Grief Accumulates

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We have been going through a season of loss in our faith community. We have said ‘goodbye‘ to several friends. That is not very surprising, since our global community has suffered an exceptional year of sickness and death since COVID-19 became a common term. Most of us know someone who has been impacted by this terrible virus. Of course there are many losses that do not relate to the pandemic. To my friends who are starting a new journey of grief, I want to share a few things with you.

Grief Defies Description

If ‘grief‘ is the experience of suffering a loss, then it cannot be measured nor dismissed. It eludes description. I think that’s what makes grief hard to talk about. It’s difficult to tell a friend exactly what we are going through because it is such a complex combination of feelings, thoughts, self-talk, and ideas that are sometimes changing by the hour. No matter how hard we try, we cannot communicate the depth of our experience, even if we are blessed with an excellent listener. If you are sometimes in a state of confusion because of grief, that’s OK. When my son died someone said to me, “I don’t know what to say.” I appreciated their honesty. I replied truthfully, “I don’t either.”

Grief Brings A Suitcase

It doesn’t come and go like yesterday’s newspaper. Grief always brings a suitcase. It intends to stay. I remember thinking of grief as a stranger who moved into my heart and would not leave. Some days I felt that perhaps I had gained enough strength that grief would not have its way in my thoughts any longer. Then in a grocery store I’d see a food that John Robert liked to eat, and have an embarrassing grief attack on aisle 6. Maybe another day, on the other side of the room, I would see someone who looked just like him. A smell of cologne or perfume, a random thought, a picture that falls out of a book, seeing someone enjoying an activity that your loved one enjoyed – all of these (and more) pick at the edges of our unhealed grief and sometimes it bleeds. A man who had lost his son asked me how long it is going to hurt. I decided to be honest and tell him that the first few years are really hard. His shoulders slumped and his eyes welled up. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was true but maybe it was more than he could bear at the moment. On your grief journey you should know that because the person you lost was someone you loved deeply, there will always be some pain associated with that loss. It will always hurt – it just won’t always hurt like it does now. If you think something is wrong because the pain lasts longer than you expected, know that this is common.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

–Vicki Harrison

Grief Has A Community

The Grief Community gave me great strength. When I walked into a Compassionate Friends meeting, I could almost feel the pain the room. Every person in that meeting had lost a child, just as I had. Oh, they were different ages and causes. But whether their child was murdered or died by suicide or had a disease or overdosed on drugs or died in an automobile accident … there was a connection among all of us. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to keep on living without them, until we met someone who lost their child twenty or thirty years ago. They smile, and they still cry. In GriefShare meetings I met people who had various kinds of losses and walked together with them for a period of time. But whether you join a specific community (and I recommend you do) or spend time with someone who has had a similar loss, you’ll find a new connection that will give you new and valuable insight into the road ahead. There is healing in this connection.

Grief Accumulates

We should realize that grief accumulates. This is probably something most of us realize by now, after the year we have had. Additional losses tend to bring fresh reminders of our deepest grief experiences. These new losses can stay with us and add weight to our already heavy hearts. Someone might tell you that ‘time heals all wounds‘. It sounds good, but it is misleading. The truth is that is how you spend your time that determines if you find healing for the wounds of grief. So what can we do that will give us forward traction in our grief journey? Well, it is not as easy as just ten easy steps, but there are things that I believe might give some relief and assistance as you move forward through the coming days.

Grief is Not The End of the Story

There are better days ahead … sometimes WAY ahead … but hope is on the horizon for every broken heart. Please do not see the list here as “steps” or “cure alls”. See them as companions. Among them may be some things that will help you grow out of the intensity of grief you may be suffering now.

  • It is OK to cry. Tears are God’s gift of cleansing and you have never cried a tear that he did not see and make note of (Psalm 56:8). Washington Irving said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
  • Read your Bible Again. You might notice that it is an account of grieving people who suffered real losses. The first parents of the Bible were bereaved parents. Many of the Psalms express the bitterness of a broken heart. Jesus reached out to the broken and hurting.
  • See a Christian Counselor. I saw a counselor for several months after my son died. Your mental health is a key to survival and growth. I emphasize “Christian” counselor, for all the obvious reasons.
  • Read Christian Grief Writings. There are many resources to read. At GriefShare.org you can sign up for a daily email. It is brief, free, and comes for one year. They also have a bookstore with excellent resources to purchase. I have a page on this blog which is filled with Grief Resources. Look through and read some of what others have to share about this road.
  • Move Around. Go for a walk. Get outside. Ask a friend to go with you. The benefits of putting our bodies in motion are many. It’s easy to hibernate and withdraw when we are suffering through grief. Break that cycle.
  • Don’t Give Up on the Spiritual Life. Some losses shake our faith. I heard a long time ago that if you don’t feel like praying just talk to God about it. For some, going to church can be hard. There are questions people ask and statements people make who are trying to help but who just make it worse. For a while if necessary, arrive late and leave a little early. Sit with a reliable friend. If you need to say something to God, go ahead and say it. He’s strong enough to bear the pain of his children. Just don’t let go of your connection to the Lord.
  • Hang on to Hope. Brighter days really are ahead. It may not seem like it now, I know. Believe me, I know. One day in the future you will awaken to a realization that the pain of loss is not quite as intense as it was. Then you will know healing is happening.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

–Anne Lamott

I hope some of these thoughts will be of help to you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Remember you never walk that journey alone. Your Shepherd walks with you, so you do not need to fear. Out here, hope remains.

Resource of some of the quotes on this page HERE.

2 Comments

  1. John, I always enjoy and benefit from your words of wisdom. As usual, your words on grief touched the strings of my heart. I particularly liked your advice to “arrive late and leave early” from church. These are not words I would expect from a minister. But so true and helpful. You are indeed a man who has walked in these shoes. Love you and Maggy.

    I know Tesa Turner, Martha Linton’s daughter, would benefit from your article. Unfortunately, I do not have her email address —just her text.

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