WHAT IS GRIEF?
Distress over affliction;
sharp sorrow; painful regret.
A multi-faceted response to loss,
particularly to the loss of someone
or something to which a bond was
Deep and poignant distress caused
by or as if by bereavement.
THE FACE OF GRIEF
At its worst, it will feel like dying. At best, like choosing to live again.
Sometimes it’s a drone, like living on a busy street and the swoosh of cars you hear but don’t notice. The clock changes quickly or slowly — it doesn’t matter — nothing crossed off any to-do list. A stoic mirror reflection. What day is it? Heavy, invisible cloak over the known world, you’re sure of it. That joke was meant to be funny, you think. I will smile at it — that is the normal thing.
Grief can also rush in as a snapping, devouring fire. Nothing under-the-radar about it. Wailing and yelling and damp tissue trails. Others notice this face of grief. It is uncomfortable and inconvenient if they don’t know how to greet it. They may want to fix it, ignore it, quiet it — for you or for themselves. Or maybe they will try to hurry the process, patch the gushing wound. But there will be no hand, no applied pressure great enough to stop it up.
C.S. Lewis compared grief to a corset. Who doesn’t know when they are wearing a corset? Forced to be at attention. Tight around the middle. No breath will get all the way in or out. What hearts propped up in this way don’t long for the end of day? — The night hour, when they can tug and push out of this vise that binds, slip into bed, sink into a state that looks like rest but feels like survival. Corset hung in the closet, waiting for morning. Mourning.
OUR LOVE STORIES
I’m thinking of all my love stories. Of yours. Many of them unfolded like this: Born into a wounded world, our hearts still knew what to do. They needed and desired. They hoped, connected, trusted. Sometimes they felt safe, so we laid them down, bare and vulnerable in front of what fed them heart food and invited them to live. We opened, risked, believed, attached, settled. We gave and received with family, friends, children, relationships, life.
This, such an imperfect thing as it unfolded, and we still couldn’t kill our thirst for it. We took long drinks of this life somewhere, with someone, with many. We found a reflection of God’s face, even if we didn’t believe in him. If he were real, we said, this is exactly what he would look like.
Maybe we believed everything would be okay. Maybe we were recognizing our own hearts. Maybe we were enjoying them. “Yes! I can feel this and I will let it in, we said. I can depend on this! I have found the good stuff, the real stuff. I am so alive!” Maybe we never described it like that but maybe it still happened anyway. Maybe something about our hearts opened wide and defied darkness by finding heaven on this scary earth. Maybe we didn’t even believe in heaven; but if it were real, we said, this would be it.
OUR GRIEF STORIES
But the goodness, it didn’t stay. The tomorrow we pictured never came. The promise, dream, person was suddenly just…gone. Maybe that was a good thing, a healthy thing, and it needed to happen. Maybe it wasn’t and it damn-near killed us.
Either way, the rug was pulled out. A deep loss. A stab in the middle that felt like starving. We didn’t plan that. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We weren’t meant to feel this kind of hurting. This death, this ending, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, sickness, violence — a thousand possibilities really. Before the grief-causer bombed us, our hearts were feeling a little closer to home, their blood contained and coursing through us strong and sure as it was made to do.
But now? Well, now there is blood everywhere. It seems to paint all we do and all we are. A carnage trail. An absolute mess. What felt like a life spring is no more or never was. We think if we had done something differently, chosen to be alone, chosen to hide our hearts away, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so badly now. Then again, we were fashioned full of need; it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone here. But, maybe we think that’s a crap story. If it is a crap story, we say, it still makes a good point — I really can’t do this alone.
THE LOVE IN OUR GRIEF
Oh, this crimson stain! This mess! Why are we living through this? Why should we live at all? And why must we sift something meaningful from this red river of sorrow?
We may fall down into our grief and stare blankly across shadow of death valley. We may search and search for why, how, what — every human and divine thing about us raw and stripped down and standing at desperate attention. But eventually, somehow, we remember. We remember how we got here, that we dared to trust, to connect, to hope, to believe, and this time the wounded world had its way. But this grief in us unearths something even more true, something we cannot ignore: We have tasted of love and we have seen that it is good, that it is still good.
And we are still alive.
The heartbeat — the life source — seems so much stronger at the sight of the wound, pumping and exploding and revealing its good purpose and nature. Even our gushing, our anguish, is a testimony to the fullness of life moving through our bodies. It is a mess, yes, but a beautiful one; no one could ever say it’s cold and dry and dead here.
We defy death with our tears and we honor life with them too. Because only a heart full of life, full of love, can release such an aching ocean. We are twisted up with pain, but more, we are still and forever anchored by this love we keep, even into the stormy sea of grief, where the waves seem to punish us for loving so deeply. But when we enter there, when we choose to feel the full weight of what it is to be alive, we become the daring ones, the abundant ones, the ones who must and will choose love again. And again. And again.
THE GOD IN OUR GRIEF
And if we step back and up and up, we’ll see it eventually: A bird’s-eye view of something so curiously true. If we wait and we watch just long enough, we’ll spot the most profound and lasting mystery — that in this wounded world, there is no grief experience, no drone or fire or corset, that doesn’t make way for God.
The crux of this mystery is that this is not exclusive to those who believe in him or untrue for those who believe in nothing at all. Whether we are blaming him, asking for his comfort, or denying his existence completely, God is somehow revealed as the steady cornerstone in every single structure of grief. He need not build this structure himself, nor must he be invited to inhabit it; yet, there he is. Bright, solid, and undeniably present in our deepest need.Yes, the heartbeat, the life source, strongest at the sight of the wound — God, nearest to the broken heart.
And then there is Jesus, weeping, acquainted with our same suffering right down to his own bloody sweat. This, a curious thing, even if we don’t believe. But if we did believe, it’d be just the story for us.