Grief: the uninvited friend

“Mama come see! Come see!” I hear exclaimed from the bathroom.

“Looook!”

I see her ducks, all varying in size, lined up along the edge of the bath. I force my face to light up in surprise as if I had never seen her do this before. And of course she would do it at least a dozen more times after this in the coming weeks.

And as the scenario always goes.. “this is Reesey, Decwin, Daddy, and Mama,” she says pointing to each of them. But this time was a little different. There was an extra duck she had put up there (yes she somehow accumulated at least 5 rubber duckies). She pauses at the last one, so I light heartedly ask her who the other duck is.

Then it hits me.

Maybe someday I’ll tell her. Tell her about her other little brother or sister. The one that the “extra ducky” so abruptly reminded me of. But, for now, I will just look into her big innocent eyes and tell her that I love our little ducky family.

Right there in the middle of my daughters bath time. Grief happened.

Grief…

Here is what I have learned and observed about it:

1. Grief is unapologetic

It barges in on us. It’s the guest who makes their way into every party yet didn’t get an invite. It is oblivious to time and surroundings. Sometimes it sticks with us like a deep and dull pain, other times it pricks us like a sharp sting, and then there are times that it completely rushes over us like a wave. Grief can just feel plain, well, mean.

2. Grief can be sort of kind

But I have found the sneaky soft side of grief. It has, at least for me, brought some sense of comfort. It reminds me that they (the one I’m grieving over) were real and that they are worthy. So worthy and impactful that there will always be a lasting them-shaped hole that gets filled up with sorrow. For me, grief allows my heart to hold on to what my hands never got to.

3. Grief is confusing

It warps time in a paradoxical way. It can feel so familiar that it makes us wonder if we really ever knew life without it yet it feels so fresh that it makes us wonder how so much time has already passed. Eventually, it can also cause us to be genuinely thankful for the newness that has come of it. Maybe it’s new love (like in remarriage or friendship), maybe it’s new lessons (like learning that time is so very precious and fragile), or maybe it’s new life (like a little boy who that sudsy girl lining up her duckies now calls brother). Yet we simultaneously wish with all of our hearts that it never had to happen this way.

4. Grief is worth grieving

I believe it’s good to keep perspective and to fight off a “woe is me” mentality. Or as I have heard it called “navel gazing.” But I also think we can wrongly dismiss the legitimacy of what we, or others, are going through by always adding qualifiers like “at least….” One simple and comforting thing someone once said to me in response to me sharing something I was going through was “man Nat, that sucks.” They genuinely meant it. We don’t need to or get to hear that every time. But maybe sometimes we should. We don’t have to justify or dismiss grief based off of comparison. It’s not always about better or worse. Sometimes it is just about, different. And grief is worth grieving. Because it’s real, and it’s yours.

5. Grief produces empathy… or can

Ray Ortland says “Suffering is not meant to get me thinking, ‘Nobody can understand me.’ It’s meant to get me thinking, ‘Now I can understand others’.” It’s hard to put into words but suffering and sadness really do have a way of connecting us to others. Of making us more raw and relatable. Of helping us not just feel things for people, but with them. It has the potential to make us more soft and less hard, more careful with our words and less careless with them, and more understanding and less assuming.

6. Grief reminds us there is more.

As Christians we believe that pain “reminds the heart that this is not our home.” Because Christ chose to become a man acquainted with grief and loss and longing, through Him (his life, death, and resurrection), we now get to know a future life without it. Here, grief will have to knock at the door. And it will not be allowed in. But until that day, we are given comfort and hope. And a God who is both sovereign and kind.

“O Church of Christ upon that day,
When all are gathered in,
When every tear is wiped away
With every trace of sin;

Where justice, truth, and beauty shine, And death has passed away;

Where God and man will dwell as one, For all eternity!”

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