The other week I was asked to give someone some advice about grief. I’m certainly not an expert in grief but I have felt it so I wrote her a letter and thought I’d share it with you….
Unfortunately, I don’t really have any advice on how to ‘grieve well’. I’ve not heard of any tips on ‘good’ ways to grieve or how to grieve more efficiently or cry without snot running from your nose. Grief is messy, it hurts, it’s isolating and unfortunately it lasts a lot longer than you think it will. Grief can surprise you, it doesn’t submit to rules – crashing over you like a wave then slowly retreating before rising once again. Grief is never welcome, a harsh reality forcing itself into your world, reminding you of the life you will never have because of what has been lost. Grief hurts, but it also has the power to heal.
One thing I do know about grief is that you can’t run away from it or hide it away in a box until you feel stronger. Grief will never fade with neglect, it will remain there, angry, confused, sad, lonely, hopeless, guilty, waiting for you to acknowledge it. You see, grief has to be felt. I know it’s scary, I know it’s exhausting, I know people are probably avoiding you because they’re worried you might get upset and they won’t know what to say, but you have to feel it. You may believe that if you were stronger you would be able to handle this better, that you would have more control over your emotions, well let me tell you right now. You are strong. For it is the strong who grieve, who cry out, who get angry at injustice, who have red eyes and snot dripping down their noses. They are the strong ones.
Grief may feel like fear but it is not your enemy, it is an essential part of the human story.
A good life, well-lived cannot be merely illustrated by snapshots of happy moments, that just sounds like a holiday advert and we all know no one looks that good on their holiday, especially after a week of sangrias, poorly applied sun cream and a lot of fried food. No, a good life well-lived knows joy and pain, struggle and peace, tears and laughter. Just because you’re struggling right now does not mean you’re a failure, it means you’re human and that you’re living a human story, a beautiful human story that has the potential to inspire and change lives. Now this isn’t the bit where I tell you how you should be thankful for your pain, or how God only gives us what we can handle or everything happens for a reason – I hate those phrases and I don’t believe any of them are true. Grief in itself is meaningless, it contributes nothing to the world. But you have the power to give meaning to your grief in the way you respond to it.
I hate grief but I am grateful for what it has taught me. I know what it is to love because I have lost what I loved. I know what it is to hope, because I have lost hope. I know what it is to be loved, because I received true love when I was most distressed. Yes, grief can be your teacher, whispering to you the names of those who are true friends, screaming out lists of things you used to worry about that now, in the face of death are simply worthless. Grief can teach you what’s important.
Grief can also give you a bigger heart. There are so many of us here, waiting for you on the other side. Having walked through the darkness we are now waiting for you to join us. We have known grief, we have felt it and it has changed our hearts, creating in us a compassion that cries out to let you know that you are not alone. One day, you will come through this, you will stand tall and look back from the green pastures of the other side to see how far you’ve come and your heart will beat with the same compassion for those beginning their descent down into the pit. You will walk with them, you will cry with them, you will be their guide not because of what you know, but because of what you felt.
Right now you may believe you will never know joy again, you may wonder if the tears will ever end, you may have stopped wearing make-up because there’s no point. But I can promise you this, grief is a precondition to joy. Mourning is the only door to joy, for those who have not cared enough to grieve will never know true joy. You may not believe me, but this truth of death before life, mourning before joy, darkness before light is written throughout the story of this world, each moment becoming even more beautiful and even more welcome because of the darkness that came before them. So take my hand, let’s go into the pit. We have to continue this journey towards joy, but the only way to get there is by walking into the darkness first.