It was at an event we hosted at our church for people in grief. I was talking to a stranger and thinking that I had seen that expression before. I’d seen it in my own mirror. I’ve seen it on the faces of those who are telling me about their losses. I’ve seen it in support groups as I look around the circle of acquaintances drawn together by pain. He asked the question that so many ask. How long is this going to last?
Those who are suffering from grief ask that question because of the overwhelming task of bearing a burden that is so heavy we know we cannot do it for long. The death of a loved one raises so many questions, has so many consequences, erupts in our heart in so many ways. The physical pain surprises us because this is not just an emotional adjustment. Fatigue, spasms of uncontrollable weeping, overcoming the senseless things people say who are trying to help – we do not feel we can do this for long.
While we are staggering to grasp the significance of the death of a loved one, our equilibrium disappears. Off balance in every way, nothing makes sense. The bereaved often wonder quietly if they have mentally snapped. Our minds race as we try to think through everything that used to be so simple, but now seems beyond us. Will life ever be like it was? How long can we stumble through our days like this?
How long is this going to last? I told him the truth according to my own experience. We need to think in terms of years. Not weeks or months. Then I told him that the first year we are basically numb. The second year is worse, because the numbness has worn off. His face fell, and I wondered if I had said the wrong thing. Maybe there’s a time for that perspective, and it was too soon for him … or for the newly bereaved … to consider.
There will never be a Christmas morning when you won’t think about the missing one that you love. That’s because our love never fades. There will be a thousand reminders throughout the year – many of them unexpected… but welcomed. Those memories will not always have the jagged pain associated with them that they do the first few years. They will become graceful reminders, visitors that you welcome and linger with. They assure that your love lives on. And in that light, we don’t want grief to end. We will simply experience it in a different way.
Hang on, my hurting friends. It does get better. Out here, hope remains.