Grief is a strange beast. It slides in the back door of your life when you least expect it. It comes without invitation nor welcome.
I do not like grief. It sears my heart, rips open my soul, scatters my thoughts, and scars my emotions. I want to usher grief out the front door, shoo it away with my broom, and scream, “Go away! I don’t want you here!”
I have come to understand Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages offer a framework for acknowledging why I feel as I do, why I move in and out of these unfamiliar emotions. But I don’t want to go through those stages. I just want to numb the pain, to escape.
Grief will not have it. It is here to stay for a bit, maybe longer. Grief implores me to listen. It pours a cup of solace, leads me to the couch, and enfolds me in a tender embrace. Grief invites the Creator to join us. Together, they cradle each of my tears in the cup of their celestial hands.
“Listen,” Grief whispers. “We have something to tell you. Your sorrow has a purpose. Do not cling to it, but neither shoo it away. When you’re ready, your sadness will teach you how to transform your suffering into inner peace. With God’s grace, if you open your heart, love will shape and renew you. Love will make all things new, including you.”
“Stay a while,” Grief beckons as we share coffee with the Creator. I glance down and notice the Creator’s scarred hands.
The Creator speaks, offering these words of wisdom and hope:
We can endure this. (Resilience).
You are stronger than you realize. With God’s grace, you will endure. Your wounded heart will evolve into a refuge of courage and profound compassion for yourself and others. You will become a healer, born of wounds.
I am your friend, not your foe. (Unshakeable faith).
It’s okay to shake your fist, to yell and scream at me. I have big shoulders. I will sustain you through this season of life. Lean into me. I am your comfort and strength. I always have been and always will be with you.
Love is real. (Understanding).
I will bestow the grace you need to understand that God is love. You will feel my love through the words and warm embraces of those who walk alongside you as you bid farewell to your loved one.
I sustain you. (Love’s embrace).
I am not a puppeteer god. I have granted every soul free will, and I do not shield you from life’s tribulations. Instead, I sustain you through the trials you face. If you listen to my Voice of Love, I will guide your steps with wisdom. I will embrace you with my healing love. I will fill your heart with divine compassion.
We’re a team. (Life is a team sport).
You were not meant to walk life’s path alone. We are a team. God is the Divine Coach, and you’re one player on the field of life. It works better if you allow me to guide you; otherwise, you may have to learn life’s lessons through harsher trials. Come, take my hand.
Live one day at a time. (Grace is found in the Present Moment).
“How do you eat an elephant?” the ancient proverb asks. “One bite at a time,” wisdom responds. Grief may throw your world into chaos as the familiar becomes unfamiliar. Yet, the chaos will not overwhelm you if you stop and let me lead you one step, one day at a time.
Life is a mystery. (The gift of the spiritual realm).
When a loved one departs, it often feels surreal. It’s as if you’ve stepped into a time warp where everything is out of place; everything is strange. This is because you are brushing against another dimension of life—the one your beloved has entered. It is the spiritual realm, beyond human grasp, beyond the material world. Don’t try to figure it out because you can’t. Instead, quiet yourself each day, spend time alone with God, listen to your soul where the Voice of Love speaks in the silence of your heart. Strive to access the spiritual life. It is always there waiting for you. It is as close as your breath. It is in every heartbeat God gives you.
Look for the bright sadness. (Integrate darkness and light).
Grief teaches us that on the other side of suffering there is joy. They walk hand-in-hand. On one hand, you suffer from the loss of a cherished soul. On the other hand, you find joy in the embrace and care of those who walk with you, knowing your loved one is at peace. This is the world of “both-and.” Allow your suffering to open your eyes to profound truths, to see life with dual vision—the both-and of all things— encompassing both darkness and light.
Accept imperfections. (People are flawed).
You strive for perfection and sometimes expect the same of others. Yet, like all mortals, even your loved one was flawed. As you bid farewell, release not only your loved one, but also your expectations of them. Embrace their imperfections along with their beauty. Extend compassion to your own flaws, so you can accept without judgment the flaws of others.
Watch for signs. (The communion of saints is real).
Your Aunt Stella was right. I grant departed souls the ability to convey their loving presence to those left behind. The eagle you glimpsed on the day your father-in-law Bob passed away was the Holy Spirit escorting Bob’s soul to heaven. The northern lights that adorned the night of his passing were another sign, affirming that all is well. Bob was assuring his family that he is Home and will continue to shine brightly in our hearts. Receive these signs as divine gifts. Let them kindle hope within you.
Open your heart. (Suffering is the pathway to peace).
You may be tempted to close your heart, shielding it from further pain. That is natural. Yet, that will only lead you to a heart that grows cold and calloused where love cannot enter to heal you. Open your heart. I am your salve. I will anoint you with heavenly oil that will comfort you as you allow me to lead you into wholeness.
Scabs will transform into scars. (Strength comes from tending your wounds).
Just as your skin undergoes stages of healing—first an open wound, then a scab, and finally a scar—so too, if you tend your wounds with love, you will find inner strength born of my divine touch. Come, let me cradle you. Bury your face in my embrace and weep. Let the tears baptize you in my love.
The Creator paused, gazing into my heart. A surge of divine energy filled my Spirit. He took his scarred hands and held mine. “Here’s a song I’ve composed for you. The words are true.”
As I absorbed the song and savored the Creator’s words, in a curious, paradoxical way, something shifted in me. I cannot name it. I can only feel it deep within my core. It transformed me.
I watched as the sun rose, tears flowing freely down my face. “You may linger a while longer, grief,” I whispered. “You are an important visitor. There are more lessons you must teach us on this journey called life.”
I never got that kiss with Teresa. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.
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