Scrappy Grief

   Many struggle with the kind of grief that is love turned inside out. Scrappy grief 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 extinguished by duty, responsibility, overbearing demands, or disappointed expectations.

   Scrappy grief makes us take an honest look at what is left, or what was never there in a relationship. For some, this is what we are 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.

   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 many leftovers that will never be completely resolved.

  • We grieve a relationship that might have been, should have been, ought to have been, but never was and now can never 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.

   What are our options for resolving scrappy grief? We begin by recognizing that even under the best of circumstances, it is hard work to sort through the range of emotions that overwhelm us after the death of someone we love. It is exponentially more difficult to resolve conflicted emotions when we’re torn between love, rejection, and disappointment. When we do the forensic work of scrappy grief, we give ourselves grace to be who we are and feel what we feel. We name our hurt and confront our true feelings with honesty and spiritual integrity.

   One way to resolve issues of the past is through constructive abandonment. As gradually we refocus our mind and heart on other, more urgent aspects of our experience of grief, over time we allow the indignities and injustices of the past simply to fade away.  

   Another option is to let go of the past, consciously and intentionally. Perhaps a life event gives us a different perspective on what’s really important, both in life and in our griefthe birth of a child, remarriage, a health issue, another death, a community tragedy, or even a natural disaster. Issues of the past are no longer at the forefront when life shifts either dramatically or with more subtle, nuanced change.

   We defeat the past when we forgive. It may be difficult to forgive, yet in forgiveness there is love. At its most fundamental, grief is an expression of love, and ultimately it is love  that brings us back to spiritual and 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 an act of deep, soul-satisfying release. For when we forgive, we give the gift of our own human grace, a reflection of God’s constant outpouring of grace in our livesdivine love unearned, unmerited, and undeserved.

   Finally, we liberate ourselves from the past when we practice holy forgetfulness. Forgetting to remember is a disciplinesometimes we must remember to forget. When we do, the weight of our pain, both past and present, feels lighter and less oppressive. If we are no longer suffocated by the past, we can at last grieve forward. It does not happen overnight, but one day we realize that the past is over, gratefully consigned to a remote corner of our heart, its rough edges largely forgotten. 

   We claim a hard-won victory in our relationship to the one now lost to us in death when we conquer scrappy grief. We are survivorsfree from the past, ready again to live in peace and fulness of 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


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