I recently had a birthday. The second birthday I’ve “celebrated” without my husband. That’s how I track time now. Before he died. After he died. That’s not grief or mourning. It’s just the way it is. Keeping track of time by his death comes as naturally to me as breathing. Many don’t get it, but all who have walked through the valley understand. They aren’t surprised. Or disturbed. Or trying to fix it. They just get it. That’s how they track time as well.
This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grief and mourning: Grief is deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death. Mourning is the expression of deep sorrow for someone who has died, typically involving following certain conventions such as wearing black clothes.
Blessed are the mourners
Do you see it? The difference? Grief IS deep sorrow. Mourning is the EXPRESSION of deep sorrow. Someone can be full of grief and rarely express that to anyone. When we pray about our grief, we are mourning to God. When I write or speak about my loss, I am mourning to God, but I am also reaching out to you, my community, the body of believers. My blog essays. The Facebook posts. The phone calls and texts. When I write about my grief, I am often wrestling something out and trying to figure out this new life of mine. Talking about it or writing it down helps me mourn and understand my own feelings. There are just times I need someone to witness my grief and hold the pain. When you are willing to listen, read, or respond, I am comforted.
Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
This Beatitude has a fresh meaning for me now, a deeper understanding. Blessed are those who mourn. It doesn’t say blessed are those who grieve. When the bereaved express their grief to someone, they are, knowingly or not, seeking comfort. Hence the outward expression. When they reach out and talk about their loss, it doesn’t mean they are stuck and can’t move on. They may be very productive and coping well, but they still need solace. God knew that the death of loved ones would cause pain, and he knew we would need our community. He himself provides comfort to the broken-hearted, but he also equips us, the body of Christ, to walk alongside those who mourn.
Yet the outward expression of grief often makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say so we avoid the topic and don’t say anything. For fear of doing the wrong thing, we do nothing. Now that I’m on this side of grief, I’m learning that we’ve made a hard situation even more complicated. We cannot “fix it.” We don’t need to offer platitudes. Or preach. What we can do is simply be there. When a friend is mourning, expressing their grief, we can answer the call by entering that holy place and confirm the loss. Stand in that sacred space and witness their grief. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There really are no “right words.” Just show up. Your presence, not your words, is what is important and comforting.
An unfamiliar place
We were created to live. We were not created to die. There isn’t a guidebook. There is no right or wrong way to mourn. Grief is unique to everyone, and most of us are ill-prepared to handle it upon its untimely arrival. We are broken human beings trying to deal with this thing called death.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know. This is unfamiliar territory for me. I had never lost a soulmate until I lost my husband. But now, two years into this journey, this is what I know: I can be a woman of faith AND I can grieve deeply. The first does not negate the second and the second certainly does not negate the first. They will journey through life together, these two women within me, and I am blessed (and comforted) by a God who allows me to do so.
I still grieve. I still mourn. I miss my husband and best friend. Yet grieving after 2 years (or 3 or 4 or 10) doesn’t mean I need to be fixed. Or that I’m not moving forward. Or not trusting God. Grieving is the work God and I are doing together. He’s very much a part of it. He isn’t worried about my questions, all my whys and hows. We’ve developed a deeper connection now that I’m in this ravine. He knows it. I know it.
I’ve discovered God covets my honesty and vulnerability. He seems to work faster in my life now that I’m authentic and no longer covering life (and death) in spiritual platitudes. He is fine with my tears and my anguished laments (I think I hear him cheering me on!). He hasn’t wearied of me coming repeatedly to him with my sadness over this new plan. I say “new plan” because it’s new to me and not how I saw my life playing out. God knew the plan all along.
Oh, but still, Why God? I don’t understand. There will always be a part of me that grieves the loss of my husband. And yet, God knew he would not be a part of my life now. Pondering that helps me. It somehow offers me the courage to make plans, look for new meaning, and walk forward, and ask the big question, “What now?”
Blessed are they that lament and wail, for they shall be comforted.
Illustration by the author’s granddaughter Aubrey Byers