I attended a meeting yesterday, one of the first since the death of my mother four weeks ago. As I sat there amid my own sense of sadness it was interesting to be part of something larger than myself again and at the same time to note my changed perceptions. I was present yet somehow absent, an onlooker to the business of the day. Being there was a little like an out of body experience. I saw others. I listened to their words. They saw me. But no one could feel the emptiness of my subdued spirit.
After my husband died I experienced many similar moments and occasions of “otherness”, where I was on the loss side of the invisible veil that is grief. The man sitting next to me sputtered some well-intentioned though awkward words to acknowledge the death of my mother, punctuated by an uncomfortable laugh. For the moment of his speaking I was fully present to my isolation and heartache.
I realized later that being in the hospital for a meeting roiled my subconscious. From the deep corners of my mind I was taken again to the familiar place of sickness and death that was still so new and fresh. I hadn't reckoned with this reminder of the last days and months of my mother’s illness, and was more than a little surprised by its effect on my spirit.
Intermittent grief is the faithful tap-tap-tap on the shoulder of our heart that gets our attention and transports us to the place of sorrow that abides forever in our soul because of the death of one we love. Even after the relentless, surging tears of our shock subside and we think we’re “better”, grief shows up again and again and again to remind us of our loss. And as the forthcoming holiday season slowly grips our heart, most - if not all - of us will experience more frequent, probably more intense moments of intermittent grief.
As I watched a television program one night last week, quite unexpectedly I was engulfed by intermittent grief. In a scene where a mother and daughter were reunited after a two year separation the emotions depicted were overwhelming in their silent depth and unbroken love. And though my grief for my mother has been rather tear-less, my eyes filled as I longed for this kind of relationship, which for me never was. In truth I was surprised by this powerful moment of intermittent grief. I thought I had shed my tears and grieved for my mother over the course of several years. The sheer tenacity of grief is unexpected – we think we’ve done the work of resolution then suddenly we’re ambushed by the force and depth of our emotions.
Grief often shows up when we’re least prepared to deal with it - yet another reason why grief will not be rushed. If we take the time to own our moments of intermittent grief without explanation or apology – tears and all – we receive the incremental gifts of restoration and healing. This is the blessing of each unexpected encounter with the depth of our soul and spirit, the heart’s own rhythm of intermittent grief.
We experience intermittent grief because we don’t just put our emotions aside for once and all time. We grieve because we love – durable love, certain love, eternal love. Love that delights and surprises us, love that pains and disappoints us. We give thanks for the gift and glory of God’s steadfast love to us as we remember and honor the everlasting love we’ve known and share forever with the one now lost to us in death.
God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Revelation 21:4 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the order of your continuum. Amen.