Intermittent Grief

At the first meeting I attended after the death of my mother, I remember thinking how good it felt to be part of something larger than myself again. As I participated in the business of the day, I saw others and listened to their words. The man sitting next to me sputtered some well-intended words of condolence punctuated by a small, uncomfortable laugh.

In what seemed like an out of body experience, I realized that no one could possibly imagine the emptiness in my subdued spirit. When we grieve, though we may be physically present in situations that require us to engage with others, it is quite normal to feel emotionally absent. My sense of detachment from the group that day made me acutely aware of being on the loss side of the veil that separates life from death.

After the meeting I felt strangely disturbed and realized that being in a medical setting had roiled my subconscious. Without warning, a corner of my mind had flashed back to the illness and death that were still very fresh in my heart. I was more than a little surprised that this painful reminder had such a sharp effect on my still fragile spirit.

Intermittent grief is the faithful tap-tap-tapping on the window of our soul that gets our attention and transports us to the place of personal grief forever reserved for the one we love. Long after the tears of shock subside and we begin to think that we are better, time and again grief reaches into our heart to remind us of our loss. It surprises us, especially when we are unprepared to deal with it.

I was overwhelmed one evening by the closing scene of a television program in which a mother and daughter were reunited after a two-year separation. Their wordless embrace perfectly expressed the unbroken bond of their love. In the power of that moment my eyes filled with tears of longing because I never experienced that kind of relationship. Though I shed many tears and grieved in advance while my mother was alive, the sheer tenacity of intermittent grief always takes my breath away.

Intermittent grief heightens our sensitivity to associative recall. Sometimes even the smallest token or gesture reminds us of the one now lost to us in death. We think we have done the heart and mind work of grief, then suddenly we are confronted by something that triggers our emotions. We pause, reflect, and honor the sadness or sorrow or joy of a sacred memory.

When a place or event reminds us of our loss, often our heart skips directly to the emotions we associate with that particular experience. On a beautiful Sunday morning the church choir sang “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord”. My husband loved this anthem; it was sung when he retired and later at his memorial service. With the first notes of the organ my heart dissolved as I thought of him and remembered the powerful occasions of our life associated with that music. In a twinkling moment, I sensed him there beside me, loving me, comforting me. A memory of the unforgettable was transformed into a joyful reunion of our souls. 

If we enter into moments of intermittent grief without explanation or apology for our tears, we have an authentic encounter with the depth of our soul. We find comfort each time we remember the love we have known and will forever share with the one now lost to us in death, “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10:2 NRSV). We grieve because we love—love that delights us, love that surprises us, love that pains us, love that disappoints us. As we discover our heart’s own rhythm of growth and restoration to life, intermittent grief is a faithful reminder that love never dies.

We experience intermittent grief because it is not humanly possible to resolve the emotions of life and death and grief and put them aside for once and all time. In grace-filled moments of intermittent grief we stand with awe and wonder in the presence of God.

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Revelation 21:4 NRSV




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