Note from CM: My work requires me to be around death and dying people every day. That means I am also with the people from whom these loved ones’ lives are being torn. From one perspective, life is a series of losses and we all find ourselves bereft. Therefore, the simple human ministry of supporting each other through seasons of loss is one of the ways we are called to relate in this world.
We do not always do this well. Despite its ubiquity, we would rather not face loss in our own lives or in the lives of others. It is uncomfortable. People of faith are no less uncomfortable, and in addition we find ourselves laden with an additional storehouse of “answers” that leads us to think we can short circuit natural processes of mourning and grieving. We can be miserable comforters.
I wrote the following to counter this tendency, to give permission for the sorrowing to sorrow. We accompany people through grief, we do not enable them to get over it.
• • •
Make the Way by Walking
My friend, I have good news for you: you don’t have to “do grief right.” In our culture, we expect people to follow a certain path in the wake of a loss. I’m here to tell you: there is no defined path. Just be yourself, keep walking, and you will make a way.
You may be introverted, drawing strength from solitude. Or, as an extrovert, you may find help being with others. Some people need to sleep while others need to stay busy. Talking about it may help or hinder. Some read everything they can find to answer the questions that haunt them. Others want to simply forget. There is no “right” way.
Furthermore, you don’t have to come up with a “reason” or “purpose” for your loss. The plain fact is, there might not be one, at least one any of us will ever know.
You are not required to smile and say things are alright. You need not put on a positive front in order to “be strong” for others. “Falling apart” is normal. Give yourself permission.
You don’t have to always try to balance your sad feelings with positive ones. Your tears honor the immense importance of your loss. If it hurts, it hurts.
On the other hand, don’t feel guilty if you have a good day or want to do something fun. Even in a season of grief, there are ups as well as downs. It’s okay to still enjoy life’s blessings, to laugh, to lighten things up.
And perhaps you are one of those people who rarely cries and is not demonstrative about your feelings. Don’t let people pressure you into feeling bad about that. If you simply prefer to deal with your loss privately and process your thoughts and feelings more stoically or analytically because that is your personality, that’s okay.
If you are a person of faith, don’t automatically imagine that God will “speak” to you about your loss or give you a vision or a word that will explain it to you.
Don’t assume that, through your loss, God is giving you a “message” to share with others. Some of us are activist types, always looking for ways to help other people. But grief is not about that. Grief is about you — your loss, your pain, your darkness. It is not “selfish” to focus on yourself. Grief means you have received a serious wound, and there is a time to tend wounds.
“God-talk” can mean well, but it can also ramp up the pressure to “do grief right” and be “heroic” at a time when you need to heal.
It’s okay to hurt, to cry, to fall apart, to withdraw, to get depressed, to be angry, to struggle within yourself and with God and others, to rage against the senselessness of it all, to have no words, and to feel like that for as long as you need. Grief doesn’t follow a timetable. Be patient with yourself, and seek the help of others who will let you be yourself.
There is no sure guide that can cut a straight path through the wilderness of grief. You will make your own way by simply walking. And you will make it.