Grief comes without rules

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I recently heard a wise hospice counselor clergyman speak movingly about grief. Practically everyone faces grief either for the death of a significant person, a dearly loved pet or even the death of a cherished ideal. These feelings of loss are as universal as itself.

Although this counselor did not connect grief with Easter, I find such a connection intriguing. In just over a week, Christians will joyfully proclaim Jesus’ victory over death and the same victory for every believer. As exciting as this good news is, people could possibly gain the mistaken impression that grief is thus a sin, or is an emotion to be quickly vanquished.

Such attitudes are naive. Even the most faithful Christians will grieve over the death of a spouse, parent, child or dear friend. Only a Mr. Spock from the planet Vulcan cannot grieve, and that’s the stuff of science fiction.

There is no predicting how long grief will last. According to my clergyman friend, the second year after a death is often worse than the first year. I had never seen it that way, having thought that once a person moved through every anniversary and holiday at least once things might ease up.

But it might be helpful to compare grieving the death of a dear friend to the way one feels after surgery. One wakes up and feels fine. That surgery didn’t hurt! Then later, the anesthesia wears off and one is confronted with the pain. The second or third days after surgery are worse than the first.

This is how grief works, too. Immediately following a death, one goes into shock which allows us to make decisions, phone family, receive friends, plan and attend the funeral, get through the first weeks or even months. Only later descends the heavy grief.

This week, I listened to two people struggling with feelings of intense, confusing grief. One was an adult who still missed a deceased parent and couldn’t understand why, after 15 months, he was still having a tough time. As I listened to him, I teared up myself, missing my father who died almost six years ago. The other person came to me because somebody in her family had taken her own life, leaving the family to grieve and question.

If you are grieving, don’t accept others’ observation that you should have moved through “that stage” already. There are no stages to grief and no predictable patterns to it. Grief sneaks up at times when you least expect it and may never fully disappear.

If you know somebody who is grieving, honor their spirit and be still with them, present in their pain. Go into the wilderness with them, offering hope when appropriate, but avoiding the quick, easy, trite and usually pointless answers. And if you are the one who is grieving, may you find that authentic person who can be with you in your pain.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.