Grief and loss are part of life – for all of us. Yes, you too. However, the way they are experienced can vary from person to person and that experience is influenced by many factors, including but not limited to culture, faith, religious belief, personal experiences and circumstances surrounding the loss. Death, though very significant, is not the only kind of loss and thus, not the only source of grief. People lose jobs, income, relationships, community, ability, normalcy, and hope too. There are children who have lost the routine of their school day- no more recess or story time with their friends. High school seniors cannot attend prom or commencement. Small business owners are unable to open shop. Someone has experienced a theft. Congregations can no longer meet for fellowship. There’s no more working out at the gym. People are unable to be present with their loved ones at the end of life. And rituals - the ceremonies we participate in as we celebrate milestones like birthdays or anniversaries as well as those that bring us healing during our grieving process, like funerals - have been postponed.
Everyone is grieving; yet, the way we deal with grief is broken. Instead of encouraging people to name their grief, they are encouraged to ignore it. Rather than sitting in the discomfort of their grief, people are told to push it aside. We treat grief like an illness and those who have it as if they should self-quarantine until they are no longer sad or angry or anxious and can highlight for us how this loss has made them a better person. Quite frankly, I'm an ordained clergywoman and I am still not so sure that every loss will make or has made me better. On the contrary, I believe that there are some wounds that are neither healed by tears nor time. We learn how to live with the wound- like we learn how to live with an amputation. Additionally, I believe that anger is a perfectly acceptable emotion for one to feel when grieving. In fact, anger is an appropriate emotion, unlike what many of us have been taught. I love the church and I have found that the church is a place where I have been encouraged not to feel anger or sadness, instead I have been encouraged to turn those emotions over to Jesus so that I might walk in victory. Yet, expressing emotion is modeled by Jesus. In John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” reminds us that the one whom God sent to remind us of God’s love for us, expresses sadness or sorrow through the shedding of tears. Whether you subscribe to the belief that Jesus wept because others were sad, because he was sad, both or something else altogether, he wept.
Yet, because we have not learned how to name emotions and are uncomfortable feeling our own emotions, we, therefore, encourage others not to feel. Some of what I have heard over the years, in the name of comforting the bereaved, is quite painful. These clichés and platitudes are neither helpful nor life-giving. Platitudes, even when rooted in good intention, can come across as dismissive and downright cruel. A dear friend who has been pastoring for over 20 years enrolled in his first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education not just because it is a great opportunity for anyone providing pastoral or spiritual care, but because he no longer wanted to hurl well-intentioned, yet unhelpful platitudes at those who were grieving. When his father died, roughly a year earlier, it brought him deep pain. During this time, the niceties he heard ranged from “God doesn’t make mistakes” to “God will not give us more than we can bear.” He found the comments empty, lacking compassion. When he realized that he had said the same to others, he knew it was time to find a better way to come alongside those who are grieving.
Grief – the combination of feelings, thoughts and behaviors - is a natural response to loss. It is very personal and yet universal. Grief, by its very nature, is irregular and sometimes difficult to interpret and the implications are not only emotional and spiritual, but they can be physical, economic, social, and existential. Emotional responses can range from sadness to irritation to anger to relief. Physically we might find ourselves fatigued or restless. Some experience and express grief through their behavior, for example, one might withdraw from family and community. And it can hit you at any time - sometimes the most unexpected time. About 6 months ago, I was asked to eulogize my cousins' father. Their mother was my biological cousin, and she died when I was thirteen years old. I hadn't had a significant cry or felt any deep sadness in years, when thinking about her. So, it was not that I hadn’t thought about her, I had. However, when thinking about her, it just didn’t elicit that kind of emotion. However, when I walked into that funeral home, the wind was knocked out of me. I felt like the thirteen-year-old all over again. I couldn’t breathe. I didn't try to push it away; I allowed myself the moment of sadness and I did not attempt to control my tears. And I have found that to be one of the keys to dealing with grief. It is critical to understand that there is nothing wrong with grief; just because it feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Know that what you are feeling is common. So, feel what you feel and know that you are not alone. We are all grieving. You are not alone.
We are ALL grieving. YOU are not alone. And anyone who tries to shame you because of your grief, tell them #bebest and keep it moving.
You are not alone. We are all grieving...even if we haven't named it yet.
J. Frederika Eaddy
I'm a grief and loss navigation specialist. I love reading, preaching, 90's hip-hop, poetry, pink lipstick, Rizpah and shoes. I believe in Black Girl Magic, that Black people need therapy and that Black Lives Matter. #PhillyJawn $DaChaplain