Grief has the power to create divides in our life, occasionally even deep chasms. Sometimes we feel that it’s “us” and “them” – those who understand our grief, and those who will never know what grief feels like until they themselves have a personal experience of loss and sorrow. What we now better appreciate from our own experience is that grief is equal-opportunity - at some time we will all know the pain and sadness of grief when a beloved person dies.
We realize we’re on “our” side of grief when we’re confronted - but not comforted - by some of the well-intentioned yet empty platitudes directed our way at memorial services and the obligatory gatherings of grief. Likely you, too, have heard many of the mindlessless, sometimes infuriating funeral euphemisms - “It’s for the best”, “He’s not suffering anymore”, “She’s better off”, “He’s at peace now”, “She’s in a better place”, or “What a blessing.” Words intended as comfort often only intensify our pain and deny our loss. After all, who feels blessed when someone dies? What is the blessing of death for those of us who remain in this world?
When my father died only eight months after my husband, I was reeling emotionally – this grief heaped upon another grief pushed me to the very edge of my capacity for pain and loss. At a small reception following the memorial service for my father, a woman - a clergy spouse - got within inches of my face and lectured me about how I should just….well, I don’t really remember what she said. What I do recall as though it were yesterday is my visceral reaction to her comfortless audacity. I wanted to lash out at her insensitivity to my loss and walk away from words intended to make short work of my grief. She was clueless – she had never been on my side of grief.
What takes us to a different place in our grief is forgiving and, at some point, forgetting. “He who forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter alienates a friend” (Proverbs 17:9 RSV). If we hang on to the words that wound and hurt us, we can’t move forward – we’re stuck, in grief and in life. When we harbor ill will or resentment toward those who reach out to comfort us but say exactly the wrong thing, we are the only ones hurt by remembering their inept words. And so we forgive.
The power of forgiveness is in its immediacy. When we forgive, even if it’s more by letting go than by conscious absolution, we feel relief – it’s one less load we’re carrying as we grieve. We may master the forgiving but, for most of us, forgetting is easier in principle than in practice. When our heart is broken by the death of one we love, we remember only too easily our state of mind and heart at a time in our life when we were wounded and most vulnerable. I confess that I still duck and run when I see the woman who accosted me with her ill-chosen words, but I don’t waste emotional or spiritual energy remembering the moment. When we forgive - especially when we forget - we are one step closer to spiritual healing and wholeness.
On this side of grief we live apart from the world for a while in a very personal, private place of emotional and spiritual introspection where we discern more fully our strengths, our inexhaustible personal reserves, and our innate resiliency. In moments of thoughtful pause, prayer, insight, and reflection we experience God’s grace, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NRSV). This side of grief is a profound experience of faith, a discovery of who we are at our very essence, a moment in life that becomes part of who we are forever.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the quiet of your peace.