“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I have been contemplating the act of grieving lately. More specifically, I have been contemplating the act of grieving as performed by those who belong to Christ. Unfortunately, there have been several people connected to me that have experienced the unspeakable pain that accompanies the death of a loved one. I know more than one person that has lost a grandparent. A friend. Horrifically and tragically, a child.
In commiserating with these people, some coworkers, some friends, some acquaintances, some fellow church-goers, I have also been thinking about those that I loved that have also departed from this earth. My great-grandparents, who departed when I was sixteen and eighteen, respectively. My aunt, at the tragically young age of 35, passed away a week before I turned twenty-one, after a long-fought battle with cancer. My grandfather passed away just a month later, a few days before Thanksgiving.
Those deaths left me feeling hollow and numb and bone-crushingly sad and joyous all at once. I would be fine one moment, completely void of emotion the next, and sobbing hysterically the moment after that. I felt like I was being pulled in two. One part of me – I suspect my soul – rejoiced in the truth that my loved ones felt pain no more. Another part of me – my flesh – mourned deeply for their absence.
I experienced a good amount of guilt due to this internal conflict. How can you be happy that they’re gone? my flesh seemed to lash out. How can you mourn their absence on this blighted star? my soul demanded.
The well-meant consolations of others did not help matters, and to this day when I see these same platitudes offered up to others who have experienced the death of a loved one I cringe and shudder.
Everything happens for a reason.
God just needed another angel. (Usually used in the context of the loss of a child.)
He was just too good for this world.
Don’t be upset. They’re in a better place now, after all, and it’s selfish to be anything but happy for them.
While I’m sure that those who offer up these shallow attempts at comfort have nothing but the best intentions at heart, and for that reason I do not condemn those who say such things. But I can contest that when you are grieving the loss of a life that is near and dear to your heart, these are the last things that you want to hear. I never said anything negative to anyone who offered these lines to me during my periods of mourning – what good what it have done? – but I did not refrain from responding in my mind.
Everything happens for a reason. If that is true, the reason must have been awful, terrible, unjust, and altogether crappy.
God just needed another angel. For one thing, that’s theologically bunk. For another, that paints a picture of a selfish, petty, ruthless God. Those who have lost someone are already probably struggling with anger or confusion towards God – this is just fuel on that fire.
He was just too good for this world. No, he wasn’t. He was flawed and imperfect, like the rest of us, but he was loving and loveable and therefore I love him and miss him.
Don’t worry. They’re in a better place now, after all, and it’s selfish to be anything but happy for them. Is it selfish to miss them? To wish that they hadn’t gotten cancer? To wish she had gotten to see her kids grow up? To wish that he could have been there at my wedding? To wish that my future children would get to meet them here on earth?
As Christians, we do have the comfort that comes from the knowledge of Heaven. But that does not negate or belittle the pain that we feel here on earth. It is very real, and it not something that you get over.
While the days of heavy crying have long passed me by and I can think of these dear ones fondly with a smile on my face, I still go through periods of grief, times when their absence is keenly felt in the depths of my soul. The portal between my every day life and that grief is opened by the most innocuous things. It’s been the opening bars of Zac Brown Band’s “Knee Deep,” and a cold turkey sandwich, and the haunting notes of a once-favored hymn. It has, and could be, and will be, anything. Grief is a lifelong process.
So then comfort is not achieved by offering someone who is suffering a line that basically boils down to, “you should get over it,” Comfort is achieved by a long, silent hug. By physical acts of helping those who grieve. By saying, “I lost my grandfather, too. I know.” Or, when you have been fortunate enough to escape the pain that the death of a loved one brings, by saying “I am so sorry. I have no words.”
Through this, those that grieve know that you, at least marginally, do understand.