Grief. It is unpredictable in its manifestations. I’ve seen men cry, children cover their eyes, and women remain stoic. I’ve looked into a widow’s face, covered over with anguish, yet tearless, and remained speechless to her suffering. Grief is an unwelcome visitor at any stage of life.
In the book, The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis, the great lion, Aslan, stoops down to lick the face of a suffering boy and says to him, “My son, I know, grief is great.”
My earliest memory of a grieving scene was watching my grandpa place his hand on the shoulder of a grieving man and say, “Remember, we must sorrow not, as others who have no hope.” I wondered what it meant not to sorrow. I wondered if it was my Christian duty not to grieve, as if I suddenly had no emotions. I wondered if I should pack away my heavy heart in the face of death and shoulder on, tearless.
“So many prayers have been said.” My heart wrenched with Friedl’s pain. The neighbors my family had when I was growing up in Germany were like family to me. Watching Friedl, who was like a grandma to me, grieve for the unexpected loss of her husband, Johann, was tragic. It filled me with a great frustration that even my prayers for her were seemingly unanswered. All I could do was hold her hand and cry.
One of the most quoted Scriptures when I was growing up was John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” It was propounded as the shortest verse in the Bible. As I took a closer look at the context of the verse, however, I discovered a much deeper meaning. Jesus was crying at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. Granted, some scholars say that the Lord’s grief was more directed towards the unbelief of the Jewish people, yet there is a dimension of Jesus’ humanity here that I cannot deny. He stood in front of the grave of a loved one and showed deep emotion for the fact that death had stolen away life. While He was about to perform one of His greatest miracles, He allowed Himself a moment to feel the pain that all of His children feel at a time of loss.
I have no words to describe grief. Any trite comfort I could offer to a soul would be vain. Like singing songs to a heavy heart, as Solomon aptly put in Proverbs. Sometimes we simply need flesh and blood to sit “shiva” with us. “Shiva” is the term used for the mourning period in Jewish culture. The mourners don’t speak to the grieving family at all, unless the grieving people wish to speak. Silence is kindly offered.
My grandpa passed away in April of 2006. It was an unexpected death. My family drove from Oklahoma to Indiana in heavy silence. The arrival on my grandparents’ farm marked in my mind an epoch of sadness. What could I say to my grandma as we wept and avoided the empty recliner my grandpa always sat in?
Nothing. Only tears bespoke the pain inside our hearts.
I remember sitting next to my grandma. She was talking about funeral plans. Tears were streaking her face. Her voice was far away from me. The whole moment felt surreal to me. The week that followed seemed distant and hollow, as though I was looking through a telescope, observing another universe, but not participating.
At the grave site of my grandpa, after the 139th Psalm was read, the casket was lowered, and the flowers dispersed, my dad handed me a stalk of wheat. Touching the result of a crop my Grandpa used to farm released the torrent of tears from me. I had heard the strangled sounds of weeping from my father, noticed the creases around my aunt’s eyes holding tears, and seen my uncles tuck away their handkerchiefs. But up until that moment, I had remained dry-eyed.
I believe God gives us tears as a relief for the ache inside us. I believe He is close to the broken-hearted and the grieving. I believe that without going through this process, we begin to die a little ourselves. God desires to bring us through the grief, to give a peace in our hearts, and grant us some healing. Holding it all inside or denying the emotion closes us off to His work. This life isn’t easy. God never said that it would be. That’s why we have to look forward to the life to come, the hope Jesus brings, and the promise of a new day.
After the darkness, comes the light.
“I’m gonna walk with my grand-daddy, and I’ll match him step for step, and I’ll tell him how I missed him every minute since he left. Then I’ll hug his neck…when I get where I’m going.” Brad Paisley sang it quite correctly. Someday we’ll arrive to where we were meant to be all along.
That day will be epic.