Recognizing Our Common Pain Can Unite Us
My first experience with the reckless, hurricane force of grief was in 1991 when my Grandma Bob died (Her real name was Roberta, but she went by Bobbie. My Grandpa Kenny would call her Bob, so we did, too!)
I was living in musical theater/waiting tables-mode, in-between performances of Godspell, and rehearsing for a Christmas show. My family’s favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, was making their way through baseball’s post-season in true underdog fashion. My Grandma was going through serious issues with her heart at the time, and even while awaiting surgery, she would wave her homer hanky from her wheelchair, cheering on Kirby Puckett and the boys to a stunning World Series victory. Then she died. And my world flipped upside down.
I was helpless to have any control over what happened inside my head or my heart. But I watched myself become a different person almost overnight. It was like every sound was a dentist’s drill, and every minor inconvenience became an obstacle course. It was like I was watching myself from a distance—strangely mystified and incredibly frustrated by my newly-acquired emotional instability.
Obviously, my grandma meant the world to me. And because I knew she felt the same way about me, I couldn’t fathom life without her. And for a while, I was unable to process my feelings in any kind of reasonable manner—you know, like “we’re supposed to do.” Be reasonable.
In my grief, I was silently and desperately pleading for compassion, grace, and tolerance from others, but instead, ended up pushing people away—because, as a culture, we don’t know how to make space for grief. Like we should.
Grief Affects Us In Different Ways
I believe that we are all carrying around massive amounts of grief in our souls, only to be compounded by the next tragedy, loss, or heartbreak. Some days it feels like getting older is all about managing an ever-expanding personal collection of pain and grief.
Living through the current global pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters losing their lives, I haven’t seen much in our culture where we have been encouraged to take time to grieve. Maybe today is the day, because I believe we’re missing out on a really beautiful gift.
This past weekend I saw a tweet that took my breath away. And the accompanying video just added to the impact of it.
Putting aside any politically-driven polarization of the pandemic, the truth is that we have experienced a tremendous loss of life on a global level. But many of us have on a very personal level, too. This stunning memorial says to me, and hopefully to you, that it’s okay to grieve. That it’s okay to mourn, to be sad, to wish things were different. But especially, that it’s important to remember. To keep saying the names of the people who have gone before us, to keep laughing at their jokes and quirks, and reminding each other of the beauty of their lives.
Grieving says it’s ok to be human, to not be invincible, to not be made of stone.
Lately, when someone mentions a person acting mean or unreasonable, I have been known to say something like, “Well, we are in a global pandemic, something that none of us have ever been through, so I can’t expect anyone to be handling any of it with grace.”
I wish I could say that the Church has been a place to safely express emotions, and perhaps in certain small groups it has, but there seems to be a strong expectation that we show how powerfully God is working in our lives by being overcomers and victors, rather than people who are hurting. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone or risk our chances at leadership positions, so we shove it all down and put on a big smile and a firm handshake. This happens outside the church, too, as we’re told we need to be strong, brave, and have all the answers. The reality is that most people walk around wondering when everyone will find out that they don’t know what they’re doing!
When my sister’s partner Ann died, I saw how clearly our society expects people to grieve for a minute and then get over it. Or at least, to not post on social media about how much your grief is ripping away your insides, rendering you useless on the outside. Very few people are equipped to know how to deal with another person’s grief. But I wanted to make sure my sister knew I always have time for her and her grief. And that I had no expectations on her emotions, and in fact, would be honored to get to experience them with her.
Why is it so taboo for us to find space and time to grieve—to just be flat out covered in sadness? I believe it’s because we don’t understand Good Grief.
GOOD GRIEF reminds us that we have been loved. And it was so good. Why wouldn’t we miss that when it goes away?
GOOD GRIEF honors the person who has died through our remembrance of them. (Watch the fantastic animated movie “Coco” to see how the Mexican culture honors their relatives who have died.)
GOOD GRIEF makes us grateful. Philippians 1:3 - “I thank God every time I think of you.”
GOOD GRIEF helps us remember that life is finite. Realizing our mortality helps guide us to meaning and focus in our own lives.
The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Church in New York City spoke about the gift of grief:
“Grief puts us in touch with our vulnerabilities. I think the feeling of grief lets us know the power of wounds to shape our stories. I think it lets us know how capable we are of having our hearts broken and our feelings hurt. I think it lets us know the link that we each have because we’re human. Because we’re human, we hurt. Because we’re human, we have tears to cry. Because we’re human, our hearts are broken. Because we’re human, we understand that loss is a universal language. Everybody grieves. All of humanity grieves. All of us have setbacks, broken dreams. All of us have broken relationships or unrealized possibilities. All of us have bodies that just don’t do what they used to do. Though grief is personal, every person grieves.”
You can watch her whole sermon on YouTube here
Knowing we are sharing similar griefs, mostly unspoken and completely unwieldily, can allow us to be more compassionate and understanding of others when we see them acting erratic or belligerently, or even quiet and withdrawn. That’s what my grief taught me—that I can’t judge anyone for how they are responding to their own grief.
As long as we remain breakable, we remain beautiful.
Much love to you, in your joy and in your grief. We are in this together.
Back in the early 2000s, I was missing my Grandma Bob and wondered what I would say to her if I could have one more day with her. I sat down and wrote this song in about 20 minutes. I hope it helps you think fondly of your loved ones.
Listen on Spotify — on Apple Music — or listen on YouTube right here
QUESTION: What does “good grief” mean to you?