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. Grief is an equal-opportunity experience—at some time we will all know the pain and sadness of grief when one we love dies.
We realize we’re on “our” side of grief when well-intentioned but empty platitudes we hear at memorial services and funerals fail to comfort our heart. Euphemisms such as “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” often intensify our pain because they deny our loss. In truth, who feels blessed when someone dies? What is the blessing of death for those who remain in this world?
When my father died only eight months after my husband, grief heaped upon another grief pushed me to the edge of my capacity for pain and heartache. At a small reception following the memorial service, a woman I hardly knew came within inches of my face and lectured me about how I should just “be strong”. I remember as though it were yesterday my visceral reaction to her insensitivity and comfortless words intended to make short work of my grief. She was clueless because she had never been on my side of grief.
Forgiving and, at some point, forgetting take us to a different place in grief, “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 words that wound and hurt us, we cannot move forward in grief or 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 who are hurt. And so we forgive.
Often, forgiveness is more about relief than resolution. We feel better— almost instantly—when forgiveness is a conscious act of deep, soul-cleansing release. The power of forgiveness is in its immediacy. When we forgive, we bless the spirit of another with the gift of human grace, which is an extension of God’s grace. Human grace reminds us of God’s forgiveness. Human grace reminds us of the unearned, unmerited, and undeserved love of God’s grace at work in our life. Forgiveness is the front door to God’s grace, for in forgiveness, there is love. And ultimately, it is love that brings us back to personal wholeness.
Though we may master forgiveness, for many, forgetting is easier in principle than in practice. The art of forgetting lies in holy forgetfulness—forgetting to remember. Holy forgetfulness is an intentional practice that takes practice. For a while, holy forgetfulness may be as close as some of us get to an experience of real forgiveness. But when we let go of the past, we break the cycle of allowing the past to determine the rest of our life. Holy forgetfulness teaches us that the past is not where we will find our future.
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. There we discern our strengths, our inexhaustible personal reserves, our innate resiliency, and the substance of our faith, “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 place 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