Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


Observations on Grief

This photograph was taken on Memorial Day in 1983 and received the Pulitzer Prize the following year. (Credit: Anthony Suau/Denver Post.)

I’m learning more about the nature of grief as I make my way through Hilary Spurling’s fascinating biography of Pearl Buck.  Pearl’s only child, Carol, was born with a rare, degenerative condition that left her mentally disabled for the rest of her life, and Pearl found herself trying to raise her daughter in a day and age when disability was treated as a shameful secret to be hidden away and not discussed.  (I would submit that while we have come a long way here on behalf of people with disabilities and their families, we have a long way to go.)  Pearl soon learned in this context that the only way she could really bear her deep grief as a mother was silently and alone.

“Endurance is only the beginning,” Pearl wrote years later.  She went on to write, as paraphrased by Spurling, that “learning to bear grief that cannot at first be borne has to be done alone.”

Pearl dissected her grief into stages, beginning with devastation and disintegration. “Despair so profound and absorbing poisons the whole system and destroys thought and energy.”

How often, I wonder, do we apply Bandaid faith solutions to people’s grief?  The assurance, “God is with you”- regardless of its inherent veracity- seems empty, disingenuous and even cruel in these times.

I’ll never forget walking with a family whose only daughter, in her twenties, was fighting for her life against a rare blood disorder.  Gidgett had put on a brave face for a long time with this lifelong illness, spending days and even weeks at a time in the hospital for transfusions and other interventions.

The turning point came when she was told both legs would have to be amputated.

It was then that she succumbed.  Her will to live had itself expired.  She survived the operation only to die several weeks later.

I remember getting the call in the middle of the night.  Her father stood outside her room and yelled angrily at God through his tears.  His only daughter had been taken from him, and the very last person he wanted to see right now was the on-call chaplain.

Grief like this must be borne alone.  Even the compassion that friends, family and a community of faith may offer can only go so far in expressing solidarity with the one who has been undone by loss.  When the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians instructs them to bear one another’s burdens, I imagine he does so as someone who is very much alone within the bars of his prison cell.  And maybe the sacred “burden” we bear for one another is the sheer loneliness of another’s unknowable, often inexpressible grief.  We must acknowledge it, I think, lest we do violence to the other.  We must be willing to be taught and to use our imaginations in order to construct something of the inner landscape of the one who grieves.  This is the closest we can get to “being with” the one who endures deep loss.

 

 

 

 



Previous Posts

Mental Health Break—The Worship Service To End All Worship Services
It's been a while since we've had a mental health break. As a little bit of comic relief at the start of another work week, this clip from a worship service somewhere in America comes from saint and sinner Paul. The comments from readers are just about as funny as the weird break dancing routine in

posted 2:12:30am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Christian Purity: Is God's Mission Possible When Purity Rules?
I had a really weird, somewhat distressing interaction this week, and it is still on my mind days later. It's one of those uncomfortable encounters that you would like to press the "replay" butt

posted 1:40:13pm Sep. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Jesus and the Rich Man: A Sermon on the "Hitler" of Passages.
It's rare that I find myself thinking about Sunday's sermon midweek. This Sunday our pastor Drew Ditzel preached on the familiar story of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10). The rich man, who says he has kept all the commandments perfectly and has lived a righteous life, comes to Jesus asking what mor

posted 10:40:08am Sep. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Lie of Invulnerability
This last week has been insane. Family sickness, repairs, car issues, multiple calls from school nurses, including one in which the nurse expressed concern my 7-year-old son had been bitten by a brown recluse spider...and just when I thought it couldn't get worse...viral pinkeye. Two puffy, leaky, r

posted 11:00:49am Sep. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Humor Relief for Religious Extremism
Once again, humor and satire are coming to my aid this morning, this time in response to the twisted and evil extensions of religion that seeks to coerce and control with violence and worldly forms of power (best embodied these days in the form of ISIS and its affiliates). The Palestinian televis

posted 10:36:57am Sep. 03, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.