Our church family has experienced many losses over the last two years. Those losses have come in various forms such as financial, job losses, parenting stages, elder care, retirements, health issues and deaths. These major life changes become grief. Somehow grief goes against our nature. We are taught how to acquire but not how to lose. We may have learned that the things we have help us feel complete, whole, successful, and fully human so that losses feel very wrong, unnatural and broken. Therefore, when we grieve the losses, we think we are not normal.
During grief, there are a multitude of emotions that are out of control and often appear in conflict with each other. Feelings of depression, anger, numbness, fear, guilt and hope do not come on a timeline. They overlap, and just when we may feel we are finally over one, it comes raging back. Coping skills fail and the balance once relied upon is no longer available. Grieving impacts us emotionally, psychologically, socially, physically and spiritually. Grieving also has dimensions related to the loss. Some will leave a deeper wound than others. Losses caused by death or divorce or terminal illness are not only a loss of the physical presence of someone special, but entwined in that loss are also the deep losses of identity/roles, the future, ending of history, loss of dreams, trust, normalcy, community, routines, etc. It leaves a painful hole in the heart – a sense that part of us is missing.
Grief is a deep indescribable wound. So how does one going through this journey answer the question, “How are you?” Are there adequate words to define the broken heart or the numbness? Besides that, is the question for right this minute or earlier today? Then there is the fear that one might be doing this grieving thing wrong, such as crying too much or not enough, or taking too much time. If the truth comes out that there are feelings of anger, fear and guilt, will that be seen as weakness? The temptation is to be “fine” and then go home to the uninvited guests of anxiety, depression, loneliness and a host of other emotions. One widow once told her family: “There will be times I will miss my husband. I will cry. And when I do, I don’t need to be fixed because there is nothing wrong with me.”
Grief is a natural, normal, predictable and necessary reaction to loss. The purpose is to walk through the process in order to face the loss and begin the journey of adaptation. It is a process of allowing ourselves to feel the feelings, think the thoughts, lament the loss and protest the pain. Who can do that? Those who are surrounded with a community who give permission to grieve. We are that community in this church family. Let’s continue to be aware of those around us who are in a grieving process and be aware it may be difficult to answer the question, “How are you?”