The grieving process is often an ugly thing. It can reduce us to body-wracking sobs or tempt us to sit in dark, solitary silence. It can shake us to our very core and lead us on a meandering path, banging on doors that open to nothing, and asking questions that will never be answered.
When a loved one dies, or we suffer some other personal tragedy – job loss, a devastating medical diagnosis, a car accident – many of us force the “brave face” and insist that we are fine. After all, we chirp with false cheer, God won’t give us what we can’t handle, He has a plan, it happened for a reason, and it’ll all be okay in the end because we have faith.
Dear friend, that’s not the way the Lord would have you mourn.
The Bible – in particular, the Old Testament – speaks frequently and powerfully about grief and mourning. For the Hebrews, and many surrounding cultures, grief was loud. It was public. It was communal.
Today, we zip our grief into tiny compartments and hope it does not inconvenience others. In fact, sometimes we don’t even feel as though we have the right to grieve or struggle – and so we bottle our feelings and put them on a shelf. We don’t want to suffer additional insult on top of injury. How horrible for the young couple who lost a pregnancy to be told that “it wasn’t actually a child yet”, so they should get over it. Or the parent whose child has just been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, “at least it’s not really dangerous, like cancer or AIDS”. And those of us who have (sometimes reluctantly) shared about our mental health challenges, well, we never know if that oft-repeated phrase, “Just look on the bright side” is heading our way.
Inspirational social media posts spout the wisdom of acknowledging your feelings and asking for help, but that’s not really an easy thing to do.
Because, in order for a person to ask for help, there has to be a community willing to give it, without hesitation and without criticism.
The whole Hebrew community came together to mourn, to celebrate, to worship, to harvest, to help each other. Many of the observances established by God (Passover, the Sabbath, etc.) involved all of Israel doing the same thing at the same time, whether it was feasting or fasting.
Since we are so far removed from that in our daily lives today, and since modern culture (American in particular) so strongly values independence and self-reliance, we really and truly don’t understand how to connect. We meet friends for lunch with our faces buried in our Facebook feeds; we eschew brick-and-mortar stores in favor of delivery services (and yes, I am guilty on both counts here), but we don’t know how to react when we or someone else truly needs help. We are afraid of other people’s pain because it makes us uncomfortable.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable. That’s when growth happens.
Instead of using this space to urge people to get help, though, I am urging you to be the help. Check in with your friends. Send a thoughtful card. Offer to pick up their favorite takeout. Maybe babysit for an hour or two so they can just breathe a bit. Encourage them to keep going to therapy, if it’s helping. Let their grief simply exist without feeling the need to fix it. If they aren’t able or ready to talk, go ahead and accept the offer to sit with them in the quiet, and let them know that, even if things are not okay, you will be there in the middle of the “not okay”, right there with them.