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The death of grief

Those who sow in tears

Her silent tears fell down her cheeks. She had lost her child in early pregnancy a few months ago, and she was trying to be strong. She had come into the church that Sunday morning to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but in the pew in front of her, she saw a mother holding a newborn child. She could not hold back the tears.

She looked up at the cross. Jesus was there in his agony and it seemed to her that he was looking at her. She too was sharing in his suffering. If she could somehow let go and surrender this to the Father, she knew God’s loving hand would wipe the tears from her eyes.

She understood that Jesus knows the pain of grief. When he came to the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, Scripture records simply that “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) He wept in grief, even though he knew that in a few moments he would bring Lazarus back to physical life and restore him to his family. By his tears, Jesus showed us that grief is not a sign of a lack of faith or trust in God. It is a normal part of what it means to be human. It is a sign that we love.

But how do we deal with it? If you are going through grief, be patient with yourself. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Turn over the pain and hurt to God the Father. Jesus turned to his heavenly Father and “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Heb 5:7-9)

Jesus teaches us how to go through grief. We accept it and surrender ourselves in trust to the loving care of God our Father. God is doing a work in us through the grief. Indeed, like Christ, we are being “made perfect” by what we are suffering. There will be resurrection – through death to life! Through sorrow and pain to acceptance and peace. From tears of sorrow to tears of joy.

God hears the cry of our hearts and sees the tears that we shed. “My wanderings you have noted; are not my tears stored in your vial, recorded in your book?” (Ps 56:8) It was a custom in Jesus’ day to store the tears one shed in a jar or vial, called a “tear jar.” It was a way of “letting go” by expressing the pain and loss of a loved one and turning to God in the hope God would see. Imagine God collecting your tears!

Helping people through grief.

Today, Jesus continues to minister to us through his body, the church. I have seen so many people grieve deeply and witnessed the church or family or network of friends be the “hand of God” that wipes the tears from sorrow-filled eyes. A person who is bereft needs support and love. Love heals us all.

Don’t try to rush things.

We need to remember that each person experiences loss uniquely. Some people are affected more profoundly than others. There is no “time table” for finishing grief. Be patient and help the bereaved person to be patient with the healing process. Remembering and cherishing a lost loved one is very important at this time.

I remember one elderly man who had lost his wife. He wanted to speak to me about it. We went together to her grave and he asked me to kneel down with him to say a prayer. We did. There were many tears. He wanted to know if it was OK that he still spoke to her from time to time inside his heart, or even out loud. He was worried that he was doing something wrong. He thought getting over his grief meant he had to forget her. I assured him he was doing nothing wrong, and suggested that he give himself some time each day to pray to the Lord for her and to speak with her in his own heart. She was alive! As Jesus said, “God is a God of the living, not of the dead!” She is still joined to him and the whole church in Christ. That is what we mean when we pray “I believe in the communion of the saints.” He did so and was grateful for this help in working through his grief. Healing does not mean forgetting, but remembering with hope and trust in our hearts.

Be a good listener.

Don’t be afraid of tears. Sometimes we want to jump in and try to make things all better by offering advice, or pointing out the positive. Remember that working through grief takes time. When we tell someone to “let go” and “get over it” and “move on,” we can hinder the process. Be present. Being a good listener enables someone else to move on. He or she knows that someone cares. Let the tears flow. Tears can help the person express and release the sorrow within them.

Encourage attendance at a bereavement support group.

The loss of loved ones can be so devastating that a person may not know where to turn or what to do. Many churches have bereavement support groups to help. Two people shared with me how God helped them find healing and much more through such a group. They had both lost their spouses and it seemed as if their lives too had come to an end. It was hard for them to function. “Letting go” seemed impossible. The one spouse recognized this by her difficulty in moving her deceased husband’s shoes. She just could not do it for a long time. But each one knew God wanted them to live and move on. As Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life in abundance.” The local church bereavement support group gave them a place where they could come together and openly talk about what was going on inside. It was comforting to know that others understood and that they were not going crazy. They were able to work through their grief with the prayer and the help of their supportive community. While sorrow and grief are not completely dispelled, the pain becomes more bearable when a person feels loved and supported. For these two people, an even more wonderful thing happened. In time, they discovered they loved each other and were married. They were able to let go of their emotional pain and say “yes” to the new life that was right before them.

Pray for those in grief.

We all experience little losses and disappointments frequently, and at times we must mourn the death of loved ones. In the beautiful prayer and hymn called Salve Regina, we pray “Hail Holy Queen… to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Mary is often hailed as Our Lady of Sorrows. She knows how sorrow can literally pierce the human heart. She endured the brutal crucifixion of her own beloved son before her eyes. Mary can bring comfort and help as only a mother can. Pray the Salve Regina and the Memorare for anyone going through grief.

Like all things on this earth, grief will have its own end. Mother Teresa had a beautiful saying as she helped many people die with dignity and love. “Never have so much sorrow that you forget the joy of the resurrection!” As we help others through grief, may God help us always to carry the hope of the resurrection in our hearts.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Ps 34:19)