A Space for Grief
I was on staff at a large church where I did regular hospital visitation every Friday. I would often see as many as 30 people across four cities and two counties, so it was inevitable that I would, on occasion, come upon people who were facing end-of-life moments. On one such occasion, I came into a hospital room where a man in his seventies had just been told that he had a stage four cancer and that there was nothing that could be done.
His daughter was there with him, and she was talking to him. Their conversation was very superficial. He had long since been active in the church, but he was glad that a pastor from the church had come to visit him in this critical time in his life.
As soon as he began to tell me about his diagnosis, I could tell he was still in shock and expressing deep grief at the news. I asked him what he might want to share about his feelings in that moment and how I might be able to help him. I made every effort to create for him a safe space for our conversation.
But his daughter grew increasingly agitated as we talked, and I finally discerned that maybe I was not there at a good time. I had a prayer, and as I left she followed me into the hallway. “What was that all about?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure I followed her. Guessing she was talking about our conversation about his grief, I told her that it was customary to make space for people to talk about the harsh realities in their lives, if they want to talk about it. She snapped at me, “Well, he might want to talk about it, but we aren’t going to let him get down about it. I spent all that time distracting him from it, and then you walk in and just let him go right to the topic! Please know that we don’t want you or anyone else who comes to visit to talk to him about his cancer. That is strictly OFF-LIMITS!”
It was a difficult encounter, and I ended it by asking her to please consider that being able to grieve and process himself is important. Her final response to me was, “In our family, we don’t grieve! We get over it and move on.”
Her father died over the weekend. We never heard from the family again.
Sacred spaces. Safe spaces. Spaces where we grieve our own human frailty. Spaces where we grieve our brokenness and the pain we experience in this life. Spaces where we grieve death … both for those we love and for our own losses … for our own death.
When we find ourselves in this liminal space, we often find that we come face to face with our own grief. What I have discovered is that, when I choose to gloss over grief or treat it only superficially, it becomes a wound that will not heal. The healing I have learned to seek is better defined as wholeness.
When we lost our son-in-law in 2016, we discovered what deep grief … heavy grief … feels like. We discovered the importance of the sacred and safe space required for us to grieve well.
When we had landed in Honolulu and had been transported from the airport by one of our daughter’s friends, we took a deep breath as we walked into their house that day. As we broke down in tears while pulling our daughter into that long hug of pain and grief, I whispered to her: “Don’t let people tell you that we will move day by day or even hour by hour. We do this breath by breath.”
As a dad who was trained as a pastor and pastoral counselor … and trained as an end-of-life and grief coach … I knew that the one job I had to do was to draw the circle around our family and to stake the claim on our sacred space where we could walk without judgment through the time of grief. There would be no time limits, and healing would not look like going back. We were headed toward a “new normal,” and this would require space to grieve and grow. It is a process of years, and there is no time limit on how we grow in this.
What was confirmed and what I continue to practice in ministry and coaching is that grief has a way of seasoning us and instilling in us a wisdom that we would not otherwise have. It is this wisdom that I associate with the authentic self of which I have written.
As we journey through brokenness and human suffering, we will discover that God is also in the midst of our grief. The theme of the incarnation that we talked about at Christmas is here made real for us as we experience a God who has suffered our pains, borne our sorrows, grieved our losses, and died our death.
When you find yourself in that thin place of grief, know that this is also a place where God comes to meet you!
God, even though it is sometimes difficult, we look for you in our grief and in our sorrows. Remind us that you are the one who has created the safe and sacred space for grief that leads us to the new normal of hope and life. Amen.