Originally, this post and the two that will follow it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the next two installments, check back tomorrow and Thursday, provided I remember to post them.
Strange times have been afoot in the Anderson household…er, apartment-hold?
To begin, husband’s paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail last Friday. It did not, and we had 90 cents to our name until Monday. This wasn’t a huge change, mostly just frustrating. But it made for a very stressful setting for a couple weeks. In the midst of all of this, I’ve been reflecting on a few different things that have come up recently as I tried to make sense of our increasingly hectic lives. I’ve divided these into three parts, for your reading convenience.
Part One: Last Sunday afternoon my husband received a call from his mother saying that his paternal grandfather had had a stroke and was not doing well. This was a shock, as he was in excellent shape and, with the exception of poor hearing, didn’t have many health concerns. He passed away Thursday evening. We went up to Alexandria (where he lived) on Sunday afternoon for the visitation; the funeral was on Monday. So, this is all very recent, and unexpected, and thus my thoughts aren’t really gathered yet.
However, I’ve come away from the experience with one observation. I don’t find myself very emotional at funerals, and especially since I had only known Lloyd (my husband’s grandpa) for about two years, his death didn’t hit me as hard as it did his biological family. Instead of mourning, I observed. I watched how people dealt with death. I watched some people laugh at memories of him; I watched others cry over the loss of a beloved family member; I watched others still sit silently, unable to process what had happened (whether intentionally or otherwise). As a person who has a marked difficulty reading people and understanding emotion, it was a good learning experience for me.
However, the person I watched most was Lloyd’s wife, Vi.
She was, in my opinion, the most real person at the funeral. Which is impressive, considering that the first step in the grief process (according to Kubler-Ross, at least) is denial, and I would have expected her to hide behind a facade of “he’s in a better place”s and “I’m fine”s and fake smiles.
At some times, especially when she was talking with groups of people (she’s the biggest extrovert I know), she was smiling and laughing. She loved hearing all the stories people told about him. Other times, in more secluded moments, she would complain about how tired or stressed out she was; she isn’t SuperWoman, after all. When she looked at pictures of Lloyd, or at the casket (particularly his body), however, she would break down and weep without notice.
All of this taught me an important lesson about death and grief.
First of all, Kubler-Ross wasn’t wrong–the five stages show themselves in most people who are in the grief process. But, at the same time, she was. Because we don’t really go through these five stages in order, and we don’t visit each stage only once. We go through the whole process a number of times.
Second, the people who simply say “he/she’s in a better place” or “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” or any other cliched, pithy sayings like that do no justice to the grief process, nor do they honor God. God does not expect us to be optimistic and stoic at all times, especially while grieving. Jesus himself shows a wide range of emotion in the Gospels; who are we, as humans, to assume we have to be happy all the time?
Third, the (western) Church as a whole does a horrible job with grief. We’re happy to encourage, to bring meals, to send flowers, and even to crack a few silly jokes, but we are much more hesitant to sit with the grieving and mourn with them. We don’t know how to deal with weeping or rage. We don’t know how to sit in silence and simply be with the lonely. We don’t know how to step out of our lives for a few minutes (or hours, or days) and stop to grieve. Sending flowers or making a meal takes some time, yes, but it doesn’t take commitment. It doesn’t require us to be anything more than physical beings. And, as a group that tends to ignore (or even despise) the tangible in favor of the spiritual, we don’t know how to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs of the grieving. We’ll gladly recite a litany of Bible verses about God’s goodness, but not those that deal with anger or grief. At best, we know how to distract, but not how to really dive into the mire of grief. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. So we bake a lasagna instead.
I don’t know how, but this needs to change. We need to embrace grief as a part of life. We need to learn how to deal with all parts of it, to stop pretending like pain doesn’t happen, or that it only happens behind closed doors, and to bind ourselves to those who are grieving as they process. We are one body, and we are called to celebrate and mourn together.
It’s time for us to be real.