“The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.”
Ps 116:3 RSV
We forget how sharp the pain of grief is until we suffer a beloved’s death again.
Sorrow so deep we are certain we can’t sustain it and survive. We can’t breathe, or eat or sleep. Our bodies curl upon themselves, teeth clench, lungs and limbs quiver when we try to move. We can’t speak or listen or think. We sometimes feel we want to go down to the grave with our loved one.
Months pass, years go by and although it never leaves entirely, grief recedes like the polar ice caps, leaving cold wounds in our beings. The memory of painful loss brings back softened sorrows but a present grief cuts us to the marrow of our souls.
There are not enough tears to wash away grief.
Even Jesus – all-powerful, perfect God on earth – was overwhelmed by grief.
Even knowing that the death of his friend Lazarus would be reversed could not restrain his sorrow.
We can’t be certain why Jesus wept, why that information was so important to know that it was the shortest line recorded about him, thus making it highly notable.
Was he grieving? Did his empathy for the mourners cause him to cry? Sad that they didn’t understand the timing and were not only grieving but upset with his delay? Was he saddened that this event couldn’t be avoided?
Or was he grieving for what was to come, for future sorrow?
Theologians, actual and wannabe’s, suggest (some a little too adamantly for my taste) a few reasons, some of which are plausible. But the bottom line is we do not know inside the mind of Christ at that moment.
All we see is the grief.
All we see is the grief when we suffer a life-changing – diminishing?– death.
We become lost in the bone-deep pain, floundering in what seems an all-encompassing darkness. We question if what we’ve believed is true, or if all is emptiness and an unwanted reality.
Once again I find myself on the razor’s edge of grief. My last, immediate family member just died. Not only am I in the depths of grief, there is a gnawing knowledge in my very cells that I am now, of my blood, truly alone on this earth.
Writing this, tears roll unchecked down cheeks rubbed raw from too many tissues, bringing fresh grief that is all-consuming. At some point it will lessen but right now I’m drowning in sorrow.
All I know is the grief.
As I break from writing, I stretch, glance around. No cats are in the office with me for a change. I go for water. When I return, there is a book on the floor. The title? Proof of Heaven
The Presence has made Itself known, not the cats. And felt. There IS the sure and certain hope of life eternal, in the light of unending love and joy.
“When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven… O Lord, let Thy mercy lighten upon us” Te Deum
Each of us has been, are, or will be here, particularly in this pandemic. Knowing that we are a community of mourners doesn’t lessen the loss or alleviate the grief. We feel alone, we often grieve alone, in the shower, in the dark of night into our pillows, but Jesus too wept.
Surely our God – with tears on his cheeks — is with us as we mourn, reminding us that others have endured this and with his grace so shall we. The sharpness becomes blunt, the pain and the memory of it fades. Remember, after Jesus sorrowed, he restored life and spirit.
My last physical contact with my family member was a long, tight hug. Over the phone, later that night, our last words with each other were, “I love you. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight.”
“Be still, my soul! the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever in God’s peace;
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
love’s joys restored, our strivings all shall cease.
Be still my soul! when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”
A Prayer for the Grieving from the Burial Office
“Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Book of Common Prayer, P 489
Lexiann Grant is a retired writer & author, a former chalicer and layreader, but still an Episcopalian who enjoys encountering God in the mountain backcountry.