I work with people who are grieving.
Grief is our human response to loss. We normally use the word to speak of someone who’s lost a loved one through death, but grief is bigger than that. Much more fundamental to the experience of daily life than that.
In fact, we might think of life itself as a series of losses that we grieve. Every new step and season in life means not only gaining something new but also losing something we had before. It starts with birth itself, when a baby is summarily expelled from its mother’s womb. This is life anew, but it’s also the loss of the womb, its warmth, comfort, and nourishment. And so it is as we grow up, moving into new stages of development, leaving the former ones behind — bringing everything we’ve gained with us, of course, but also losing something in the process.
In my childhood, through adolescence, and continuing through most of my adult life, I relocated often. Our family moved several times as my father made his way up the corporate ladder of his business, and each time there were exciting new things to which we looked forward: a new place to live and explore, new friends, new school, church, and activities. But a quick glance in the rear view mirror reminded me that this change required leaving our old house and my old friends behind.
I’m pretty sure, though I haven’t thoroughly analyzed it, that this has been one of the most formative patterns in my life. In a way peculiar to my experience, I’ve emerged as someone “acquainted with grief.”
But aren’t we all?
Our stories may be different, but each one of us has suffered loss after loss after loss through the course of life. Some of those losses have been part of the natural course of being human. Some losses have been spectacular and remarkable, surprising, and devastating. But whatever losses we’ve known, we have also learned and practiced our own ways of mourning and grieving.
I’m reading a poignant story of a man who had an accident in the mill where he worked, which left his hand severely injured. This loss was especially hurtful to him because he loved baseball, and found his great joy in being a pitcher in semi-pro ball.
The following passage is a letter from the manager to the boy’s eleven year old son about his father’s accident.
Getting down to this damned thumb business, I’m proud you’d think of me at a time like this, and sorry your daddy’s hurting. You, me & your papa are 3 of the tiny percentage of souls on this miserable earth who’ve figured out that playing ball is the highest purpose God ever invented the human male body for. The rub is, once you’ve known & done it what you go through when you lose it is a death, pure & simple.
I’ve seen it 1000 times & died the death myself, & about all them 1001 deaths have taught me is Dammit! Dying hurts! If I was there to crack a beer with your daddy (or 6 or 12, let’s be honest here) I’d probably wait till he was all lubed up then say, “Listen. Let it hurt when it hurts, damn it Hubert!” You know what I mean. The Papa Chance I remember tended to get a tad heroic at times. Not that I don’t admire a hero. But watching some poor bounder limp around with a smile nailed to his face while his insides bleed from one end clear out the other is a thing I can’t much stand. To that mother of yours I might add something like Dangit, Laura, I know you’re baptized in the name of the This and the That, but when you got the kind of man who holds everything in you got to let it bust out once in awhile. Then of course I’d run like hell. Don’t get me wrong here. I hold nothing but the highest kind of respect against your mother. I just happen to be a man who believes if God wanted us to always keep our upper lip stiff as a dang billy goat’s weener He’d of made us all a bunch of Englishmen for godsake.
From The Brothers K (pp. 10-11)
by David James Duncan
What are you mourning and grieving?
“I’ve seen it 1000 times & died the death myself, & about all them 1001 deaths have taught me is Dammit! Dying hurts! …Listen. Let it hurt when it hurts, damn it!”
And may we all find the comfort we need.