Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grief: the Commonest Emotion (Part 2 of 2)

“GRIEF is a dark, lonely, private room with the curtains drawn, where cherished memories of laughter and tears dance with angels in the cathedral of the heart. No one may enter. None are welcome. No words penetrate its walls or ease the pain that fills it. The door remains locked until the will pries it open to allow the helpless, well-meaning, outside world to enter and interrupt its sanctity.”[1]

Oh, the pain of it all! In that desolate place where we’re totally alone we feel certainly as if no one could ever feel like this, surely... but the truth is, we’ve all felt it or will feel it--its variants, that is.

Grief: how do we possibly rationalise it?

Numbness... Rob Bell talks about grief in his “Nooma”[2] production, Matthew. Jesus wept... he was ‘deeply moved in his spirit’ with the death of his good friend, Lazarus.[3] He was agonisingly angry, indignant and moved compassionately to act. He raised him, but not before he was already stricken with grief that we all feel at one point or other in life.

Bell cites Psalm 71:20, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” (NIV) Restoration of life is the reinstatement of hope. The God of hope, though he allows troubles, sees us through in the end.

We will recover if we believe we will. When we believe in something, we have faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” –Hebrews 11:1 (NIV). We can’t have faith we see or it wouldn’t be faith. Faith is two-fold: our hope must be grounded in a reality we understand, and we must be confident that what we hope for (though we don’t see it) will happen, eventually.

And in grief, we hope unswervingly for better days.

To the aggrieved: It’s okay to feel anything you’re feeling or have felt. Accepting it is okay. Grief brings with it a range of subsidiary emotions, all of which are fine. Anything goes, provided it doesn’t bring or create harm.

Perhaps the most appropriate response to another’s loss is to just be sorry for their loss, not pitying, just quietly acknowledging. Compassion meets loss in a strange, unexplained sort of way.

Sitting Shivah is the process of sitting silently with the person grieving, a process in Jewish tradition taking seven days. It’s a humble acceptance that there’s nothing to say, unless the grieving person initiates. True to the opening quote, words do not often assuage grief. Yet an interruption of the sanctity of grief--at the right time--is eventually (and especially) a good thing.

From my personal experience, the best thing about grief (though we don’t think this at the time) is we can get intimately acquainted with the richness and cleanness of emotion in the grief. I recall singing the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul; having experienced the pain of profound grief these songs are not only therapy in the deepest pain, but afterwards too.

Experiencing bravely the clean pain of grief leaves a solid legacy in the heart, a tangibility of reserve, and a sense that we’ve been touched deliciously and irrefutably by God.

We see afterwards that it’s not that bad; in fact, it’s often the best way to come to know God in the truest sense. And this can never be taken away from us; it’s the ultimate possession. And we carry the benefits forevermore.

Grief is the commonest emotion, and as parents, friends and mentors, it bodes us to allow the process, making its ‘sanctity’ welcome in every way. Nurturing it and not hiding it is the best way to be and become truly us.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
See Part 1 to this series: Commonest Emotion Grief Part 1 of 2 which was published on 21 February 2009 and on on 24 February 2009.
[1] Billy Thorpe, Sex and Thugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Sydney, Australia: Pan Macmillan Australia, 1996), p. 368.
[2] Nooma is a play on the Greek word ‘pneuma’ which is Greek for “spirit.”
[3] John 11:33 (NIV).

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