Grief is an experience for which we all have a recurring appointment in our lives. It comes in many forms and often without warning. Losing relationships, friendships, or even losing physical ability all lend their own color to grief. No matter how many times you experience it, previous experiences never prepare you for the next. Grief makes others who aren’t experiencing it uncomfortable because it cannot be easily remedied with feel-good sentiments and clichés. Grief is wildly unpredictable and, because of that, it often isolates us.
In the short year since my Dad’s passing, grief has left a permanent etching on my life’s calendar. But for all that death’s sorrow has robbed of me, it has shown me that there is indeed life after death. Grief is like the seed described in 1 Corinthians 15:36. You plant a “dead” seed (grief) but soon there is a flourishing plant (the growth experiences that grief produces). Just as there is no visual likeness between seed and plant, your life after grief will never look the same. Yet, it is still a flourishing evidence of life.
I’m no expert, but here are four things that I believe grief teaches us:
Grief Makes Us Own How We Feel
Throughout my life, I’ve prided myself on being more logically than emotionally led. I like to think of myself as someone who lives life by what makes rational sense. When I dwell on disappointments, it is usually to analyze where I or others made a logical error, not necessarily about the hurt emotions I experience. Simply put, it is the seeming absurdity of logic that bothers me more than the emotional damage that disappointments cause.
Trying to put this approach to grief, however, forced me to understand that some experiences must be felt rather than understood. In my time of bereavement, I’ve embraced the more emotional side of myself. When tears come, I no longer choke them back in fear of betraying my rational self. Grief allows us to find freedom in feeling.
Grief Has No Proper Expiration Date
“You should be over it by now,” is a refrain I often played in my mind. Imagine that, me chastising myself for grieving too long for the loss of my parent. Yet, it feels almost self-indulgent to sit with grief for too long when there is still life to be lived. In my head, I felt that there was an appropriate timeline I should follow and dare not exceed the time allotment for proper grief. I rationalized that it is what my Dad would want; he would want for me to go on about the business of living and neatly pack away my sorrow.
The experience of grief, however, eventually teaches us that there are no proper time boundaries. Some grief visits us for days, others for weeks, and some decide to make a home in our lives forever. The goal isn’t to make grief go away, it is to learn to live positively within your new reality. You owe it to no one to rush through grieving.
Grief Transforms Our Experience with Faith
I grew up knowing no other option but Church and Christ. Like many, I was raised in the church. Grew up as both a Preachers Kid and a member of ministries small in number but rich in religious indoctrination. I learned to comfort disappointment with “weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning.” I learned to answer sadness with “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”
I found no refuge in reciting those well-worn passages of my childhood. The beauty of grief is that in allowing myself to fully experience my feelings, I have opened my mind to allow more questioning of my faith than I ever have before. I no longer live fearing doubt as the path of no return. Instead I find myself probing, challenging what my personal relationship with God really means. And I believe I’m a better Believer for it.
Grief gives us the courage to undo long-held ideas and truly understand the substance of our faith.
Grief and Happiness Coexist Beautifully
One thing that we aren’t often told about grief after loss is the immense sense of guilt you feel once you experience happiness again. Every moment of laughter, joy, and glee came accompanied with the searing pain of guilty betrayal. Despite my Daddy being one of the biggest, funniest personalities I’ve ever known, I felt utterly horrible when I showed any inkling of enjoying life when I should be mourning.
One thing’s for sure and two things are for certain: grief will anchor your life for some time to come. Every accomplishment and milestone achieved in the absence of your loved one (living or dead) will sting. It’s inevitable. However, you will also experience happiness that surpasses understanding. You have no reason to be ashamed of happiness. Happiness, especially in grief, is the sprouting seedling to remind us that there is life after death.