A Few Thoughts on Grief

by Melannie Svoboda SND on April 29, 2013

I am no authority on grief. But over the years I have experienced grief and I have listened to the experiences of others. Based on that, here are a few thoughts on grief.

What is grief? Grief is the emotional suffering that accompanies loss. When we think of grief we usually think of the pain we experience when a loved one dies. But there are other losses we can grieve too: the loss of a job, a home, a pet, our routine, our health, our youth, our independence. We are often sensitive and understanding when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, but can we be just as sensitive and understanding when someone is grieving the loss of their eyesight, their cat, their driver’s license, or their memory?

We don’t necessarily grieve in the same way. Some people can’t stop crying when they grieve. Others shed very few tears. Some want to be alone. Others want to be with people. Some become listless. Others become hyper. Some want to talk about their grief. Others want to grieve in silence. We must learn to recognize and respect the way others grieve–and the way we ourselves grieve.

Grief can come in unpredictable waves. When we are in the initial throes of grief, we might think, “I will never get over this loss.” But time does have a way of lessening the pain. At least for a while. But weeks, months, or even years later we can be hit by an unexpected wave of grief. Several months after my father died, I was in the drive-thru at the bank. I had the classical station on. Suddenly Franz von Suppe’s “Poet and Peasant Overture” began to play. Instantaneously my eyes filled with tears before my conscious brain could figure out what was happening to me. Then my brain realized that this particular piece of music was one of my father’s favorites. He played it all the time while I was growing up. My spontaneous tears were an expression of my deep grief for the loss of this beautiful man in my life. Someone has said, after a loved one dies we do learn to walk again–but now we walk with a limp.

IMG_1306Grieving is the way we relearn the world. When we suffer a significant loss, our world can radically change. And we may be radically changed. If our spouse dies, we get a new identity: widow or widower. If our parents die, we may really feel we have been orphaned. If we move to a new house, we have to learn how to live in new surroundings. If we have lost our good health, we may have to learn to navigate the world now with a hearing aid, an oxygen tank, a walker, or a prosthesis. It takes patience and humility to relearn the world. And it takes time.

Grief is not local. Probably the best book I’ve read on grief is C. S. Lewis’ book, A Grief Observed, a journal he kept after the death of his wife Joy. Lewis says that grief is not local–that is, it is not restricted to place. Sometimes we think, “I will avoid that restaurant we used to go to,” or “I won’t listen to that song I associate with her”–as if our pain can be minimized by avoiding certain places or situations. But Lewis says, on the contrary, he feels his wife’s absence everywhere. He writes, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” 

As painful as grief is, though, it can still be a blessing in a way. Grief is the underside of love. Perhaps there is no clearer proof of love’s greatness than the pain we experience when the object of our love has been taken away from us. Grief also IMG_1140underscores the essential goodness and meaningfulness of life. If people were not good and things did not matter, we would never grieve. But people are good, things do matter, and life does have meaning. That is grief’s great promise.

 

What are your thoughts and feelings about grief?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Schneider April 29, 2013 at 10:18 am

I loved my mother deeply, and I was blessed to be at her side when she died. After several months of suffering with cancer, I felt a tremendous wave of relief and even joy when she went home to God’s heavenly kingdom. She was and is in my thoughts and prayers always. I think that I have been blessed as well that I have never felt any painful grief, but I do empathize with those who do. Thank you for your loving and insightful thoughts on grief.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Dear Mary, My sympathy to you on the death of your mother. If you accompanied your mother as she suffered from cancer, I suspect you did some of your major grieving during that time. Psychologists call it “anticipatory grief.” I know I cried on and off during my mother’s final year. When her actual death came, many of my tears had already been spent….Thank you for following my blog! I appreciate it! God bless you! Sr. Melannie

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Nancy Duke April 29, 2013 at 10:28 am

I find myself mourning the loss of unobvious things like my good memory or favorite pillow that no longer can hold my head or even my dog’s hearing. I mourn the loss of what was with my friends and then as you said, I relearn the new time and try not to be bitter or afraid or angry. Life is good in its present state and I am loved and love. Thank you for your sunflower seed. It grows and enormous flower!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Dear Nancy, You’ve given us some good specific examples of some of the things you mourn. But since you can still say “I am loved and love” you are truly blessed! Thanks for writing. Sr. Melannie

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Pat Dangelo April 29, 2013 at 10:47 am

Having some mementos of my parents in our home helps me remember the love they shared with me, my sister & brothers. Their wedding picture from 1930 hangs in our bedroom. Dad’s kerosene lantern he used at work on the railroad greets us in the garage. The pop bottle with a sprinkler on top that Mom used to dampen clothes before ironing sits on our kitchen counter. When I bake bread, Mom is right there, kneading with me as I did with her many years ago. Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for this week’s reflection. I recently planted sunflower seeds in our garden with you in mind & prayer! God bless you!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Dear Pat, I loved your listing of mementos from your parents–especially the pop bottle with the sprinkler on top (my Mom had one too) and the kerosene lantern. I also have my parents’ wedding picture (1937) framed…I am honored that you planted sunflower seeds with me in mind. Thank you very much, Pat! Sr. Melannie

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Rose April 29, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Sr. Melannie, Your insights on grieving are so helpful as when we want to comfort someone (or ourselves) it helps to recognize the differences in the way we grieve. When my mother passed, I went through so many emotions and phases, including anger! I felt so vulnerable and lost. But as time went on, with prayer and a lot of good memories I survived. I too have their wedding picture (with all my grandparents in the pose) displayed so they are with me everyday! Now I keep their memory alive with my grandson. Thank you so much.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

Dear Rose, You remind us that the loss of a loved one can set us on a roller coaster of emotions–including anger. I found this sentence very poignant: “I felt vulnerable and lost.” How true that was for me!…How important it is to keep the memory of our deceased loved ones alive for future generations. Pictures certainly can help! Thank you, Rose, for all that you shared with us! Sr. Melannie

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Maggie April 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Thank you for the beautiful reflection…. I truly believe that was the Holy Spirit speaking directly through you to me. My Mom has recently been diagnosed with cancer and as we await more testing to determine the stage and type, I have experience many of the feelings and reactions that you mention in your reflection. I cry alot, I don’t cry at all, I talk about it, I don’t speak of it at all… but in the end I find that Philippians 4:4-7 provides me with hope… Our Lord will provide the peace to us that surpasses all understanding…
Time to embrace the cross ahead and grow along the way… God Bless!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 9:03 am

Dear Maggie, People ask me, “How do you decide what to write about on your blog?” I really don’t know–except I listen to the movements in my own heart. Or someone might say something that gives me an idea. Or I read something and decide to write about it. I think loss is such a big part of our human experience that writing about it is always “timely.”…I’m so sorry to hear about your dear mother’s cancer. I will pray for her and you. Your reference to Philippians is a good one, Maggie. It reminds us to give to God the contents of our heart…God will provide the peace…Thanks for sharing! Sr. Melannie

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Kathleen Magiera April 30, 2013 at 5:04 am

Thanks for sharing the various kinds of grief. I am mourning a relationship with a colleague that is no longer healthy. The loss of a wonderful relationship at work has saddened my heart. I am trying to be less angry in freeing myself from her.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 8:57 am

Dear Kathleen, Not all friendships last, do they? Some that provided nourishment, gradually become unhealthy. I pray your anger may (in time) evolve into acceptance and peace. Thank you for writing. Sr. Melannie

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Larry April 30, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Melannie,

Perhaps the most difficult grief that I have experienced was in the loss of independence after having open heart surgery. It was terribly hard to depend on others for just about everything. My saving grace was a wife who was committed to helping me get through deep depression and the time that God gave me to appreciate her and all those who came to my aid. Friends of mine shared with me a portion of Psalm 46 when I was in the hospital convalescing before going home. “Be still and know that I am God.” It was a turning point, to indeed know that God was in charge and I didn’t have to be.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Dear Larry, How fortunate you were to have your wife and friends to help you through this loss of your independence. The verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God,” is one of my favorite verses from scripture. I’ve read that the “be still” doesn’t simply mean to be quiet or calm. It goes deeper than that. The Jerusalem Bible translates it “Pause a while.” Another translation says, “Have leisure.” In other words, we can afford to relax and not fret so much because (as you said so well) God is in charge. Thanks for your fine words, Larry! Melannie

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Larry May 2, 2013 at 9:29 am

Thanks for the added information.

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marian April 30, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Hi Sr. Melanie,
I think one of the hardest things about loosing someone is feeling that you didn’t do enough to ease their suffering or lift their spirits, for one reason or another.
Grief is complicated.
God is not.
I put my hands in His hands and feel the pain with Him and let Him restore me to task at hand…and turn over any unfinished business to his mercy.
Redeemer. Comforter. Friend.
Marian

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 1, 2013 at 9:34 am

Dear Marian, You are a wise woman! I loved especially your words: “I turn over any unfinished business to God’s mercy.” Amen to that! Life leaves us with many loose ends. We want to tie things up, but realistically, some things will never find closure–this side of death. You’re wise to say we must put our “unfinished business” into God’s hands. Thank you for sharing that! Melannie

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Heather April 30, 2013 at 10:46 pm

My husband and I had our first baby five years ago. Sweet little Ethan was 2 months premature, but beautiful at only 1 1/2 lbs. He only lived for a month, but I think about him every day. I was never angry at God, but it was definitely the most intense grief I had felt. Now other difficulties in my marriage are leading to a possible divorce. It’s a different kind of grief and harder in some ways than my son’s death, because I have a decision to make. I’m trying to listen to God, but neither loss is what I expected for my life.

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 1, 2013 at 9:30 am

Dear Heather, My deepest sympathy to you on the loss of little Ethan. I can’t imagine the intensity or duration of your grief for him. And I will pray for you and your husband. May God be with you during this difficult time of decision making. I hope you have someone to lean on through all of this. Thank you for writing….may God bless you! Sr. Melannie

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Gail May 1, 2013 at 8:25 am

Hi Sr. Melanie,
I found the empty nest to be particularly difficult, it was like grieving for me…our son and only child went on to his own apartment and then we had to move to another town quite a distance away when he was 22, it hit me like a ton of bricks, I was just heartbroken. But it forced me to grow closer to God and seek his comfort, and turned out to be a time of spiritual growth for me. I have gotten used to his independence over the years, but it took me a couple of years to get used to it.

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 1, 2013 at 9:25 am

Dear Gail, Thank you for giving us a concrete and vivid example of loss and your subsequent grieving. And thanks for reminding us that our grieving takes time and it can be an experienced of real spiritual growth for us. It was good hearing from you! Sr. Melannie

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Deb May 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

Hi Sr. Melannie,
Thank you again for sharing your wisdom. I read your words and read them again, picking up something new each time. Between Dec 2010 and Oct 2011, I experienced the deaths of my father-in-law, 18 year old nephew by suicide, full term still birth of my grandson, and unexpected death of a very close friend of mine. In May 2012, my son and his wife lost another baby at 4 months pregnant. It seems now that a year has gone by and looking back, I thought grief would consume me. These past two years I have lived life day by day, sometimes minute by minute. It is a hard thing to not fully grieve one death and another happens. I do not like the phrase time will heal. It did not for me. However, I can say that now my grief is a part of me and I try to embrace it. I am also happy to say that God blessed my son and his wife with a healthy son on April 9, about a month ago. They named him Jase, which means “healer”. I pray for continued healing for them and for all my family. I have also learned that I may not always have felt God’s presence, or understand the “whys”, but I do know that “I AM” is with me, with each of us in our journey.
God’ blessing to you. Thank you for being open to His Spirit to guide you in writing. Deb

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 6, 2013 at 8:15 am

Dear Deb, My deepest sympathy to you on all the deaths you have experienced in such a short time. I can’t begin to imagine your pain. I especially like these words or yours: “I may not always have felt God’s presence, or understand the ‘whys,’ by I do know that ‘I AM’ is with me, with each of us in our journey.” Amen to that great statement of faith. May God continue to bless you. And thank you for sharing your story. Sr. Melannie

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Cathy May 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Dear Melannie, Thank you for your insights on grief. My Mom died in 1998 and my Dad died just last year a short time after being diagnosed with cancer. Time and prayer helps to heal along with the belief that they are still with me in a different way. I feel their presence more at some times than at others. When my Dad was sick, I pointed out to him cloud lines in the sky that formed an X and told him that was Mom sending a kiss from above. Now when I see those X marks in the sky, I feel them both sending their love to me.
I read your blog every week for your inspiring thoughts….thanks! Cathy

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Dear Cathy, My sympathy to you on the death of your dear parents. Yes, your belief that they are with you in a different way is a consoling one. I like your story about the X’x in the sky. I’ll have to remember that the next time I see one. Thanks again for writing! God bless you! Melannie

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Sr Frances Marie May 16, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Dear Melanni,
I appreciated reflecting on your writing about grief. I have been searching for something spiritually solid on grief and I discovered it within your writing. Thank you for writing and sharing with others in need after a loved one is taken so quickly. For months my brother, David and I had been planning for a vacation together after not seeing one another for 12 1/2 years. He called me on Good Friday asking me to come on Holy Saturday because he was in Frederick Hospital dying. I felt anger with God but not long! I asked for a Priest to give David last Sacraments, but then he improved and was sent to Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C. The following Saturday, I told David that I was going to the National Cathedral to pray for him and light a candle. I was happy because he was going to be release within the next couple of days until he could prepare for a liver transplant later on. David told me that would be a great idea. When I walked into the Cathedral, I said, “Wow, how beautiful, David.”. I stopped and thought, “Why did I call out his name?”. So many rainbows filled the church! My cell phone rang just when I lit a candle and prayed. I could only hear, “David just died.”. Oh my! When I arrived at the hospital, David looked like he did when I left. His peaceful eyes told me he was with God. His funeral will be the week of June 4th. Please pray for my family. This is my third brother who died in their 50’s.
God bless you and take care.
Gratefully,
Sr Fran

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Melannie Svoboda SND May 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Dear Sr. Fran, I got chills when I read your account of your dear brother’s death–especially how you addressed HIM in the cathedral–at the moment he was being born into eternal life. My deep sympathy to you on the loss of your brother. I will hold him and you and your family in special prayer. Sr. Melannie

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Cathy May 20, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Sr. Fran, What a gift you were given in the Cathedral! Hopefully, it will soften your grief to have experienced such a beautiful moment! I will pray for you and your family.
God bless you, Cathy

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Sister Frances Marie Penwell May 20, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Thank you, Cathy for all your prayers.
Very beautiful sharing about X in the sky meaning kisses from your parent.
Know that I lift you in prayer for you and your parents.
Take care!
Sister Frances Marie, S.N.D.

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