Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.
Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. In seasons of loss we feel a need to reread words that have comforted us in the past. We need to be reminded that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.
Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. Words meant to console, may do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.
As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.
* A version of this post was published as “Grief’s Expression” on February 4, 2015