Recently, a friend who, like Toby, has also lost a parent, called to check in on us. She said, “I just wanted to see how you are doing. Now that the funeral is over and the holidays are here, you may feel like no one cares anymore. That no one cares that Toby’s mom is still gone and you are still grieving. I just want you to know I am thinking about you and praying for you guys. I know it still hurts.”
Grief is intense sorrow. Toby and I have shared to many about how God has blessed us in these past few months, even in Cheryl’s death. We got to be so close to Cheryl during her last months. We were blessed to serve and be with Darryl throughout the ordeal. Many friends and family extended their love and generosity in unbelievable and humbling ways. But even after we have counted our many, many blessings and thanked God for His goodness, that intense sorrow still taints everything. It still hurts. We are still so sad.
Grief is unpredictable. My mother reminded me that each person grieves differently. She explained that grief may even “come out sideways”. My friend warned you can’t be mad at Cheryl, so you may end up being angry with those around you. Grief may not even look like what we think grief should look like. I have learned that from watching my husband.
Grief is long-lasting. It doesn’t quickly fade away like a bad dream when you wake up in the morning. “It comes in waves,” my father-in-law says. You can’t completely sweep it out the back door with lovely phrases like, “She’s with Jesus now” or “She’s no longer in pain” or “She has victory”. Grief lingers. And even if it disappears for a while, it has a way (when it returns) of making you feel bad for forgetting.
Grief is awkward. It makes people say queer things. They are standoffish. Grief can feel completely appropriate and expected for a short while. Then, all of the sudden, grief can feel wrong or unreasonable or childish or beneath a Christian who knows the hope of the resurrection.
Recently a pastor, who’s church we visited said, “What is grief? Why do we grieve? Isn’t it basically selfishness?” He went on to explain that our sadness is rooted in the self-serving need to be with the person we’ve lost. But I disagree. Grief may be many things, but grief is not selfishness.
Grief is the self-awareness of great loss. It is the intense pang of separation. It is the true, human response to an unnatural severing of relationship. It is not selfishness. On the contrary, it is the shocking knowledge of what we have lost and who we were created to be – people in relationship.
Another friend wrote: “If Jesus could weep for a friend, we can surely mourn the loss of those so close to us.” Right before Jesus raised his friend Lazarus back to life, he stood by the grave and wept. John says earlier in his account that Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He had told the disciples, “I go to awaken Lazarus” (John 11:11). Yet moments before his incredible miracle, he wept. John describes Jesus as “greatly moved in spirit and troubled” (11:33). Why? If he knew the good news to come, why mourn?
Similarly, Jesus not only predicted his own death to his disciples, but he also foretold his resurrection (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23). He knew he would rise again. Yet some of Jesus’ last words from the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Why? When he knew the good news to come?
Jesus mourned, he was troubled, and he cried to God for the same reasons that we do. In grief, we cry out to God because we feel the brokenness of relationship, both with loved ones and with our Creator Father. We grieve, even if – thanks to God – only for a time. We grieve because we are not there yet.