Bearing Grief in Community | A Share Your Story Blog

Written By: Sierra Okoniewski


August 16, 2023

In June of 2020, Emma Greco woke up to her grandmother yelling frantically into the phone. “Something’s wrong with your mom,” she was told. “We’ve got to go.” Soon after, when Emma arrived at her dad’s house, she learned that her mom had very suddenly passed away.

“It was shock immediately,” Emma said. “It was — how? Why? It was impossible. There was no way that my mom was not living anymore. They said it was respiratory failure. There was nothing wrong with her the day before, as far as I knew. When we were driving to my dad’s house, I was praying the whole way, ‘Please let her be alive. Let her be okay.’ We got there, and my dad, my uncle, and my cousin were on the porch, crying. And that’s how we found out.”

That day, the first person that Emma called was her small group leader.

Though Emma grew up going to a Methodist church in Roseville, she had also attended a youth program at Woodside Warren since the third grade. Emma became involved in Woodside Students throughout middle and high school, and officially started attending Woodside Warren on Sunday mornings after her first experience at Hope Week.

“Throughout high school, I found it difficult to share personal stuff and feelings with my parents,” Emma said. “My small group leaders have always been my outlet for releasing emotion. I came to them with my home-life issues and my mental battles. They’ve always been the people to hold me accountable for my actions and teach me how I can glorify God.”

When her mom passed away, Emma was just finishing her junior year in high school. Immediately after receiving the news, her Woodside small group surrounded her with support — reaching out to her, visiting her, and making sure she knew that she could lean on her church family in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“They were just always there for me,” Emma said. “There wasn’t a moment where I felt like a burden. They wanted to be there. My small group leader stepped into a mother-figure role — she helped me apply for college, took me to get my prom dress, and brought me on their family vacation. I consider her my bonus mom, and I don’t know anyone who would take the time to be there for me when she has a family of her own.”

As she completed her senior year and prepared to graduate, Emma noticed that the depth of sadness she had anticipated still hadn’t hit her fully. It wasn’t until later in college that she really started to process the pain of her mom’s absence.

I always thought that I was grieving wrong,” she said. “So, at that point, I was kind of back-and-forth with God. When it finally hit me, I started to find myself feeling alone. There are times where the only person you want is your mom. In those times, I turned to other things that led me closer to failure. But with the strength of God, I made friends that made sure I stayed close to the people who loved me through the love of Christ.”

“There are times where it’s kind of easy to just be mad at God — like, why would You take my mom away from me at 16 years old? But even though she’s not here with me and I can’t see her, I know that she is doing everything with me, no matter what. God will use this to help others. That’s what I’m really taking away from all of this.”

In the years since her mom’s passing, Emma has been learning how lean into God with her grief. As she’s done this, one of the things she’s discovered is the importance of acknowledging her emotions alongside of church family and within community.

“During grief, it’s easy to run away from our thoughts and emotions,” she said. “Acknowledging our feelings is important because it’s so easy to push them down and replace them with something other than the guidance of God. He is the only One who loves unconditionally and will never let me down.”

“My Woodside family has shown me what it looks like to be a Christian. I didn’t know that being a Christian was more than praying and going to church. They have taught me the importance of serving, the importance of community, and how big of an impact that loving others can make. When my mom did pass, I don’t think I have ever felt more loved by a group of people. My mom’s death has brought me closer not only to my church family, but to my own family as well.”

Today, Emma leads a Woodside small group of her own, filled with sixth and seventh-grade girls. As she continues to grow in Christ, she’s passionate about being a mentor to the girls in her group as they navigate the complexities of culture, life, and faith.

“My small group leaders were always patient with me,” Emma said. “Now, being a leader of my own group, I put myself in their shoes and respond how they would. I had small group leaders who were always there to listen, give advice, or even just talk to take my mind off things. They are the people who kept me coming to church. Now that I lead my own group, I wish to be exactly that.”

“I grew up in a broken home. When my mom passed, many of the small group leaders took their past pain and experiences to help me. That brought me more comfort than anything. I pray I can use my broken past to help students grow in Christ and bring them the same comfort I had when I needed it most. My goal in leading is loving them through Christ.”