Recently I attended my grandmother’s funeral. She was a wonderful woman and someone who had considerable influence in who I have become. Although she had led a full life and her passing was not unexpected, it was still a loss that I grieved (or perhaps the better term would be “am grieving”). At the same time, I witness the grief of my family members and those who loved her.
Over the last years, through losing other loved family members like my father-in-law and my eight-year-old niece- grief is something that I have become familiar with. I have read and reread articles, books, blogs and listened to people speak about their grief as well as spent time thinking about my own thoughts and feelings during these times of loss.
Although I am by no means an expert in grief, there are several observations I have made.
Grief is unwelcome and uninvited. No one wants to experience the pain of loss. It often comes unannounced and without cause, but even in the cases where cause did exist, either by accident or intentional consequence, the pain that accompanies the aftermath is unwanted. In fact, loss as a result of choices and actions seems to exacerbate pain during the grief process.
Grief is both shared by many- the result of the far-reaching impact each loss has on all those around them- and at the same time is highly individual. Every person has an individual experience, even if it is two (or more) experiences over the same loss. Sometimes this is the most difficult aspect, seeking comfort from someone who is experiencing their own very different journey of loss. Looking to find comfort or strength with another person, especially a person in a trusted relationship, only to find a landmine of hurt words or shocked feelings. I am weary of claims over the “right words” to say to someone who is grieving.
Grief is volatile, it is a chaos of emotions and thoughts- seldom rational or static. Empathy and compassion are always the best approach, but I do not think there are any universal phrases that will be welcomed from every person, or even one person at all times. Most circumstances call for some words as opposed to awkward silence, so a simple “I am sorry for your loss” is an appropriate choice. However, even that I have seen interpreted as empty and cold. Due to this observation I often feel uncertain about what to say when confronted with a grieving person. Those are times I have to remind myself that it is not about me. I need to risk sounding silly or to be misinterpreted so that I can heed what is going on for someone else. And as much as I am convinced there is no perfect approach to someone else’s grief, I am equally convinced that comparison is unproductive to everyone involved.
Grief is selfish. I do not say this to ridicule, or as something to avoid. Rather I mean that grief is an experience of loss, our own personal private loss, it is not shared in a way that can be divided or reduced. Hearing about other's grief or telling about our own can be validating, but it does not make it go away. Although there may be some other adjacent emotions such as anger for suffering, fear, or indignation at the loss for another, grief itself is instinctively a reaction against losing what we had. Our comfort, our enjoyment, our memories, our perceived and intended future. We wanted something to take place and it did not, grief is the reaction to that.
I do not recommend grief to be anything other than that- the reaction to our own loss. The journey through grief is supposedly complete upon reaching the ability to accept the new reality- the new normal that deviated from the normal that was intended. Perhaps there is an element of truth to this, but I am not entirely sure that even once a person has become resigned to the new normal that the journey is truly completed. I suspect that grief will always be present to some degree as the loss it is born from is never undone, rather it transforms what had been and what could have been into what is.
With that is my last observation of grief. Grief is inevitable, a part of the human experience. I think perhaps that is what is so significant about the story of Jesus when he wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus. He too shared in this unavoidable trial, and in that I find comfort. Grief, although undesirable, is a part of who we are. There is no shame in it. There is no more contempt in finding a grieving person than there is in finding a happy one. Treating grief as disgraceful or suppressing its existence is as effective as treating hunger the same way. To deny this aspect of who we are is perhaps the biggest detriment to addressing grief, understanding it and developing healthy choices about it.
My biggest struggle with grief has always been its ability to overwhelm me. My belief that it should not have a presence in my life leaves me vulnerable and unprepared when it does show up. Perhaps if I could begin with this step, recognizing grief as a necessary presence at least at some point in my life, I will not feel the need to hide from it. Instead I can find the confidence needed to feel capable the next time it shows up.
Meet the Pasotr
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.