is also in the hospital. Anna has chronic illnesses that mean she is often in the hospital. In the past few years, her health has declined steadily, and no one knows how long she will live. I love Anna, and it makes me so sad and angry to know that she most likely will not live to old age.
Fame is a strange thing. The grieving about Rachel Held Evans has been so public because she has meant a lot to so many of us. Even those who never met her are feeling this loss. She was a kind presence on a platform that often rewards those who are not kind. She was open about what she believed, and was willing to change. It is a loss for all of us that we will not get to see her grow as a writer and a speaker, that we will not read what she had to say at 40, or 50, or 75.
I am grateful that she had a family and friends who loved Rachel for who she was, not just the public figure Rachel Held Evans. I am grateful to Rachel for persevering in the face of abuse and mean-spirited comments. I see how much this hurts, for so many. I will pray for Rachel’s family and loved ones, and for all those who are grieving this loss.