What is this? Last week we received a very gracious bereavement card that had hand-written acknowledgments, “It’s never easy to lose your best friend. May your happy memories bring you comfort during this difficult time”, “I am deeply sorry for your loss She will be missed by many”, “So sorry for your loss”, “It’s never easy to lose your best friend. May many happy memories of JELLY BEAN bring you comfort during this difficult time”. JELLY BEAN is our deceased guinea pig and the card was from the veterinary clinic where we had him euthanized. Our society has a schizophrenic relationship with grief. When Princess Diana dies in a traffic fatality we make her burial site a global pilgrimage destination. When our pets live and die we feel more freedom to express our affection and anger than we do with some of our own family. So many people harbor grief and sadness refusing to acknowledge or seek healing. The best explanation for depression (I have struggled with depression for years) is grief and sorrow that has been denied and in a way becomes frozen until symptoms of depression surface; insomnia, darkness, and lack of motivation. There are people who may have never grieved in a healthy way, I have had difficult family history. The reality is grief is a healthy, God-given response to significant loss.
What does this mean? Historically, grief has been considered a character flaw, personal weakness, or being psychologically warped. Grief is typically associated with the death of a loved one. Yet, there are many other ways we experience loss. We may experience the loss of identity through divorce or retirement, financial or material loss, physical loss such as the capacity to drive or mobility, the death of a dream, and relationship loss. We suffer and experience loss because we are limited from birth to death, all that we love is limited, and our attachments are temporal. Our society in general and men in particular, work very hard to project a self-reliant, sturdy, and “I-ain’t-got-no-sorrow” persona. We may use chemicals, materialism, be overly optimistic, busyness, and even biblical cliches to mask and avoid our grief. We had an old car that had a broken ‘check engine’ light that caused me endless anxiety. Finally, Elizabeth put a strip of black electrical tape to cover it up. If I couldn’t see it, then it wasn’t there. We operate much the same way with our grief. We cover it up with alcohol, compensate with work, discount the severity, rationalize that time will fix it up, and get lost in screen time. We will mask the symptoms, put on a happy face, rather than tending to the difficult emotional, spiritual, and soul work that will actually bring healing.
What is the takeaway? I don’t have clinical or prescriptive answers for what is deeply human. However, what we do have, what God has given us are the psalms. The psalmist knows about grief, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” There is honesty, urgency, and struggle in this grief-filled question. The disquiet within is a compelling thirst for God. When we are frightened by our mortality and overwhelmed by our losses, we need to pray our grief, direct our mourning in God’s direction. Notice how Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not my will but your will be done”. And on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”! In the midst of loss and fear of abandonment, Jesus prays his grief, fear, and loss. May this encourage us to do the same, for us to bring our pain, loss, and suffering to the cross.Years ago, I did a funeral for a woman who I had visited for a long time. Only when she died, did her daughter tell me that she had been widowed five times and her other daughter had committed suicide. I think she died of a broken heart. My point is we often, I didn’t in that case, have any idea of the depth of pain or degree of loss others have experienced. The psalmist responds to his own question, “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God”. To the lament of despair the answer is hope. Hope is our fuel for the future. Hope is not optimism, doesn’t from within, but comes from the Almighty, the God of hope and faith, death and resurrection. Amen.