In late June, I had the opportunity to present a workshop on Grief and Loss. It was good for me to think about and put into words some of the things that I know to be very important. It was also a cool event – meeting up with other Christian Feminists at the EEWC Gathering!
Among the topics I touched on were some of the new paradigms for viewing grief and the mourning process. The most important point to me (aside from the obvious one that all of us will experience grief at some point in our lives) was the emphasis on learning from grief, not thinking it is something we have to get past. It’s a touchy point, because so many of us get stuck on the platitudes of well-meaning people.
Our grief stories are important.
In the process of reflecting, writing and talking about them, we discover where the pain has continued to nestle, and where we still “love with a limp.” It’s not that we have to act like everything is OK. Instead, remembering that we have been broken, we invite God into the process of reclaiming some of our former selves, even if the shape has knicks and dents and cracks.
I used the example of the Japanese art of kintsukuroi. Instead of hiding the broken places, the artist uses a resin that has gold dust in it (or sometimes silver or platinum). The philosophy of this process suggests that the breakage and repair become a part of the object; transformation rather than perfection is the goal.
There are stories in the scars; beauty in the broken and repaired. We are still useable and needed, even if our brokenness shows. We do not have to be pre-grief-perfect!
Our culture struggles with this idea that grief can be good, that the pain of loss can be transformative. In the Christian subculture, there is a pervasive need to chirp happy little phrases like, “He’s not in pain now.” or “God must have needed another angel.”
Not only are these phrases unhelpful (we know that death means an end to suffering), but at times they are theologically wrong!
- God does NOT need another angel! (Angels are created beings, like humans, and I think that God knew how many were needed.)
- “You can have another baby…” (Ahem. “Can” is a medical opinion and I don’t think you’ve done the exam to make that judgement.)
- He/She is in a better place. (Soteriology and eschatology aside, the person grieving is missing the PRESENCE of the person who died.)
So WHY do sincere, loving, well-meaning people say these things??
I suggested to my workshop participants that there are several reasons:
- To “fix” things – They see that someone is hurting and they genuinely want to help
- Personal distress – It brings up old wounds and they don’t want to go there
- Misunderstand “grief” – Many, MANY people think grief has a timeline. It does not. (Simplistic answer for simplistic people.)
- Pressure – They want things to get back to normal. In reality, what we are learning through grief is how to get to a “new normal.”
- Foot-in-mouth disease – We’ve all done it. Said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. We grow from it, forgive, and move on.
I ended my workshop with a short service of remembrance.
It began with a video I created with an original reading set to music by Yiruma.
On the front table were candles and a set of river stones wrapped in cotton fabrics and tied with a jute twine. Inside each package was a small heart with this instruction:
Keep me as your remembrance stone.
When you are ready to let me go,
give me back to Creation.
Participants were invited to select a wrapped stone and share with us the life event or person that was still a source of grief. The stories which came up surprised the participants, some of whom were friends and never knew the depths of grief that others were experiencing.
The stones were then taken home by each participant, and they were encouraged to leave the stone some place, either mundane or deeply personal and significant, when they had come to the place that they were ready to move on. There was no time line. That was not important. Rather, each person would work to a place of readiness to leave the most intense period of grief behind.
The cloth wrapping around the stone and the jute will decay. The paper will dissolve. But the stone, like the memory of the one we grieve for, will continue.
We concluded the service with a responsive reading written by Jan Aldredge-Clanton and a blessing written by Sally Coleman.
It was amazing to watch the Holy Spirit do the knitting work of transforming love. I put the pieces out there, but God put them together.
soli deo gloria