Share this story

 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

Where Does Comfort From Grief Come From?

Looking into a March dawn, I search for evidence of new life. Beneath the earth, daffodils and tulips must be growing toward the light. But to my eye, all is barren. The landscape captures Lent, the season that early Christians poignantly called “the days during which the Bridegroom was taken away.” How can we bear these days? Can new life be momentarily hidden, but close at hand? Will we see the world with vivid colors again? Or will it remain a scene painted in grayscale, a flat copy of its former self?

“It’s more than flesh and blood can bear.” It is an old saying, one from my Grandma’s heart as she buried her son. And yet, despite the hollow feeling inside, her life went on. The bereaved live on with restless nights and numb days. Physical symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness, increase. Poor appetites and sleep deprivation affect the health. Hearts are “broken” over and over: the deceased’s favorite food is automatically tossed into the shopping cart; a number is dialed for a call that cannot be completed. Where in this state of bewilderment and anguish is the blessing?

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. This beatitude can be explored on two levels, within the framework of our everyday human experience and within the framework of our lives as sons and daughters of a loving God. Grief and mourning aren’t interchangeable. Grief is our psychological response to the loss whereas mourning is the display of grief. Mourning occurs in relationships; it is a social behavior. The funeral Mass acknowledges that our loved one’s life on earth has ended, and that the bereaved need the support of community.

The death of Lazarus. The story of Lazarus is familiar, but there is a verse that often goes unnoticed: “... when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.” (John 11:31) Mary believed in Jesus’ teachings and yet she still needed comfort to bear her loss. Her friends were receptive to her needs, following her to weep beside her.

“When will you comfort me? I am like a wineskin shriveled by smoke ... ” (Psalm 119:83) God’s comfort occurs in relationship, too. Prayer is conversation with God, a time of talking about how we truly feel and then listening for God’s insights. Sometimes we are angry at God, and that is an honest emotion to express in prayer.

The death of those we love brings anguish, even though we are strongly rooted in our faith. Allow others to give comfort, and look toward the promise of new life.