Well, it seems like grief is going to be my subject of choice for a little while.
I missed February and March, and now, here in April, I’m circling back to the subject.
I was listening to a podcast today, by Ben Katt (you can find it here: The RePLACING CHURCH Podcast), on having permission to grieve. Some of what he says is similar to what I’ve been saying for years: that we as a people – Western, individualized, bootstrapping (and particularly Christian) people – have rejected grief as an emotion of weakness and of failure. We’ve turned it into something that “other” people do. It’s seen as something almost shameful, something that we aren’t supposed to do, because being American, being Christian, is all about hope and light and love and being joyful in all circumstances. So, when people die, there’s this unspoken expectation that we’re supposed to get it together. There’s also this bizarre individualism and relationship to nuclear family – if you aren’t a sibling or parent or spouse, your grief isn’t as valid, which is heartbreaking. I can remember a few years back, a dear friend of mine lost her significant other. They weren’t married – yet – but all of us who knew them, knew her, knew their relationship, knew how close they were, how intimate their connection was, how devastating the loss was for her. We all knew that this was every bit as life-shattering as losing a spouse, but because the ceremony hadn’t been performed yet, her grief – as significant as a spouse’s – was discounted. She was at times excluded from those “family-only” moments, even though the family was compassionate.
That moment also taught me something else about grief. That so often when friends die, we have to have freedom to grieve the might-have-beens. I wasn’t particularly close to my friend’s partner. He was an amazing guy, and I liked him. My grief was ALL about who he was to her, and the way that he had changed her life for the better. My grief in losing him was about the lost opportunity, the lost future, the loss of the dream to see her walk down the aisle to him and know that he would take good care of her forever. I’m still grieving that for her.
I find that the grief of the last few years, losing my husband’s mother, my dear Uncle, my beloved friend – it’s no less real for me, even though they weren’t *directly* related to me. No, Karin was not my mom. But I loved her like one. Uncle Bud, not my father, but he treated me as his daughter. Carrie, not my sister, but as integral a part of my life as one. And because of the way our society handles grief, I’m left holding these griefs in a sort of limbo, where there are sharp, poignant moments surrounded by guilt because I’m not *really* supposed to be feeling the grief this sharply. That’s for those “directly” affected. Sadly, it doesn’t account for the grief of the might-have-beens.
We’ve taken the verse in our text that says, “we don’t grieve as those who have no hope” and turned it into “yeah, sure, we don’t grieve because we have hope.” When the actuality, as Ben talks about in his podcast on Grief, is that as believers, our hope causes us to grieve even harder. We don’t just grieve the loss of a beloved friend, spouse, parent, sibling. We grieve all the might-have-beens. We grieve that the Kingdom didn’t manifest and spare us death. We have to wrap our heads and hearts around the concept that the world is still hurting and death and illness are still robbing us of opportunity. We have to grieve that the abundant life that we have been promised is still an expectation, a longing. This kind of authentic, vulnerable grief is NOT weakness. It is strength. It is powerful. It is significant. And it should be embraced by the community. Rather than expecting people to pull themselves back out of the sadness by their bootstraps, we need to surround them and grieve with them, holding sacred space for them in the midst of their grief. We need to create those safe places where people can be held by one another in their difficulty, in their loss. They need to understand that they are not alone, that we grieve with them. In many ways, the Jewish culture has such a lovely and better approach, with their traditions of sitting shiva and praying together in minyan. There is a togetherness, and a holiness to standing with those in the midst of the grief and giving them permission to be there.
Today, I’m giving myself permission to grieve. I don’t have anything specific in my immediate sphere, but there’s been enough loss in my circles of friends that I will take time today to mourn with those who mourn, to take the love and light, the joy in all circumstances, the hope, and to grieve with my friends for all of their might-have-beens. I will give myself permission to be sad and miss my dear ones that I’ve lost over the last few years, wishing that they could be a part of my daughter’s life, sad that they’re missing out on my life, and I’m missing out on the possibilities of theirs.
Today, I encourage you… Grieve. Whether for your own loss, your own might-have-beens, or with someone else, there is power in the process.Read More