I just sat down at my computer to catch up on some editing when a notification popped up on the screen. I had a new email from Monica (not her real name) whose husband had died less than a year before. She had just survived the first cycle of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year-Valentine’s Day without him.
February was a rough month for me for some reason. Maybe it was because the year anniversary was coming up or that Valentine’s stuff was everywhere. Man, that was depressing. But I guess what I’ve got to understand is that sometimes there doesn’t have to be an event or reason to get into a blue funk. Being somewhat analytical, that’s hard for me to comprehend. How long will I keep doing this? I know everyone is different but please tell me that one of these days I’m going to quit crying.
That last line got to me, and I shed a few tears on her behalf as I read it. Then I did my best to tap out a comforting response.
Monica was not the first or the last to ask me that question. Seems like everyone wonders when the pain will go away.
A few years ago a church in a nearby town was preparing to launch a grief support ministry and they invited me to speak to their group leaders. I have to say, there’s a dynamic of quick connection that happens among grievers. I had never met anyone in that room, but I knew I was with “my people” almost immediately. We all understood why we were there and what it was that tied our hearts to one another.
When I ended my talk, one of the ladies asked if I would take questions. And then she began to cry. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to ask about leading a grief group; she was looking for help with her own sadness.
This precious lady explained that her daughter had been killed in an accident (I don’t recall how long ago it had happened) and that she couldn’t get through a day without breaking down. “Will this ever go away?” she asked.
There it was again. Different person. Different circumstances. Same question: When will the sadness go away?
Most of the grievers I’ve met are realists. Their loss has made them so. And witnessing this lady being so gut-level honest in front of her church friends and me, a stranger, I knew that only an honest answer would do. In essence, this is what I said:
Your sadness is not going to go away completely. In time it will come less frequently and with less intensity, but no one can promise it will fly away someday and never return. It's a part of who you are now.
But your soul can multitask. It can feel sadness and hope at the same time. It can grieve and grow at the same time.
You can still love the one who is no longer with you. In fact, I think of grief as posthumous love—as much as we loved someone in life we will grieve them in death.
Maybe not the happiest of answers, but an honest one. And being honest about our here-to-stay sadness will make us better able to endure it. Which brings to mind the Stockdale Paradox.
Admiral Jim Stockdale was a prisoner-of-war for eight years (1965-1973) during the Vietnam War. When Jim Collins was writing the book, Good to Great, he interviewed Stockdale, opening with the question: “Who didn’t make it out (of the prison camp)?”
Stockdale replied, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists . . . They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
After a long pause, Stockdale continued, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your own current reality, whatever that might be.”
My fellow grievers, you and I will do better if we bring that level of realism and grit into the long night of our sadness. Not that we’ll erase the sadness but that by God’s grace we can endure it.
Because morning is coming.
© 2022 by Tim Grissom. All rights reserved.