I’m struggling right now with the kind of grief that is love turned inside out. I call this scrappy grief because it feeds on the fragmented, disconnected, emotional odds and ends of incomplete relationships and unfinished love. Sometimes we feel this way when our affections have been misused or even extinguished by duty, responsibility, overbearing demands, or disappointed expectations.
Scrappy grief makes us take an honest look at what’s there, what’s left, or what was never there. For some of us, this is what we’re really grieving. Resolving this kind of grief - even in part - requires a certain gritty fortitude which demands first that we confront ourselves, sometimes with the help of a professional.
So what makes this kind of grief so stubborn and tenacious? Scrappy grief comes from disillusioned love or an ideal of love that may feel more like the opposite of love. More often it borders on the myriad emotions in between. The hard part of scrappy grief is that there are so many leftovers that can never be completely resolved.
- We grieve a relationship that might have been, should have been, ought to have been - but never was and now never can be, “We look before and after... And pine for what is not.”
- We grieve the abuse of our love – misspent, squandered, or simply rejected by the one now lost to us in death.
- We grieve the emotional connection that should have been, if only…
- We grieve the death of our hopes and dreams, shattered by the circumstances of life.
So, what are our options? First, let’s acknowledge that it’s hard work to sort through the range of emotions that engulf us after the death of someone we love. It’s exponentially more difficult to resolve conflicted emotions when we’re torn between love, rejection, and disappointment.
One way to resolve the past is to abandon it. As gradually, yet intentionally we refocus our mind and heart on other, more urgent aspects of our grief, we can allow the indignities and injustices of the past to simply fade over time. I’m a fairly recent convert to the iPhone. One feature that fascinates me is the visual image when something’s sent to the trash. Whatever’s on the screen is literally sucked away with a swift, noisy whoosh into cyber-oblivion. I’ve been inspired to send a lot of my thoughts and garbage from the past to my own mental trash bin. Whoosh, it’s gone…
Another option is to let go of the past – consciously and intentionally. Perhaps an event of life gives us a different perspective on what’s really important, both in life and in our grief - the birth of a child, remarriage, a health issue, another death, a community tragedy, or even a natural disaster. Issues of the past are probably not on our short list here.
We defeat the past when we forgive it. It may be difficult to forgive, yet in forgiveness there is love. At its most fundamental, grief is an expression of love, and love is what ultimately brings us back to personal wholeness. When we instigate our own self-repair by forgiving, we triumph over the damage done to our lives by the one we now grieve.
In scrappy grief often forgiveness is more about relief than resolution. We feel better - emotionally and spiritually - when forgiveness is a conscious spiritual act of deep, soul-satisfying release. And when we forgive, we give the gift of our own human grace, a reflection of God’s constant outpouring of grace in our lives - divine love unearned, unmerited, and undeserved.
Finally, we liberate ourselves from the past when we practice holy forgetfulness. Forgetting to remember is a discipline - sometimes we must remember to forget. When we do, the weight of our pain – past and present – feels lighter, it’s less oppressive. We’re no longer suffocated by the past and at last we can grieve forward. It doesn’t happen overnight, but one day we realize the past is over, its rough edges largely forgotten, its remains gratefully consigned to a remote corner of our heart.
The truth is that when we conquer scrappy grief, we claim a hard-won victory in our relationship to the one now lost to us in death. We are survivors - free from the past, ready again to live in peace and joy.
Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV
Keep me this day, O God, in the silence of your calm. Amen.