Good Grief – Bad Grief
by Jami Amerine
I remember very clearly the first time I realized I had not been a good friend to someone who was suffering. It was in a very dark season, a season of loss. The person with whom I was dining for lunch was clearly ready for me to move on to anything but the current topic, my grief. Granted, she and I were not super close, and this is not a criticism of her, it is more what I realized about myself and what it means to grieve, and grieve well.
Prior to this awkward lunch date, where my companion all but blurted out, “OH MY GOSH CAN WE PLEASE MOVE ONTO ANOTHER TOPIC!?!” I am not sure I had really considered grief in all of its dimensions or glory. And yes, I did mean to say glory.
And while we parted ways amicably from this encounter with a warm embrace, followed by a nice note where she encouraged me and offered prayers, I am forever grateful for this strange lunch meeting. Sitting alone in my car for more than an hour after she drove away, I made notes about grief while they were fresh, raw. I wrote them from both the place of the broken and the place of the listener/friend.
I started with the current and familiar, grieving.
Grief, we dread it. It isn’t any fun. It is painful and all consuming. However, it is so necessary. It is so important. Grief is a celebration of loss, a loss worthy of rejoicing. Rejoicing you might ask? Well, yes. Isn’t that what a celebration is? Rejoicing over an event, occasion or experience. I loved. I loved well. I lost, and I celebrate that loss with memories, tears, laughter and every emotion born of loving well. It is very personal. My need to recount, laugh, cry and throw things aren’t the same needs my husband has. His grief, his celebration of the loss, is different. I needn’t impose my assumptions on how he should celebrate this season. Yes, we need to communicate. Sure, grief not nurtured can go south quickly. But he and I lost something, and while it was the same thing, or person, our relationship and coping skills are entirely different. Grief is personal.
I make a note to own it.
This grief is mine.
I don’t have to share it; although if I chose to, it needs to be done with someone I can trust. I need to speak up, stop apologizing for this season and fully possess this space. Perhaps my lunch partner wasn’t the right audience for my heavy emotional state, I accept no shame or condemnation for this, I offer none to her. This is my territory and my time of loss. My social ques might be a little off. My nose is red, my eyes are blood shot, my heart is hurting. I add to my list three companions I know I can go to and say, “I need to grieve, I need to talk about this. I don’t need advice, I need you to listen. Please, if you are not up to this, just say so. I will not begrudge you this honesty. I can go to someone who is emotionally available to listen now.”
This leads me to a place where I realize, I have not been a good listener to a suffering companion. Again, grace is all I can afford myself, as I am in a fragile place. But what good have I done a mourner with a halfhearted ear? Worse still, I am certain I have done more talking than listening. Listening is at the core of excellent care. For this I feel most sorry. I do love to talk. But do I love the sound of my own wisdoms more than I love my people? Do I love to talk more than I love to help someone in need?
In my depths, I know that I love well, and to truly love well I must listen better. What I cannot do over I commit to do better, the next time. Certainly our experiences drive us to share, and when those experiences are in any way similar to what someone else is going through, it is our nature to identify. Still, I remember this current loss is all mine. For me sharing only insinuates more loss. To own this loss and this pain is in part to hold onto what is gone. In due time, I know it will have to go. For now, grief means connection. I don’t want to be talked out of it. Nor would I want to talk anyone out of theirs.
Note to self: Rob no one of their grief by imposing my story or feelings on theirs.
I recognize I am a fixer. But just as I embrace this celebration of loss, I cannot fix grief for anyone else, nor should I try. This is their time. Yes, a warm homemade pie. Most definitely, running errands or offering a helping hand, these things have blessed me abundantly in my hurt. Nope, they don’t fix it, but they have allowed me more time curled up in the arms of my Lord, celebrating love lost, a loss worth celebrating.
I carefully tucked these notes inside my handbag, blew my nose on a tattered and decrepit Kleenex. I vowed to write something, something poignant and important when and if my head ever cleared, my heart ever healed. I drove away from that lunch date no different in my brokenness but fully committed to being a better griever, listener and friend. Grief and all its glory followed me home, and I reveled in the good company.
Jami Amerine M.Ed. is the author of Stolen Jesus: An Unconventional Search for the Real Savior. She and her husband Justin live in the Houston, Texas area. The couple have six children ranging in age from 22 to 3 and are advocates of foster care and adoption. You can find more of Jami’s work at www.sacredgroundstickyfloors.com
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