“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something…” So says Westley/the Dread Pirate Roberts to Princess Buttercup in the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” While I don’t totally subscribe to the idea that life is ONLY pain, I can say from my own experiences, life involves a lot of pain… & I believe one of the greatest sources of pain comes from the grief & sadness which accompany the loss of a loved one.
Over the last year, I have walked through this thing called grief with several dear friends as someone dear to them – mother, husband, father, son, friend – died unexpectedly/without warning. These experiences of soul devastation have a way of shaking a person to the foundation of their very being, as life after the loss will never be the same as it was before. Living & loving in connected relationships leaves an indelible mark on us – & when our loved one is gone, life is not ‘ok’. Nothing is normal. Our emotions are all over the place. And anything more than merely gutting it through each day seems to be a pipe dream.
Places. Songs. Special events. Holidays. All things that remind us of our loved one, with a pain that mocks us with the fact that Nothing will ever be the same again. And then there’s the people – mostly well-meaning people that can see we’re in pain, & they’d like to do something about it, but they really don’t know what to say… & yet they say stuff anyways. These words can range from the silly, like, “The Lord just needed another angel in Heaven,” to religious clichés: “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” or “One day you’ll know the reason God took your loved one.” Then there’s the insensitive, “How long are you going to grieve? Should you be past this already?” only to be topped by the horrifying: “God took your loved one because He knew that later in life they were going to fall away from Him,” or, “If only you had had enough faith, your loved one wouldn’t have died – it’s on you.” (I’ve personally heard each of these in reference to my brother’s death.) In the words of a great man, “If you don’t know what to say, limit your words.” (Thanks for that, Jerry Cook!)
Earlier this year, a dear friend lost her husband – & as part of her grieving, left her home town & went with her daughter to visit a collection of “safe people:” Close, supportive friends, the kind who have your back in any/every situation. TheBean & I count it an honor to be on this friend’s list of “safe” people. I can remember her sitting in our kitchen & matter-of-factly saying, “Tell me everything you know about grieving. Because I want to grieve well.”
Here’s the jist of what I said:
Our grieving, mourning, & hurting from the loss of a loved one can make us want to isolate. To withdraw. Turn inward. Pull away. Attempt to work through our grief solo. I get it. But I think doing that only makes it worse. As Christians, we (hopefully) have the benefit of a community of people that we’re walking through life with – people that we can celebrate life’s joys with… & people that we can mourn life’s great losses with as well.
I personally know how uncomfortable it is to be in a public place (like church) & be so overwhelmed & overcome with grief that the sobs just roll out, along with an endless supply of tears, & even a sense of pain that’s so fresh it feels like the loss just happened. Being around others in a situation like that can be awkward, because we’re totally vulnerable. Totally exposed. Raw. On our last nerve. And we hurt. And in that spot we cry & we pray & we ask God to make the hurt stop.
And then God answers our prayers with people.
- People who will sit in silence with us, not having to say anything, but rather just offering the gift of their presence in our grief.
- People who will hold & comfort us, no matter how long the grieving has been going.
- People who aren’t in a hurry for us to “get past” or “get through” our grief – because they understand that even if its been years since the loss, the grief can still come in fresh & powerful waves.
- People who will reminisce with us about our loved one. Who will tell stories about what they loved about them, about the things they did that impacted their life.
- People who recognize that everywhere they go, they are a little piece of Jesus. And as such, when they come across others hurting, in pain, grieving, & broken, they can be a point of life & comfort.
There will always be those who say/do something that makes us wonder if its really a good idea to grieve/work through lives in the company of a community. I say It’s worth it. Maybe I won’t open up to everybody, but with the safe people, yeah, I do. And I will. Because when a friend comes alongside us in our grief, they shoulder some of the hurt & pain & loss… & it makes the situation just a little more bearable.