October 31, 2019
Weekly Reflection – “The Unwanted Gift of Grief”
The Unwanted Gift of Grief, is an excellent book once published by a friend of mine, Tim VanDuivendyk. What an odd assortment of words! Have you ever thought of grief as a gift? Not many of us begin with that perspective. He writes that his book is an effort to help anyone who has suffered loss and grief and those who wish to help others who have suffered loss and grief. Would that be you? Actually, all of us will, at some time, experience grief. How can we get through it? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). It seldom feels like comfort, at least in the beginning, does it!
The book invites the reader to enter the wilderness of grief and not resist it. It defines grief as, a painful readjustment period after a significant loss engaging our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. When we express grief for our loved one, we are expressing gratitude for him or her. For example, I grieved over the loss of my first wife and also after having to put down our family’s pet dog. Pain, yes. Disruption, yes. Gratitude, eventually. A changed me? Yes! I often say that we morph from an “old normal” to a “new normal.” The new normal is different from the old one, but it can be ok. We see what was, what is, and what can be.
The Grief Wilderness
No one wants the grief wilderness, yet it seems that the mourning process is universal and common to all. Grief fills up the vacuum of empty space left by the deceased until we can adjust to and accept the reality that the person is no longer with us. Tim eloquently writes that the painful disturbances of grief are the unwanted gifts that thrust us into labor and contractions that birth new life after loss. He says that while we may want to avoid the wilderness of grief, the fastest way and the most effective way is through the wilderness. Letting go of the past in order to grow into the future includes pain, adjustment, and hard work. Grief work is the unwanted gift, but it is a gift.
The grief wilderness is the vehicle, the pathway, and “the way” through this transformation and resurrection process. Faith is the fuel that feeds our spirit and courage as we cross the wilderness. If we are willing to say yes to the pain and walk into the unknown, transformation will happen. We will find God, who is creator, sustainer, and redeemer of both the kingdom of love on earth and the eternal kingdom. The best and most lasting gift and tribute you give is creating a new life, and going on to live fully because that person loved you and you loved him or her. One recognizes the grief process is complete when the loss you experienced no longer impairs your daily life.
We could go on and on with paragraphs about pitiable platitudes like “No one grieves the same” or “There is no set time period for the grief to pass” or “No one can truly understand what YOU are experiencing.” My purpose in this brief Reflection is simply to encourage the reader to recognize and accept that grief is real, and it is an unwanted gift. Armed with that conviction, one can wade deeper into and through the wilderness.
Have you experienced significant loss and grief? What was it like? What helped? What most certainly did not help? How have you changed? What is your “new normal”? Think about that this week. Let me know your story. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
Read the Chaplain’s reflections on Trauma Permanently Changes Us
Source: The Unwanted Gift of Grief, Tim V. VanDuivendyk, DMin, The Hayworth Pastoral Press, Inc., 2006.