Unexpected Grief

Like a flash flood in the desert or the sudden, raging storm across the prairie, unexpected grief can wash away those we love, leaving devastation in its wake. Quick as a flash of lightning, it can cut into our souls and singe our hearts. 

This past month, my heart has swelled like a lake against a dam that threatens to give way. I’ve bore witness as acquaintances, friends, and family members encountered deep loss and grief that they never could have foreseen: the loss of a mother, the sudden loss of two uncles, innocence destroyed, a close-call with death that still leaves unanswered questions and an unsure future, a miscarriage, a child pulled under by a crocodile, a couple handing in their two-week notice on their marriage, a mother dying suddenly and leaving behind a three-year-old boy with a father in prison, and fifty people consumed and killed by one man’s hatred in a night club in Orlando.

Sometimes life gifts us with time to make peace with grief. Other times it opens a small window in which to hug and hold before final goodbyes and last breaths. But often, life just takes and leaves us stunned and confused.

Life can be a thief, taking without warning, tearing down what we worked so hard to build, and reminding us that nothing is certain.

In the face of such uncertainty, what can we do?

In the face of such pain and unexpected grief, where can we find refuge?

This month, I have sought personal refuge within the words of David in the Psalms. As he faced deep grief, loss, fear, and great uncertainty, he called out to God. Sometimes in confusion, sometimes in despair, but always in faith. This month, I have turned again and again to his declarations. I have traced his words and prayed for his faith.

As I look around me and see the temporal nature of our world, of the lives we strive to build, I am re-examining what I anchor my soul to. Am I casting deep into the heart of God, or am I adrift in the storms of life, or worse yet, capsized and crushed against the rocky cliffs I did not see coming?

Do we live in the reality that this world is a mere mist that quickly burns away? Because I believe when it departs, there is more than oblivion. There is life eternal. There is that which we cannot comprehend, but which we can be sure of in the promises of God. Jesus invites us and reminds us to live with an eternal perspective, because Satan is going to keep killing, stealing, and destroying until God makes the final curtain call.

We can seize every opportunity to speak love to those in our life. Waste no moment, take no interaction for granted. A tender touch or word of love is a much better parting gift than strife, don’t you agree?

But sometimes it doesn’t work that way. And to our grief we add in guilt and swallow it down like a rock, to sit in our guts and weigh down our hearts. We never let the pain retreat into a scar because we keep picking at the scab.

If your last words to someone lacked love, hold fast to the truth that they are really not your last words. Eternity awaits. Speak your love now, if only to a fading sunset. And trust that they know. Fights and anger cannot erase love. Trust that they knew your love for them, no matter your parting words.

Be aware of those around you walking in grief. Don’t be afraid to engage their grief. Offer a hug, a hand to hold, or a quiet presence. Don’t fret over words. Grief sucks. And no deep, eloquent words can erase the pain they feel. Your best present is simply to be present.

This past week, the words of Saint Francis have echoed in my heart and mind. And in the wake of grief and tragedy, I think they are important to internalize:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

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