“I never knew grief felt so much like fear.” These haunting words are from the opening sentence of CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed. This one sentence has stayed with me ever since I read them. And I repeat them over and over again to those who are mourning the death of a loved one, those who are going through life transitions, and to myself from time to time when I wonder where all the time has gone and I still haven’t been bit by a radioactive spider and got cool spider powers.
Over the years in my pastoral ministry I’ve walked with people through their times of grief. I’ve sat at the bedside of parents recently deceased as their grown adult children turn into teary eyed 8 year-olds who just want their mommy or daddy again. Grief does something to us. It triggers memories, it shakes loose the dust that formed upon old thoughts and things we regret not saying or doing. Or worse, it brings back those dark memories long suppressed of things we wish we never said or did.
Grief itself rolls in with the tide, an ebb and flow that is a constant crashing on the sand; it constantly changes the shoreline of our soul with each wave of grief which hits the sandy beaches.
To be honest, we don’t know what to do with grief. We bring over brownies and casseroles to those who’ve lost loved ones for two weeks and then expect them to snap out of it and get back to work. And those are for the griefs that society says we should grieve for and offer an awkward hug that includes a brief double pat on a back and “there there.” Those griefs are the one we’re allowed socially to recognize and act upon based on social unwritten rules.
But what about the griefs we don’t know what to do with?
When someone looses a parent, we know what to do when the parent was old or had cancer or something. We know what to do when a spouses passes at an old age, especially if that spouse had been suffering some sort of disease. We can say “They’re no longer suffering” and try to give some sort of socially acceptable words of comfort.
But what do we do when a mother eagerly expectant of a child miscarries 2 months in, 4 months in, 8 months in? We fumble over words. And when we do speak they come out as trite. When it happens to us, we don’t know how to respond. The grief of a parent lost is one thing, but the grief of not only an unborn child but a whole lifetime of diaper changes, first words, hugs, sloppy kisses, and high school graduation, of feeling proud of your progeny are all gone, dashed with a simple DNC.
What about the griefs felt of a future not realized, of all the work we’ve done only to look back and see it as either meaningless or of not making a difference. We try hard to do something to combat that grief only to be met with the clicking of tongues about having a mid-life crisis. When we mourn what could have been we’re told to not look back but forward, to not let it get you down. Yet even a future once seen but not materialized is worth the grief and mourning we have for it.
What about the griefs of what was and what isn’t now. Two years ago we moved from South Dakota to west Michigan. My son grieved the loss of his best friend. For months he still talked about his friend. He talked about his school, his home, his memories. We wondered as parents “How can we let him grieve?” We tried letting him call and talk with his friend, and that worked a bit. He tried writing him but it was never sent. A few months back I heard him crying in his room. I came in and he was holding his year book from first grade. “I can’t remember her name or face, Dad. She was in kindergarten with me but not fist grade. I can’t remember her face.” He was speaking of a young girl he would play with that lived near by. His grief hit because his memories were changing. He had been hit by a grief he didn’t know what to do with.
As Christians we’re told
“Blessed are those who mourn because they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Sometimes that word “blessed” is translated as happy. In the midst of grief, we don’t want to be told to be happy. We want or past back, our parent back, our child back, our future back.
Oft quoted we also are told
“Do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13
And then we’re reminded about the promise of the resurrection and told that we should buck up because not only is our loved one with Jesus but we’ll see them one day too. But we want our child back, we want our brother or sister or friend or mommy or daddy back now. And what about the grief we feel of a loss of something else. We’re told that it’s fine. It’s all part of God’s plan.
I hate that.
When I was 11, my parents split. A caring, but not understanding, adult said to me “God has a plan.” I wanted to punch that person in the face. Yes, God might have a plan and bring beauty from this pain but I hurt now.
Grief feels like fear. It’s a fear of what we don’t know. How will we live with what we now don’t have. For that, I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer now because it won’t matter. In fact, it might even make you want to punch me in the face. CS Lewis observed his own grief and walked through it the only way he knew how–by writing it down. He also let his grief live and exist with him yet didn’t let it consume him.
It is fine to feel grief. Grief is real for more than just the loss of an elderly parent or spouse. It is just as real for a miscarriage, a future that will never happen. It is just as real for a reality that never materialized. It is real and should be observed and lived but never consumed.
Allow the waves of grief to crash against the shores of your soul. Allow grief to create a new shoreline with the sand. Allow the ebb and flow to, well, ebb and flow. Allow grief.