Grief Observed

As regular readers of this blog will know, I buried my mother last week. Her passing was a very godly event. I have no particular thoughts on my grief (that I care to share) – only the abiding comfort of the prayers of the Church and gratitude for the prayers of friends. I wrote the following article on grief in February of 2007 and found it of interest. Surely, He has borne our sorrows.

129963405_301bb0765bI spent two years working as a Hospice Chaplain in the Mountains of East Tennessee. When you’re working with hospice, death and grief are ever-present. You have no choice over your patients. Mine ranged from mountain Pentecostals, to unbelieving scientists here in Oak Ridge (a science city). But grief was universal.

I learned many things about grief, both by watching and listening to others and by paying attention to myself. One of the most surprising things I learned about grief is that each grief is all grief, meaning, that an event that opens up grief in our hearts, taps in to all the previous events of grief. Thus we find ourselves grieving far greater for something than the loss itself would have indicated.

Those two years were years that for a variety of reasons brought much grief to my heart. I found myself at the bedsides of strangers, listening to their stories, and weeping. They must have thought I was very emotional, or incredibly empathetic. I didn’t know how to say, “Your grief is part of my grief which is quite substantial just now.”

The discipline of Soul Saturdays and the frequent prayers for the departed in the Church probably saved my sanity those two years. I never had a week with less than three deaths.

If anything, the experience taught me that it is possible for some one thing to be part of some larger thing. There was a communion within the experience of grief that I cannot articulate other than to say that it is so.

Thus the statement of St. Paul , “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10) became important for me. Worldly grief can be the door to despair (which we certainly do not want). To grieve in a “godly” manner, I believe, means to unite and offer my grief to God. Thus “we do not grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I think in the same manner we can “weep with those who weep” learning that such things are not utterly private as our culture often teaches, but that the loss and suffering of one is the loss and suffering of us all. Even Christ wept over the grave of his friend Lazarus.

That passage in John 11, is very instructive:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept (33-35).

It is not simply the news of Lazarus’ death, nor his sorrow over his death that moves Christ to tears. It was when He saw Lazarus’ sister Mary weeping and the others who came with her weeping, that he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Their grief became His grief. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 52:4). We are not asked to do less.

May God comfort those who grieve and give them a share in His good hope.

Comments

  1. Ken Kannady says

    May she rest in peace and rise in glory. We buried our son, Richard Thomas Kannady – 32, on Monday. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Marsha says

    It is a hard thing to lose a mother, I think. I appreciate praying for mine.

    May her memory be eternal.

  3. mary says

    i know all heaven is griefing with you father.loseing a mother and a father is hard,things i could have said,should have said.but this is a wonderful faith we have,being orthodox.we can still say things to them.also i know the Mother of God is a comfort to you.like the last person wrote:may her memory be eternal. as always you are in my prayers. mary.

  4. Kimberly says

    Our Metropolitan Isaiah once said something that stuck with me. Why did Jesus weep when he knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead (and indeed that He would eventually conquer death entirely)? He said it was because God encountered something that he didn’t create and in facing it, he wept for us all. I thought it was beautiful.

  5. Amy says

    Each grief is all grief.

    These words of yours mean so much to me right now:

    …One of the most surprising things I learned about grief is that each grief is all grief, meaning, that an event that opens up grief in our hearts, taps in to all the previous events of grief. Thus we find ourselves grieving far greater for something than the loss itself would have indicated.

    They must have thought I was very emotional, or incredibly empathetic. I didn’t know how to say, “Your grief is part of my grief which is quite substantial just now.”…

    I attended Mass today, and the Mass intention was for the soul of my friend’s son, who died at age 19, thirteen years ago. Your thoughts here are, well, quite substantial. I often think of this young man, and why his death has changed my life. All the worries I have ever had for my own children, griefs, if you will, well to the surface when I think of what my friend suffers, along with the sorrow I also have for his life being cut short.

  6. Stephen says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you. This reminds me of something that I have been pondering for some time. This is the fact, that in a mystery unexplainable, we connect- all of us- in a deeper more profound way through our brokenness. This mystery is fully manifested in the Eucharist as Christ is broken on behalf of all and for all. I can honestly say that, it has been through my pains, sorrows and suffering that I have experienced the love of others and have come to know some in a way previously closed off. This, I believe is because Christ is there and reveals Himself to us through identifying with our brokenness. I first started thinking about these connections, of brokenness, through the words and writings of John Chryssavagis.

  7. Graham McKendry says

    Dear Friends.As I look room the room I see an empty chair when I listen there is no voice
    Why.My dear wife of over 50 years has gone on before.She walk with her Saviour and talk to Him in prayer and now she is in His presance.I will join Her there one day.
    Why We gave our lifes to Him and sought to live for Him
    I do not grieve for she is Home all sufffering gone
    May all who live for Christ rest on His promise,He is preparing a place for Us

  8. Margaret says

    Thank you for “re-posting” this, Fr. Stephen. I remember the first reading and how you have put into words what has been in my heart, especially this

    “…each grief is all grief, meaning, that an event that opens up grief in our hearts, taps in to all the previous events of grief. Thus we find ourselves grieving far greater for something than the loss itself would have indicated.”

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen, and all commentators here and He will bless because Surely He has borne our sorrows!

  9. says

    Thank you Fr Stephen for your reflections on grief when I most need them. I buried my mother yesterday, and I do feel that kinship with you and the other commenters.
    I also feel deep gratitude for the prayers of the Church, the Communion of Saints, and the liturgy at this time.

  10. Walter says

    Dear Father,
    This is timely and very precise. Having lost my mother and wife two years in succession, this is a very couselling and spritual approach if not soothing. It reminds us of our vulnerability and desparity on earth without appreciation of the presence of God.

    In the African culture, death is a celebration of life and the send off of a parent is an occassion mourned without reserve.

    Suffering and/or mourning brings back a spring of other memories and focuses our attention on what matters most, and with God’s help, we can strengthen our spirits by learning patience, tolerance and love.

    Eternal rest grant them, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them and may they rest in peace. Amen.

  11. Dean Arnold says

    Thank you for sharing with us.

    I recall you saying the Hospice work was done for an obvious reason: you needed money during your transition to becoming an Orthodox priest.

    But, in the divine scheme of things, I can’t imagine a more powerful education than the one you received while attending so many deathbeds. Few of us have directly encountered that enemy in the way you have, or, I trust, have seen the power of the Holy Spirit and angels point to the hope of Christ and resurrection in the midst of death. I’m glad you’re on my team ;)

    Peace to your mother and family.