We’re uncomfortable with grief.
It’s why we say dumb things at funerals, “They’re in a better place.” “I guess God wanted them.”
It’s why we tell a kid who just lost a pet “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a new one.” And while it is great that another puppy coming, that fact does not diminish the loss…the pain felt because of the one who is now gone.
It is hard to watch those we care about in the midst of grief. We want to help, to see it end as quickly as possible. But then we short-circuit an important process that each of us need to go through to be healthy.
As a kid I loved spending time at my grandmother’s. When she was in a nursing home, and I was newly married, my wife had to drag me there. Left to myself, I would have just avoided seeing her so I didn’t have to deal with what I was losing.
Huge Learning #1
When I was starting out in ministry, that carried over. I hated visiting sick people. I didn’t like funerals…or any of that kind of stuff. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to make it better.
But a good friend and mentor, Bob Richardson taught me that it wasn’t my job to make it better. That I needed to learn to simply be with people in the midst of suffering. People aren’t looking for me to fix things…to pretend that it’s not so bad. But to come alongside and sit with them.
That was so helpful. Especially since I’m pretty good at not talking.
Huge Learning #2
My second big learning regarding grief came during the Pastor’s Sabbath Retreat (PSR) in 2010.
While I had gotten better at learning to sit with others, left to my own devices, I would avoid or rush through my grief as quickly as possible. At the PSR they encouraged us to recognize loss in our lives as it happened and take time to stop, and acknowledge it. To grieve our losses. But also to celebrate what was lost. I mean, the reason you are grieving that person, or the pet or even the thing, is because it brought joy and goodness into your life. Acknowledge that.
Our first opportunity to practice this came months later, when we sold our home in Ithaca. We took a night, ordered pizzas and the 5 of us sat around sharing stories. (I can feel the tears welling up just thinking about it.) Some we cried about…others got us laughing hysterically. We said thank you to the house for what it had meant to our family the past 7 years. We prayed that the next family who lived there would appreciate it and enjoy it as much as we did. And then we said “goodbye”.
If you know me, you know I’ve moved a lot the past 30 years. But there was something special about how we left that place.
I’m thinking about this, because we have another grieve-able moment ahead. Liz and her sisters have sold the family farm up in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. While no one from the family has lived there for decades, it has been in her family for at least 250 years. And for Liz there is an attachment to that place and its history that I can’t fully grasp.
But what I do grasp is the importance that place played in our family’s life. The 5 plus weeks we spent there in 2010 changed the path of our lives. If we didn’t have the time there, it’s unlikely I am sitting in Dublin typing this. The farm has also been a place for our family to retreat to these past 5 years…that has been a gift.
So we are planning another moment to stop and grieve. The kids are taking time off from work and the 6 of us will head up to Ballybay. There’ll be tears…there’ll be laughter…there will be important memories shared…and important memories made. Méabh will get to see her family grieve and be invited to do the same.
I can’t say for sure we’ll hit all five steps of the grieving process while we are there (although, most have already been ticked off in one way or another.).
Ten years ago I couldn’t have imagined marking time to grieve on my calendar. Now, I couldn’t imagine not having this time.
Also published on Medium.