The Other Side of Grief

May 26th, 2012

From time to time, those whose grief is much newer than mine ask leading, hopeful questions about life beyond my broken heart. There is often quiet urgency in their need for assurance that they, too, will make it to the other side of grief. The question is: “Who do we find when we get there?” Are we forever changed by death and grief? Or are we beneficiaries of a richer, more mature faith as a gift of our grief?

Because of my experience of profound grief after the death of my beloved husband, I confess that the subtle undertone of my own demeanor is still a kind of subdued woundedness, though not all the time. An after-effect of grief is that our inside and our outside do not always necessarily match. Within, I cherish the joy of a Christian heart certain of eternal life. But what I have found on this  side of grief is that there will always be aches and pains, those twinges of the soul that remind us—especially on remembrance days—of our struggle for wholeness in the rebuilding of life without our loved one. Reconciling our experience of loss and sorrow with the grace of our faith leads us slowly, yet inevitably to the other side of grief.

To get there, we must actively entertain the possibility of being healed. Those who grieve often wonder how long it will take to heal from grief—or even if they will be healed. Healing is not linear. There is no timeline or prescribed cure date for grief. Rather, healing is the gradual process of becoming whole or sound. Healing and wholeness are for those willing to be made strong. Psalm 147:3 assures us: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” Spiritual and emotional healing from grief is perhaps best described as recovery. We convalesce for a while and recuperate from grief, then we turn a corner and forge ahead into life. When we realize that we are finding satisfaction again in life, we know we are recovering and on the way to the other side of grief.

Daily Seeking God

Though for a while we are wounded by the death of our loved one, one day our broken heart is healed by the grace of God, the Great Physician. The certainty of life after death and life beyond death fortifies our healing heart. On the journey of grief, the steady direction of a daily devotion helps point the way over time to the other side of grief. As we meditate each day on the journey through grief, the promises of the Bible comfort and encourage us to move from sorrow toward hope and new life. The Bible is, in part, a narrative of human conflict and struggle, and many of its rich stories illustrate the pain of loss and grief.

 In our spiritual quest for growth through grief, often we must differentiate between want and need. In grief we need to go through the valley of the shadow of death, so that when we get to the other side, in faith we can affirmatively declare, “I want to live. I have hope for life. I believe that God has a future for me.” Want and need are the coordinates of our desire for life beyond the broken heart. Grief can be the most honest and faithful place we stand to find hope. As we look ahead and slowly return to fullness of life, we discern that for which we should hope. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

Acceptance and Acknowledgement

            Acceptance is a major milestone on the journey through grief. In the Beyond the Broken Heart program, grief group participants experience both spiritual and emotional adjustment to life without their loved one as scriptures and topics are presented and discussed. This leads ultimately to acceptance. Then, as participants near the other side of grief, the fervent desire to be filled again with the goodness of life and taste again its sweetness becomes irresistible. A thirst for the adventure of life returns. The heart longs to rediscover vitality after the arduous journey through grief.

When we recognize how our lives are shaped by the experience of grief, we begin to discover the gifts of grief. We learn through sharing our grief within the sanctity of a group that we best honor our loved one when we reenter the world to endow others with the gifts of our spirit (love, goodness, compassion, hope) as the finest expression of living on the other side of our grief.

During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, a seventeenth-century political and military leader in Great Britain, the government began to run low on silver for coins. Cromwell sent his men to the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metals. They reported back, "The only silver we could find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners." Cromwell reportedly replied, "Good!  We'll melt them down and put them into circulation!" This illustration suggests the benefit of sharing our story rather than memorializing our loved ones in isolation. When we put our saints into circulation, the legacy of our loved one lives on in the world to bless and enrich others, even as we dare to share openly the sacred spaces of our lives.

A New Vantage Point

As we grope our way through the darkness of the vast unknown of grief, we cannot observe and appreciate the cool calm of the forest because we are so desperately clinging for dear life to each tree. When we step into the light on the other side, we see that our experience of grief has left us spiritually rounder, emotionally more agile than before. Grief endows us with heightened compassion, empowered humanity, and a greater identity with the passions of life and love and death. From this vantage we have a broader view to the world. We see the world in a new and different way.

When we reach the other side of grief, the compelling vista is the larger view of God’s love. From the limited sightline of our mortality, we have a new view into the depth of God’s love.  And from the other side of grief, we better comprehend the inexhaustible dimensions of God’s love. “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19 NRSV). Death does not leave us ambivalent in our resolve to claim new life on the other side of grief. Thanks be to God for the victory over death.

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