I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”
It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.
Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.
As if he was doing it for the PR.
I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.
Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.
I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.
We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.
We forget grief is fluid.
We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.
There is no timetable for grief.
God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.
Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.
Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.
So many ways to express grief.
Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.
Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.
Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.
He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.
Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.
As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.
Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.
We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.
Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.
We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!
Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.
So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.
“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler