By January Simpson
When I agreed to write a blog post for Lisa’s Legacy of Hope, it didn’t even occur to me that I might have trouble doing it. Not only have I experienced loss, I’ve completed a nine-month pastoral care residency at a local hospital—how hard can writing a blog about grief be? I’m a grief pro! It has been maybe two months now since I agreed to this, and yet here is the blank document on my computer staring back at me. There are lots of reasons to fall back on as the cause of this delay: multiple jobs, volunteer work, making time for family and friends, etc. But, if I’m being honest with myself, the real difficulty has been simply that sitting with grief is hard. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you don’t need me to tell you that.
In just about two weeks from the time I’m typing this it will be the twentieth anniversary of my dad’s death. He’s been gone now for almost half of my life. Even though he had been increasingly ill for years before he died, I can still feel the shock of the news. I can remember all too clearly the instant feeling of tunnel vision as the whole of reality collapsed into the singularity of his absence. Sitting with that was something I had neither the inclination nor the ability to do, and thus began a period of predictably unhelpful self-medicating to numb my grief rather than experience it.
For a while, my refusal to engage with grief seemed to be working as a way to get over it and move on. I finished up my master’s degree, did fun things with friends, laughed a lot—I was just fine, thanks very much. Fortunately, after a few patient years of giving me time, my wife sat me down and said, “Sweetie, I love you, and I’m worried. You’re disappearing. I need you to be here, and I think you should see a therapist.” As usual, she was right, of course. Far from successfully quashing my grief, or outrunning it, I was being consumed by it. It was swallowing me whole.
So, with help, I began to practice grieving. It sounds silly to say I practiced, but that really is what it was. Generally, as a culture, we don’t tend to allow ourselves or each other the space and time and emotional honesty to feel grief. It’s no wonder we become overwhelmed and close ourselves off in various ways when we experience loss and all of the emotional turmoil that comes along with it. And it’s no wonder that the people who love us have trouble helping us through that quagmire. I started to learn how to name my grief honestly, how to recognize it in the midst of other emotions, how to acknowledge it without being paralyzed by it. It took a lot of time, practice, and discomfort, but it became clear that allowing myself the opportunity to sit with my grief, investigate it, express it to others—to just be honest about it—would be the only way to live with it.
As it happens, living with grief is necessary, and not just because grief is inevitable if we’re lucky enough to live a life that includes love. It turns out that grief isn’t something that goes away entirely over time. We never recover so fully from a loss that grief disappears. The sharpness dulls over time, and grief may become more like an occasional guest than a miserably bad roommate, but it always has a key to our house. Grief comes along on trips down memory lane, remembers birthdays and anniversaries, sometimes drops by for no discernable reason to say hello, and it shows up for every major life event—and some of the minor ones for good measure. And that’s okay[NS1] . Grief isn’t just the sadness we feel at the void left in our lives by loss, although it is that. Grief is also the revelation that, despite that loss, we are still here, and the world still offers beauty and adventure to enjoy and share with others.