All Saints' Day, Grief and Gratitude

Yesterday’s All Saints’ Day service invited us remember and give thanks for people whose deaths have brought us grief and invited us to find, in Jesus, comfort, reassurance, and love.

Grief is, to say the least, complex. It keeps close company with other strong emotions. For instance, we often feel, simultaneously, grief and gratitude: our loss makes us sad, but it also reminds us how blessed we have been by the lives of the people we have lost. Grief and anger travel together: it’s not at all uncommon for someone’s death to cause us to feel a kind of rage at how life’s pain and suffering seem so random and unfair. Grief and faith are close cousins: we release our loved ones into God’s good care with both doubt and trust, with uncertainty but also with confidence. We even feel grief and joy at nearly one and the same time, which is why we say we “laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed.” When we grieve, powerful feelings come rushing to the surface, demanding to be faced.

It’s crucial, then, as Shakespeare put it, that we “give sorrow words”—that we say honestly how we feel. We need to voice our feelings to each other, and, especially, to God. Sometimes we’re reluctant to be honest with God about what is really in our hearts. We fear that there is something “wrong” with our feelings of hurt, disappointment, and anger. But, God is not surprised by what we feel, and God can handle our questions, frustrations, and doubts. People who risk being truthful with God discover that great relief and, eventually, healing, come from telling God what they feel without dressing those feelings up in Sunday clothes and disguising them in polite clichés.

People who are dealing with difficult losses often feel disoriented and confused. Occasionally, they find themselves to be unusually forgetful, or they have difficulty concentrating, or they deal with significantly more anxiety than they normally have. When their grief is most intense, folks sometimes tell me that they worry that they are “going crazy.” Those feelings of disorientation mean that it’s important for grieving people—and grieving communities—to take time to heal, to gather wisdom, and to regain a sense of equilibrium before making significant decisions.

Grief can, if will let it, become our teacher, reminding us about the fragility and strength of the human spirit, the wisdom of our being tender and patient with each other, the value of genuine and mutual friendship, the healing power of honest prayer, and the crucial significance of shared worship.