Grief is perhaps the least cerebral experience in all of life. Try though we may, it can’t be tamed or conquered solely by our mental will or some well-intentioned discipline of the mind. When we grieve we experience first-hand how inextricably our mind is linked to our heart. Really, our mind is even more dependent on cues from the heart to tell us what we’re feeling and what we need. And even though we hear the incessant noise of grief in our head, our mind cannot lead - it must follow the heart.
Not long after my husband Leighton died I found myself almost every Saturday afternoon in some bookstore or another (disguised in a gray sweat suit), sitting on a library stool in front of the shelf dedicated to books on grief. I thought if I could just read about grief and understand what I was feeling I would somehow “get it” and “be better”. The intellectual approach to my profound pain and sorrow was a flop – I’d buy five books and, after a cursory thumb-through, I’d toss aside three and read two.
I read about grief as a clinical study, grief without spiritual context, and grief as personal stories. I read with a voracious hunger for substance and comfort but nothing filled the void or emptiness I was feeling. I gleaned a word here and a thought there, but I realized the disconnect between my mind and heart must be restored to get through the brokenness of my grief.
But how do we do the seemingly impossible work of reconnecting the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual parts of ourselves when our heart is broken by the death of one we love? When we’ve gone through the worst of shock and find ourselves face to face with the reality of life in the here and now, our mind easily suggests the words that describe the disarray we’re feeling – loneliness, fear, anger, worry, resentment, confusion, and on and on. Even through the mental fog of grief (you know, the state of mind that makes us feel a little crazy for a while) - when life seems to be going on around us at half-speed - our mind is working and thinking, seeking answers and insights on our behalf. It’s slow work, it’s the work of trust that gives us peace, “Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace - in peace because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 NRSV).
What I’ve found is that reassembling my heartbroken self has been a spiritual journey, one I began and travelled through the outlet of a journal. Over several years in several volumes I recorded my thoughts and feelings. Ideas and reflections poured out that surprised me. My mind was listening to my heart with rapt attention, eager to direct my thoughts toward spiritual and emotional wholeness. Everyone does the work of grief differently, yet at some time all of us must look within to perceive the needs of our inmost self – what we think and how we feel about the death of our loved one.
And despite all the suggestions and distractions of the world, we reconnect our head and heart not from without but from within, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NRSV). As we grieve we actively seek the renewal of our mind, so that one day we experience again the goodness of life God intends for us, even without our loved one. We’re transformed when our mind and heart gratefully discern the steadfast love and faithfulness of God reconnecting all the broken parts of our soul and spirit.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”
Matthew 22:37 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the presence of your mind. Amen.