There is a lot about the grief and loss process that, for many Christ-followers, feels like being caught between a “rock and a hard place” as the old saw goes. Of course, when we lose someone we are often reminded of Paul’s decisive statement in 1 Corinthians when he says…”O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Yet, for those left grieving this defines the “rock”… the fundamental truth that death will never have the “final” victory over God’s people, At the same time, there is the undeniable “hard place” of the sense of loss, the gaping hole left behind by the person, the profound sense of lostness that so many feel. Listening to many who spout off the truth, you would think that we should just shake off the grief and sense of loss, and proclaim the fact that there is no sting to the loss we have just experienced. My only answer to that conclusion(and it is a conclusion) is: tell that to Job. Job felt the sting of the death of his family, he felt the sting of the rejection of his wife who wished him dead, and he felt the sting of his friends spouting off their versions of why he got what he deserved. Yet, Job was not going to be denied. He pushed back on his friends, and proclaimed that he was not going to be silenced and he was going to voice his complaints to God without reservation or without editing for God’s audience. In my view, Job’s relationship with God was so intimate and so trusting that he couldn’t do anything but voice the raw, unadulterated truth of his soul, no matter how temporary it might be.
The truth of what Paul was proclaiming above is not negated by our grief. Our expressions of grief are never prohibited in Scripture. As a matter of fact, the Jewish culture has probably the most systematized process for the grieving/mourning process than most religious systems. The reality is that by the time we arrive at the 21st century, we are a long way away from a clear process for mourning. For most people, as one of my daughters said at the dinner table, “This is my first funeral. What’s going to happen?” In other words, most have no precedence for their grief, and we are certainly rarely “taught” how to grieve. Most people are under the impression that we proceed through a series of “stages” as we grieve, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, it’s more a matter of acclimating to our losses through a series of developmental tasks that we proceed through. Tasks like: to accept the reality of the loss, experiencing (which means the full experience – mentally, emotionally, and physically) the pain of the loss, adjusting to the new environment without the lost person, and reinvesting in the new reality. (“Tasks of Mourning”, Worden, 1991) These tasks are little like signposts for our journey through grief. I like to think of them as more like indicators of the “seasons of grief” we are passing through. With each season, there are identifiable tools we can use to “grieve well.”
The prevailing culture (Christian and secular) is generally unsupportive of those grieving, and through “its” discomfort it communicates to those grieving that they should get “over it” as quickly as possible. Of course, this leaves those grieving even more isolated and alone. It’s an unfortunate fact that 3-4 weeks after the loved one has died, the grieving are often forgotten. This is by no means an intentional thing, but our lives are so full, that the state of those mourning just “falls off our radar.”
It has often been said, that the first things authors (or speaker) writes, and the last things they write are often the most important. It seems fitting, then, that Pat was a central figure in the introduction to my book. The very woman whose loss I grieve today was the first person who took it upon herself to teach a grieving young boy how to accept the condolences of the well-wishers who came to his father’s funeral. That overwhelmed and numb little boy was me. I never forgot that relatively insignificant act of love to a little boy who had just been hit by an emotional freight train. As a matter of fact, Pat’s kind words that day are memorialized in my book on grief that has, much to my surprise, survived to this day after 23 years of being published. Her words echo through history, and her legacy has impacted thousands of unnamed people who benefit from those words of kindness. Her words were what propelled me into teaching about grief (I didn’t know that at the time), and writing a book about grief. I’m no expert when it comes to grieving. I just know it well enough to encourage those who are grieving that what they are experiencing is an important (and normal) part of their immense love for the person they have lost. Repeating the words of C.S. Lewis… “Twice in that life, I been given the choice, as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then… that’s the deal.” (Shadowlands)
Good bye, Pat Williams(Meme)… till we meet again. You lived life well, you lived life loved, and you lived life loving… you will be sorely missed. What a legacy you have left behind.