21 Dec Good Grief!
It’s probably Charlie Brown’s most notable saying: “Good Grief.” It comes at times when he is exasperated. We have these sayings to give expression to moods and feelings. We say them when there’s really nothing more to say.
Along with Charlie’s notable saying is the song, “Christmas Time,” which really goes along with the mood. It’s melancholy and gray – anything but the expected anticipation and celebration that comes with Christmas. Of course, in the animated classic, the whole story line takes an upturn when Linus quotes Luke’s Christmas narrative.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the Christmas blues are not so easily resolved.
Put simply, grief is a response to loss. Most often grief is associated with death. However, we have observed people grieve over many different types of losses. The loss of health, a job, a marriage, or even an opportunity are among a long list of circumstances that can elicit a grief response. David McGee identifies, “No two people will grieve the same, but there are similarities. As individuals, we can complicate the grief experience by a lack of understanding concerning grief and how loss interacts with our present lives.” (McGee, “Living After Death”) Here are a few thoughts about processing loss.
Although there is not a set pattern for proper grief, we can see several ways that grief can be considered “bad:”
Denying/avoiding grief: occurs by immersing oneself in activity or distracting oneself to the extent that they don’t consciously think about their loss.
Premature termination of grief: is urged by people who try to determine for a grieving person when enough time has passed, and that the grieving person should now move on or get over their loss.
Unresolved grief: can be experienced when one lives in unabated depression or by building one’s identity on the loss they have experienced.
Some might ask “can grief be good?” I believe the answer most definitely is “yes.” Grief is a necessary expression to help us process our loss. If we grieve well, we have a better chance of regaining emotional and spiritual homeostasis. We can make the most of grief if we:
Let it out: in the book “ToughLove,” David & Phyllis York identify a principle that resonates with experience: “To postpone a crisis is to intensify it.” So it is with grief. If we delay or deny our need to grieve, we do ourselves harm in the long run. I think the words of Jesus, taken quite literally, are worth considering: “Blessed are those who mourn.”
Share it with a trusted friend: the best kind of friend during grief is one who listens patiently, offers advice rarely, challenges only when necessary, and is empathetic consistently. Some grief work will of necessity be done alone, while another side of grief work is done in companionship, absent platitudes and clichés. In his transparent journey through the loss of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” (C.S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”) I think that Lewis is referring to religious clichés that fail to bring comfort because the hearer is either emotionally numb or in pain when they are spoken. A good friend has more substance to offer than trite truisms.
Give yourself permission to have bad days: there is no timetable for grief. Memories and the emotions that they elicit are as unpredictable as a breeze. A holiday, a phrase or sound, and even a scent can bring an unexpected memory crashing into our consciousness. I was at Walmart a few weeks back and was knocked back on my heels when I saw a woman pushing a cart who looked like my mother. I was unprepared for the dry throat that a glimpse of a stranger would bring. A file that I thought was closed had been reopened, and my grief work continued for an hour. In a strange way I welcomed the grief as it refreshed my memory…grief is unpredictable and unusual.
Give yourself permission to have good days: at times people feel bad for feeling good again. But a new normal will and should emerge, and that new normal will include the memories and the absence of the loved one. It’s ok to be ok with these realities.
As we enter the Christmas season, it is inevitable that some will be facing the holidays with a sense of loss. Our prayer is that you may find comfort and peace during a time of year that seems unsympathetic to your grief. May you experience the dawning light* of His presence (Matthew 4:16).
*I have to say that this metaphor used by Isaiah resonates with me. Dawning light is gradual, not uncomfortably sudden. It brings warmth and comfort. It brings hope. It is set in the context of “those who sat in the region of the shadow of death.” It’s a good thought, and a good promise.