I sat last Sunday listening to General Conference hearing the story of the Greatest Consolation Ever, listening to alleluias, smelling lilies…with red eyes and a broken heart.
The news of my dear friend (I’ll call him “Job”) and his out-of-nowhere tumor/sudden surgery/aggressive cancer/grim prognosis was fresh and raw.
This Easter I was incapable of engaging with the lofty notion of victory over the grave, with death that has “no sting.”
And, as if I weren’t feeling abysmal enough, I almost felt guilty for not being able to engage and rejoice.
Aren’t I a believer?
Don’t I affirm Life with a Capital L?
What happened to the faith I’ve been robustly building for decades now?
I say I almost felt guilty. And then, when I went a few minutes without weeping or being weighed down in loss, I almost felt guilty for not being sad enough. Didn’t I owe Job that much?
This is not the first time I’ve confronted death, grief and loss. I almost feel guilty about having to go through all this sorrow again. One would think my past encounters could have, what?…built up a callous? Enriched me so deeply that I would always and only be infused with faith, hope and celestial perspectives?
I know those tropes, and I see their ruses.
Would we expect someone who has just had a limb savagely ripped off not to scream or cry or react?
Any loss like this – the death of a friend or a failed relationship or a betrayal of some kind – is an emotional injury with its own messy versions of ripping, shredding and bleeding. It has its own ways of sending psychological counterparts of white blood cells to the injury to help, protect and heal it.
It also has its own time frame.
I’m now edging past the emotionally oozing stage, but that could change with any new downturn. This is, I have learned, how grief goes. Each occasion offers us our own convoluted Way of Grief.
Besides this most wrenching news about Job, within the last month I have been inundated with dark news about other friends’ calamities/fragile marriages/lost pregnancies/health crises. Yesterday I witnessed a dog get run over by a car. It’s too much.
We have covenanted to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those who stand in need of comfort.” From my unfortunately fresh perspective, I offer some practical bits that might help develop those skills.
1. Allow grieving people (including yourself) their messy progress. Offer them your love without judging them or hurrying them. This is a real boon in times of sorrow.
2. Sometimes words that you think might provide consolation – like the promise of eternal life – sound too lofty to grasp right then and only emphasize to the mourner the immediate loss of the intimacy, vivacity and presence of the dying loved one. On the other hand, to some grieving people, these can be very soothing words. (so see #1)
3. Small gestures of consolation can mean a lot. Sometimes these mean more than words.
4. Don’t expect the person facing death (or an uncomfortable future) to console you. They have enough to deal with already. Be as loving, supportive and present (even if not physically) to them as you are able and as they allow. Accept (and give) the grace and help of your fellow mourners – but don’t ask it of the mourned.
Because I have traveled this desperate route before, I’m convinced I will not always be on the verge of tears. I will not always carry this current burden. I will not always identify closely with these lyrics:
“Swift to its close, ebbs out life’s little day. Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.”
I believe I will again want to sing:
“Lives again, our glorious King! Where, oh death, is now thy sting?”