When tragedies and disasters cause the death of a loved one and destroy our home and belongings, our physical circumstances may allow little time to do the emotional and spiritual work of grief. We’re in survival mode: those who die are victims, those who survive are victims. And when we’re doing all we can to keep our head above the water line, to keep on living day after day despite immeasurable loss, it’s easy to drown in the necessary, yet sometimes overwhelming busyness of existing in the here and now. We get up, put one foot in front of the other, and make it through another day, though sometimes just barely.
When someone we love dies, grief is inevitable. It’s inescapable. We feel its power and presence yet often we shove it aside and try to ignore it because, for a while, our own survival must take precedence. How do we recognize grief? At first it may be the dull, relentless ache of sorrow that becomes a persistent overhang, a shadow we simply can’t shake, a dark spot that’s with us all the time. We can’t eat it away, drink it away, or medicate it away – grief is just there, lurking in the emotional and spiritual background of our lives, reminding us that we haven’t yet come face to face with the depth and breadth of our loss. You may want a professional diagnosis if you’re asking yourself with any regularity, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why do I feel so sad, lonely, angry, fearful…?” Grief insists that we make the journey through the valley of the shadow of death. And once we engage with our grief, there’s no turning back, there's no further delay.
Grief can be delayed, but it will not be denied. At some time, in some way, we must experience our grief. In the first grief group I led, one of the most faithful members was a gracious young man about thirty years old whose beautiful wife had died four years earlier of leukemia. Intuitively he realized that he hadn’t done the work of grief at the time of her death. He had postponed his grief and knew that he couldn’t love again in true fullness of joy until he’d dealt constructively with his lingering grief. And so he came and shared and, over time, entered into his grief so that finally his life could move forward again. He delayed his grief, but at last gave in to the insistence of his grief.
Sometimes we must delay our grief. When someone or something expects us to function and cope despite our grief, we’re forced to hardwire around it for a while so that we’re at least physically present to the needs of daily life. We may defer our grief because of the urgency of our job, the demands of our children or grandchildren, or the needs of aging parents. Or we may delay our grief because we’re preoccupied with rebuilding the physical infrastructure of our life – Where do I live? How do I manage without my loved one? - or any other combination of non-negotiable demands that distract us from our response to grief. The effect may be that we postpone our grief for months or even years, well beyond the moment of our most immediate pain and sorrow.
Grief is patient. It waits for our undivided attention. We can delay our grief, we can postpone our grief, we can defer our grief, but ultimately grief must be encountered and acknowledged, probed and resolved before we truly experience life anew in God’s fullness of hope and joy, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12 NRSV).
Behold, now is the acceptable time.
2 Corinthians 6:2 ASV
Keep me this day, O God, in the sufficiency of your care. Amen.