Mother’s Day is in the recent past, and Father’s Day is on the horizon. Each are hallmarks of the spring and summer season of flourishing, fruitfulness, color and activity. The days grow longer, nights only a wink.
In the midst of sunshine-a-plenty, who would feel glum? It seems absurd to some. Sunshine seems to cure the bleakest of wintry hearts and spirits, but not for all.
I think of the people (perhaps this is you) who find grief to be particularly onerous these summer months. Holidays abound, but so does your loneliness. None of us leaves this earth unscathed from grief’s cruel embrace. It leaves its mark on us — indelibly — as a reminder of all we had, but lost; all we were, all that no longer exists.
This year, Mother’s Day was delightful for me. It was the day after our youngest child, Joseph’s, baptism, and we celebrated with brunch alongside his godparents, my parents, and my brother. Each of my kids and Ben, my husband, was there, too.
Despite the joy I felt that day, a pall loomed in the hearts of those with me: Ben’s mother lives thousands of miles away, and he couldn’t spend the day with her; Anna (Joey’s godmother) lost her mother only some short months ago and mourned the first milestone holiday without her; my mom’s mother died when my mom was only twelve, and she has never been able to share Mother’s Day as a mother with her.
The Story of Grief in Relationships
Motherhood, fatherhood, parenthood – each of these can trigger so many complex emotions in us. That is the story of grief. Its graze often flutters our hearts unexpectedly, perhaps through a memory or song or longing. With these summer holidays, we are confronted with the stark reality that our relationships are imperfect – we are imperfect – and our parents are the ones we may need to forgive most of all.
For many, parenthood did not come easily. I know plenty who have prayed in desperation for children but never were able to conceive. I have friends who have suffered multiple miscarriages at various gestational stages, from early pregnancy to the final two weeks. Some have lost babies due to fatal diagnoses. Others have children who died by suicide.
On the flipside, there are many among us who have complicated relationships with our mothers and fathers. We are estranged from them because of lingering misunderstandings that built decades of unresolved wounds between us. We grieve them before they are gone, because they suffer from dementia. Worst of all, we may never reconcile with them or forgive them before they die.
Four Simple Words of Love
A friend of mine recently shared that her pastor told her there are only four simple things we should say to our parents when they are dying: “I love you. I know you love me. I forgive you. Please forgive me.” Such wisdom in these words. Such power. Such healing.
Despite signs of life blooming all around us – in the hum of the bumblebee, in the robust canopy of green leaves on towering trees, in the fragrant rose bushes or lilacs, and the chorus of songbirds warbling to their hearts’ content each morning and evening – there is a cloak of grey skies looming somewhere in our hearts, in the places where loss has touched us and healing is not yet complete.
Grief Is Hard Work
Grief is hard work. I’m not going to offer some empty platitude about how faith will bring the light and hope back into your life. Sometimes that doesn’t happen for a long, long time. There are many who are in the thick of their desert seasons of spirituality and have not felt God’s presence for years. That’s why working through the pain is such an essential first step toward healing.
I’ve written and spoken about grief for a little over five years now. It seems to me that those who are willing to engage in the arduous and difficult work of entering their suffering understand that grief work, like faith, is an act of the will. It is a choice. We choose healing much like we choose to see beauty and goodness when we are ensconced in a world rife with violence, apathy, and vitriol. Joy, too, is found in us when we search deep within our souls to discover, or rediscover, that God dwells in us always – even and especially when it seems He has kept His presence and love hidden from us.
Loss Is Both Sorrow and Joy
Healing must begin with you and me, somewhere inside us that may have become stale or stagnant with weariness and the drudgery of the everyday mundane. It must be a leap or a spark that ignites from a breath, a prayer offered in desperation or exhaustion. Deep is calling on deep, wrote the Psalmist. There is no other way to experience life than to embrace its brokenness and its fragility in the midst of what is strong, hardy, abundant, and gratuitous.
That’s the essence of grief: it is never experienced strictly as sorrow; instead, there are fluctuations of joy, moments of happiness, and abiding peace that can coincide with the changing tides we call life. These movements draw us nearer to the Divine, and we learn to integrate every experiential lesson as gift.