catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 16 :: 2004.10.08 — 2004.10.21


Late night thoughts on grieving as a process

Jesus said, “You will weep and lament . . . you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” The man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, knew whereof he spoke. The path to joy after a loss — the end of a relationship, a miscarriage, a death, a firing, the failure of a cause, the sacrifice of an illusion we have long clung to — is paved with weeping and lament. But in a culture that routinely mistakes optimism for hope, the message is often given, “Aren’t you over that yet?” Taking the time to weep and lament, to learn the lessons of grief, “to mature in sorrow” as was said of Lincoln, is as essential as it is discouraged.

Is grief a process? Yes, in the sense that it has movement. No, in the sense that it is not entirely predictable. When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published her pioneering work on the stages of dying, I found parishioners becoming observers, rather than experiencers, of their own demise. “Oh, I’m angry; bargaining must be next.” Longer living with the dying and the grieving has suggested that it is not always so. The general outlines of recovering from a loss may be discernable, but each person’s movement through them is as unique as each self, and measured by the love with which that which is lost was held.

Grieving is fitful, full of stops and starts, and long stretches of stagnation. In my work as a hospice chaplain, we often speak in our bereavement work of “STUGS” — Sudden Traumatic Upsurges of Grief, moments when powerful feelings of loss, triggered by sights or sounds or smells or touches or memory, overwhelm us, claim us, drag us back to the loss. Like an ocean wave that knocks us down, these surge over us. And for a moment, we wonder if our end is come. But then we rise, staggered, drenched in emotion, but standing, finding footing, amazed that life still is ours.

Grieving takes time, takes courage, takes hope. Time to face into that which is lost forces us to admit the limits of our powers and control. We find courage to admit our loss in the presence of others, the pain of it, the memory of it. We find hope to be able to find good in life again. And all these are born of the truth of resurrection, that new life is not found only after death, but in this life after all the deaths we suffer along the way, born to us, in us, by the One who knows the way out of a tomb, who is again and again the bearer of new life to those who mourn, and shall be comforted.

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