I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately. I know that sounds weird. It is kind of weird. But I’m a deep empathizer, probably in a super unhealthy way at times. I can take on people’s grief and experience it as if it were my own. People have given me the gift of their stories and so often I can feel a reverberation of their ache. It is a gift, but it can be a heavy one at times.
Lately, there have been so many stories swirling in my peripheral of pain and grief. There are the nationally televised ones about a country singer openly documenting his wife’slife and recent death from cervical cancer. There are the stories of helicopter crashes and children who in an instant become fatherless. Seven hundred mile marches of the comrades and widows of fallen Marines from the place where they took their last breaths to the place they called home. Then, there are the stories closer to home of parents whose hands became empty in a split second right outside my neighborhood. Children and daddies with cancer, friends grieving unimaginable losses, broken hearts abound.
I think about their specific grief often. And I also think about grief in more universal terms. How grief impacts a person over their lifetime. How tragedy can change a person’s trajectory without any notice. How grief never really stops or goes away, it just becomes a part of a person. Perhaps it’s the psych major in me or just that I study people, but grief is an unavoidable part of our personal and collective experience as humans. A hard one.
Yet, what I find is that so often people are afraid of the grieving. We believe there is a right and wrong thing to say in a person’s deep anguish so in an effort to avoid the wrong thing, we avoid the grief all together. Grief has a loneliness to it that ultimately compounds its presence. After the dust literally and figuratively settles at the graveside, the phone calls and check ins start to diminish because we as a culture don’t know what to do with the kind of pain that words can’t seem to shake.
What scares us so much about grief? I recall my darkest season and how people’s reaction to my pain really impacted how I would forever interact with the hurting. There were the infinite amount of blatantly stupid comments. People say things in an effort to minimize our pain. Not because they don’t think it matters, but because they don’t know what to do with it. You see, grief isn’t a problem to solve. In our instant gratification of a society, this is hard for us point and click-ers to muster up. Grief truly never goes away, not this side of heaven at least. Sure, perhaps time will partially heal a wound or maybe the ache won’t be as profound as it once was, but scars always remain. When pressed and poked, wounds will re-open, blood will ooze, and more attention and care will be required. But grief isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something to be engaged.
Silence isn’t the answer to someone’s grief. Sometimes it is. Sometimes pain begs for no words, but just tears and mourning. But, walking away and keeping your distance in an effort to not say the stupid thing is not what is wanted either. People don’t want solutions for their grief, they just don’t want to be alone in it and have it ignored. A grieving person is going through a process that will usually last their entire lifetime and they don’t want you to go away, they just want you to be willing to walk through it with them, on their terms, not your own. Don’t we want everyone to deal with their grief for our sakes? It’s hard to go down into the trenches with someone and to not tip toe around like everything is going to come crashing down. It’s hard to not act like the pain has magically disappeared so that you can keep conversation about the shallow topics within your comfort zone. How are you? takes on a whole new meaning when asked to a griever. It’s loaded and our fear of what we will be asked to carry from that question’s answer can keep us from asking it.
I know a lot of people who mourn so well. They do it with a certain amount of transparency and authenticity that inspires. They carry their grief in a way in which it isn’t a burden, but rather a gift that draws them to depths where only Christ can heal. Grief is this blanket that covers its host and brings them into a place that is both simple and vivid. Those that grieve in their being because of the brutality of this life have something to offer us that we mustn’t let our fears keep us from. Grief simplifies the complexities of this modern world. The meaningless fade away when shadows of heartache hang overhead. The unimportant goes away. Grief is hard and it hurts, but in it is a gift both for the sufferer and her friends. May we never be afraid to walk through others pain with them…
Here’s to when grief remains…
Until next time,