Grief is peculiar. Peculiar is often used to mean strange or odd; it has another shade of meaning. Peculiar can also mean “set apart” or “distinct from.” Grief takes that second meaning of peculiar. The time of grief is peculiar, distinct from, other times in our lives.
As a child I experienced funerals and family reunions as essentially things which happened at the same time. A relative would die; we’d all come together in grief. In those days together, we’d renew the bonds of family. There’d be time with cousins rarely seen. Yes, there were tears, of course, but cousins raised like sisters and brothers knew best how to support one another; those tears always ended in laughter. I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing grief with this odd mixture of sadness and joy. This is part of the peculiar nature of grief: the pain of loss is eased with the joy of remembering and companionship.
Grief, though, is like the tide in that it comes and goes. Unlike the tide, it is not predictable. I find that two years on I still have moments when I enter the peculiar time of grief again, if only briefly. I’ll see something to do with farming which will make me think of my father; I’ll remember a recipe and think of my mother. For a moment, the grief can be nearly as fresh as it was, nearly. Over time, that tide erodes away the jagged, rocky shore which is fresh grief to create a soft and welcoming beach. The jagged and sharp edges are still there, buried deep, but the tide of grief, moderated by love and gratitude transform those jagged, rocky shores to that lovely and welcoming beach. It takes time. Storms still cause the tides of grief to surge from time to time. The seawalls of love and gratitude can’t protect from all the hard crashing waves. But after the storm is past, the welcoming beach is still there waiting for me.
Jesus walked along a seashore inviting others to “Follow me.” On that seashore he meant people busy at work, doing their daily tasks. He invited them to “follow me.” While at sea, those same sailors whom he invited to follow were afraid of the storms crashing around their boats. With a word, the storm is calmed. The storm of grief has been calmed for me in remembering these two biblical stories: Jesus invites me to follow him. Jesus calms the storm of grief with a word. While we seem to turn to matters of faith at times of grief, we often forget some of the fundamental principles of our faith in those moments. Death is not the final answer. Waves of grief are just too strong for me in the moment as the storm of grief rages. The storm does not overwhelm the Risen Christ.
I experienced tides of grief which were nearly more than I was able to endure. I was so overwhelmed with grief to begin; I couldn’t even express my grief. I remained in silence as much as I could for a time. I gave myself permission to simply be. As I came back to being more able to engage, those two stories I referenced above – Jesus calling his disciples and Jesus calming the storm -- came up in my daily bible readings. They made me think about my own circumstances. Even in grief, Jesus was still inviting me to follow him. Even with the waves of grief, he would calm the crashing waves when I would stop and notice his presence.
Grief is as much a spiritual journey as it is a psychological/emotional journey. Faith helps to calm the storm of grief and to know we are not alone. Grief can turn a part of our interior landscape to a jagged, rocky, seemingly dangerous, sharp-edged seashore pounded by a relentless rising tide. Faith transforms that seemingly dangerous and lonely place into a beautiful welcoming place where the tides roll rather than crash, where it is safe to remember and give thanks. For me, my faith has grown deeper facing the rising tide and storms of grief. Yet, even with the waves crashing about me, what do I have to fear?
Another reading came up in my daily readings the same time as the ones about Jesus calling the first disciples and his walking on the water. Paul writes, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus, our Lord: not death, or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created” (Romans 8:38-39, CEB). The rising tide and storms of grief can’t separate me, or those I grieve, from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
The old revival hymn, My Hope Is Built, comes to mind with far deeper meaning now.
My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.