What I learned about grief
I learned a lot about grief last summer. Someone in my family passed away way too soon. It was unfair. He had so much life to give and a family to take care of. It was wrong. It was painful. And it wasn't just the adults that had to deal with it; there were many children involved. Children who had to be told. Children who had questions. Children who had to deal with grief way before they ever should have had to.
But those children also taught me something about grief. I have a niece who is more introverted than her siblings. Who at her loudest can't compare with the voice of her baby sister. Who observes a little more closely than the rest. She was the niece who sat on my lap during the funeral. We sat there; a six year and a 30 year old. The thoughts in my head were too numerous to mention; the underlying drumbeat of them all crystallizing into one question...why? Why had this happened? Where was God? How could I feel such comfort in the presence of God and also be so mad at him? Why hadn't he done what I knew he could do? Why hadn't he intervened? All these thoughts bubbled up inside me and couldn't be contained. They were encapsulated in the tears that silently ran down my cheeks.
And then, my little niece turned to face me. She put both her hands to my face and wiped away my tears. Like she was the aunt and I was the child. She wiped my cheeks and under my eyes. And then she pushed her hand in mine, squeezed tight and tucked herself under my chin in an embrace. And I felt something give in my soul. More than that I felt awe and wonder. How had this child known what so many adults haven't been able to figure out. That what the grieving need isn't words. It isn't a verse. It's just someone who will wipe your face for you and hold your hand.
I learned a lot about grief last summer. And I'm still learning. Grief doesn't just disappear. The pain becomes less sharp but it doesn't go away. It becomes a dull throb that you almost forget about because the hum of it is so consistently there. It's a bruise you lost track of until someone bumps into it and then you're right back in the sharpness of it. But I also learned how to be with others in grief. A six year old taught me that. A six year old taught me that the people I love don't need me to give them an answer to their problems, they don't need me to give them a verse to study. They don't need me to remind them that God is sovereign. They need me to hold their hand and wipe their cheeks. They need me to silently sit with them; and let my presence reassure them they are loved and cared for.
That's what I learned about grief. It's an unbearable pain that cannot be carried alone. But it can be carried together. I am determined to carry that lesson forward. When I feel the urge to answer grief with explanations; I'll remember the overwhelming knock down drag out relief I felt when that little hand caressed my face and I'll be that to someone else. My niece won't understand for many years how what she did was so profound. She was just being herself. But someday I'll tell her the story. The story of how the little child taught the grown up how to grieve. And she'll smile and move on without saying much cause that's how she is. The little children will teach them the Bible says. She taught me well.
And I am grateful.