Tuesday, March 27, 2012

“All our enemies have opened their mouth wide against us.
 We have suffered terror and pitfalls, ruin and destruction.”
 Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed.

 My eyes will flow unceasingly, without relief, until the LORD looks down
   from heaven and sees.   (Lamentations 3:46-50)

In the “old days”, when some of us were starting school, they still talked about the
“Three Rs” of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”.  Similarly, I have often spoken of the three N’s of Grief, that grief  is Normal, Natural and even Necessary.
It is normal to experience the pain of grief.  Grief is the name for all those intense feelings we experience at a time of loss, whether that is the loss by death of a loved one, the loss of security after becoming the victim of a crime, or the loss of independence that may accompany the aging process or serious illness. 
 All experiences of grief are unique.  There are many factors that influence how one experiences the pain of their loss.  The nature of your relationship with the person who died, the circumstances under which they died, unfinished business between you, your unique personality and many other factors will color the experience of grief and mourning.  What we do know for sure is that there is no right or wrong way to experience grief, there is only your unique experience of loss and grief.   Your feelings are all okay.  We should never be ashamed of our feelings of grief.  They are a reflection of the image of God in us and of our capacity to love. 
It is natural to grieve.  Stoicism is not natural.  We are made in the image of God and as emotional beings.  Our Creator is capable of anger, disappointment, sorrow and regret as well as compassion, joy, hope and delight.  The word “bereaved” literally means “to be torn”.  Death tears our loved ones from us.   It is natural, even for persons of faith, to mourn the reality that they will never again see, hear or hold their loved one again in this life.  The Psalms are filled with heart wrenching cries of God’s people who mourned for their nation, mourned the infirmity of their own bodies, and mourned the deaths of both body and soul.  The Old Testament book of Lamentations (perhaps one of the most overlooked books of scripture for Christians) is literally a book of laments in what I imagine to be the wails and moans of a people in agony over the death of their loved ones and destruction of the life they once knew.  Even Jesus, at the tomb of Lazarus, was moved to tears – not some dignified dabbing of tears at the corner of his eye, but deep and wrenching sobs.
But is grief necessary?  Those intense feelings of grief are natural and come unbidden, often in waves that wash over us months or even years after a loss.  What is necessary is mourning, the outward and sometimes public expression of those feelings.  Sorrow is a feeling associated with grief.  Shared tears are our way of mourning.  Anger is an emotion of grief.  Writing about our anger in a journal is a way of mourning.   Depression is one emotion associated with grief.  Honoring our loved one's memory by lighting a candle, participating in a memory walk, or making a donation to an organization they supported or benefited from are all ways of turning grief into healthy mourning.  It has been said that we must mourn well so that we can live well. 
When the intense feelings of grief get “stuffed” and pushed down over and over again within us, never to be outwardly expressed, they can cause us real harm.  Persons with unresolved loss experiences can become ill, sometimes seriously so.   Others may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain they can no longer deny.  Some experience relationship problems or become irritable and bitter. 
You are loved with an eternal love.  Your Heavenly Father understands (truly) your need to grieve and mourn.  But hope is also real.  New life is not a pipe dream, it is a real possibility.  Seek the support you need for your time of bereavement.  Join a support group.  Lean on the people you know you can really trust to be there with unconditional acceptance.  Lean on your faith.   The journey is long, far longer than most people realize, and it is not easy.  But you can discover that new life – a new normal of hope and even happiness that no longer includes the physical presence of your loved one.
In our grief support group we begin each meeting by lighting three candles:  one is in gratitude for the relationship we shared with our loved one in the past; one is for the relationship of memory we share with our loved one now; and one is for the hope of being reunited with our loved one again in the future. 
 May such gratitude and hope be part of your unique journey of grief, today and always.