Observing Grief

Like you, my mind and my heart are reeling after this latest round of mass shootings. Confusion, grief, fear, and outrage are all swirling around inside me. On top of that, there are the secondary, ancillary indecencies: people immediately politicize these murders and the prayer shamers lash out at those who offer their spiritual comfort and compassion.

We are all in such a hurry to analyze and make societal conclusions when something like this happens. Perhaps there is a sense of urgency, but it seems to me that we are skipping over an important step: grieving.

Christ said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) When something terrible happens, it is important to take time to mourn and grieve over it. Too often, we immediately run into some kind of action. “We have to do something!” is the urgent feeling. And perhaps there is a need for some kind of quick action. But quick, radical action guided by intense emotion is very rarely wise. Before we can restore our calm, we need to grieve.

My wife and I prayed for children since the day we were married over 18 years ago. However, as the years passed, it became more and more apparent that conceiving a child was not a part of God’s plan for us. Once we realized this, we immediately entered into the adoption process. During that time, they emphasized to us that we had to take time to grieve over our infertility.

It was an odd thing, that I never really thought about beforehand. I just recognized the problem and wanted to dive headlong into a solution. But they told us that we had to come to terms with our loss. It was a very strange thing to confront, but I realized that I was going to miss having a child that looked like my wife or inherited my father’s eyes or my mother’s laugh. I was able to touch upon that sadness and really feel it. And after I acknowledged it, I was able to let it go.

I am not one to say that constant self-reflection and navel-gazing are the most fruitful ways to go through life. We do need to constantly work on Socrates’ maxim “know thyself,” without turning too inward in vanity and egotism. But moments of great pain need to be acknowledged, otherwise we will still carry their weight.

When I was younger, I did not grieve my parents’ divorce. I may have cried once or twice, but then I tried making the best of it. However, my school work started to suffer and my anxieties were increasing. I was actually surprised when in a sudden outburst to a teacher I started crying over the breakup of my family. I hadn’t let myself mourn. And because of that, that pain was manifesting in very unhealthy ways.

I tried to prepare myself as much as possible when my mom went into the hospital. At some point, we knew she was never going to get better. When we were called to the hospital on the day she died, they asked if we wanted to see her. I was so afraid to see my mother lifeless, but I knew I needed to confront my grief. I am very glad I did. She had been in so much pain in her last few weeks. It was strangely comforting to see her lying peacefully, as though asleep. Even now, think of it, my heart is filled with sorrow. But I was able to embrace her one more time and tell her goodbye.

When I think about my mom, I am still overwhelmed with sadness. And yet I am strangely happy that I still feel sadness over her death. The grief I feel is not a burden. It is a reminder of the large space she takes up in my heart. And I am very grateful that after all these years, that love has not diminished.

Throughout the Scriptures, God instructs the people to engage in mourning. When Moses died, the Hebrews mourned a whole 30 days (Deuteronomy 34:8). Even Christ Himself wept at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:35). It is true that grief shouldn’t consume us completely as if death were the end of the story. But CS Lewis grieved the death of his wife, Joy. He recounts what a friend of his said to him in chapter 2 of A Grief Observed:

“And poor C. quotes to me, ‘Do not mourn like those that have no hope.’ It astonishes me, the way we are invited to apply to ourselves words so obviously addressed to our betters. What St. Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves. If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.”

We, of course, should strive for that heaven-focused hope in our souls. But unless we are already saints, we need to acknowledge our very human loss.

In the wake of these horrible events in our country and in our world, it seems as though we run right away from our grief and into almost anything else. We want to “fix the problem” as we see it. And anyone who does not see our solution as the correct one is an enemy who desires there to be more tragedies like this. As a result, events like this pull us further and further apart. On social media (granted not the most civil place for discourse) I have read people wishing the death of politicians and pundits who do not see eye-to eye on the solution. The pain of these times becomes a flashpoint for a cultural raw.

But if we just allowed ourselves to grieve, we could come together to comfort one another. We could reach out with compassion to those who have suffered and we could suffer with them. And through this, we may all find more unity and healing. But to do this, we cannot run away from that uncomfortable grief, but we must meet it head.

To heal the wounds in our society, together we must observe grief.

Copyright 2019, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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