It’s one of those ironic, oxymoronic phrases that people have worked into their vocabulary to express incredulity at a thing or person. I don’t know its origin (unless it was Charlie Brown), but I have always been interested in the fact that the phrase even exists.
Last night found my wife and I at Greenwood Funeral Home in Fort Worth for the second time in a couple months. This time we were there for friends of our family.
Standing next to the grieving widow, who happens to be a very dear and longtime friend and a tremendously good-to-the-core woman, I searched for words.
I didn’t want to offer the oft-repeated, cliched stuff.
“He’s in a better place.”
“He’s not suffering anymore.”
“You will see him again.”
As true and comforting as these things are, they only mitigate the loss. They provide hope and a measure of healing, I’m sure. But what can be said? What words can be found to reach into the grieving heart of one whose soul mate, or father, or son has been taken?
Just moments before, while I waited for other friends and comforters to clear so I could take my turn at comforting my friend, I was talking to another dear couple. They, too, have been an intricate part of our lives for a very long time. They are as fine a Christian couple as one is apt to find.
She hugged me and said, “You are a wordsmith. You speak to my soul with such clarity.”
I can’t remember when a compliment meant more to me, especially considering the source was a woman I greatly admire as an example of what being an influencer for Christ is all about.
I never felt better.
Moments later, I am hugging my grieving friend. I am a wordsmith. I am a worsdmisth!
I am…lost for words.
“I wish I could find the words,” I told her, “That would make it better.”
“Well, Gene,” she replied with a smile that warmed my soul, “If you can’t find them, no one can.”
I never felt worse. Never felt more inadequate for the task at hand.
“If there’s anything I can do…”
How many times had she heard that in the past hour?
“We love you.”
Maybe that was the best I could say. Maybe that was all I could do.
And so it is with grief. All the well-wishes and covered dishes in the world won’t heal a broken heart or plug the hole left when one you have spent a lifetime loving is gone.
That doesn’t mean you don’t express your love and support. That doesn’t mean you don’t pray, pray, pray for comfort and peace. That doesn’t mean you don’t bring that potato salad.
It just means you recognize your limitations and acquiesce to the Limitless One.
Before I follow that thought, let me stop for an aside and encourage us all not to judge the grief of another.
Joan Rivers passed this week. Years ago, after her husband committed suicide, she took the only tool she had, which was humor, and set out to help others deal with grief.
I pulled this Rivers quote from the New York Times:
“There are two kinds of friends, and both mean very well,” Ms. Rivers told the audience. “One group doesn’t want you to grieve at all — ‘Come on, come on, it has been a week and a half that you lost Joe, get out — enough!’ The other kind never want to see you be anything but grieving. ‘Your husband is dead only eight years, and you’re wearing a red dress?’ “
Ms. Rivers could be pretty irreverent. A lot of people thought she joked about stuff she shouldn’t. Maybe so. But that one time right there? She got it right.
Petty people project their preconceived notions onto others.
If you have never really experienced this kind of loss, just hang on. You will. Unless you are suddenly taken and the one grieved, you will live to grieve the loss of someone you considered your world.
Back to the Limitless One and the question as to whether “good grief” exists…
I believe it does. Let me share what I see to be the good in grief.
- It reveals the depths of the love and the life you shared with the one you lost. We all take one another for granted from time to time. As we hurry through life, anxious to get to that next stage, that next experience, we take for granted the presence of those on the journey with us. We shouldn’t. But we do. Then, in our grief, we understand they were so much more to us than we understood.
- It provides an essential release. We are emotional beings, built to feel and express our feelings. Grief is a release valve that keeps us from exploding.
- It gives us an opportunity to revisit the good times. To smell the flowers we missed. To relive moments that are so much more momentous now. To laugh at their silly quirks and to, at long last, listen to their wisdom.
- It clears the way for hope. How wonderfully David captured the essence of this point in Psalm 30:5 – For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Is there suffering and pain, even for the child of God? Absolutely! But the pain is temporary. The joy of the Lord is forever.
- It drives us to the breast of the One who is there when the casket is closed and lowered, the mourners have dispersed to their own lives and loves, and we are left alone in our grief. Alone? No! Never. He promised “never to leave us alone.”
My favorite New Testament name for the Holy Spirit is Comforter.
While I stand beside my friend, awkwardly searching for the right words, there in the quietness of her being, speaking to her spirit, is the Comforter. He doesn’t need to search for words that won’t sound hollow and rhetorical. He is the hole-in-the-soul filler. He has the balm of Gilead. He turns sorrow to joy, tears to laughter, hurt to hope, loss to life.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Yes! There it is.