This last year has been a season of deep grief for our family. Our good friend Tony Tuck abruptly left this earth for heaven a year ago February 4th. My youngest brother, Jason Koehn, died unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving at the age of 49. And though he is with God, I will never stop missing him. And our dear friend Richard Twiss went to be with the creator quite unexpectedly last Saturday. My heart is so heavy…
So much grief and I have such little practice. My family does not die, well at least not without a fight and most of them are still holding on, including my nearly 102 year old grandmother. (Yay Grandma!!) So I am not very experienced with loss. I have had a lot to learn.
Added to minimal preparation by my family, our culture does not prepare us well for mourning either even though death is inevitable for each and every one of us. The entire process is sanitized, from the way that the body is whisked away by “professionals” as soon as possible, to the way that we talk about death. A loved one “passes on,” or “goes to a better place.” We avoid the finality of the word dead. This is certainly understandable. Death is shocking and visceral. The denial in each of us runs for a softer place to land. But in all reality there is no soft place to land when someone you love is dead.
In this season of my life I have learned to cry. It’s a big change for me. This is what I have learned.
Tears make us uncomfortable, especially tears of mourning. Crying is seen as a loss of self control or a histrionic expression that a person should keep to themselves. Crying is ugly, makeup streaks the cheeks, the nose runs, and sometimes it is loud and wailing. Best that it be done in private or at least discreetly. But God gave us tears. No other creature in creation has them. That seems significant to me.
We are vulnerable when we cry. It feels out of control. It sometimes seems as though the fountain of teardrops will never dry up. And maybe they shouldn’t, at least not until they have played their role. When we weep we acknowledge that the person who has died has had profound meaning in our lives, that he or she holds a place in our hearts that will be for ever empty because no one will ever be able to fill it. Our tears honor our dead and remind us that they are yet and forever present with us in our memories.
Tears signal our grief to our community in a healthy way. They bind us together in shared vulnerability of loss, grief and pain. We show our soft underbelly, our humanity when we cry. We give others the opportunity to respond in comfort as they sit with us and resonate with our pain. Our tears give permission to others to grieve also.
Tears are cleansing to the body and the heart. They wash our souls, preventing us from getting stuck in our grief. They allow us to be in the moment and feel the loss. They root us to our reality.
When will the tears stop? Who knows. Grief claims real estate in your heart with boundaries that seem to shift like the sands on the beach, real estate that was not voluntarily surrendered. I’ve never been much of a cryer but I now wear tear proof makeup and never leave home without a kleenex because I never know when the tears will flow. I no longer choke them back because I know that each tear is a prayer precious to God who holds all of our sorrows and all of our tears.
Tears.. don’t be afraid of them… yours or others. Think of them as a holy offering because that is what they are. If someone cries in your presence they are honoring you. Tears are a precious gift to human beings for self and for others… from the Creator God, the one who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.
8 Replies to “When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll”
“Grief claims real estate in your heart…” That is profound. I love you.
Thank you, Gail!
Yeah, I thought that the real estate would come back under my ownership. Don’t think so anymore…
Thank you for this post. After losing both my parents in 5 1/2 months, and nearly losing my brother (he made it, thank God!), I could relate to all you said. Mostly I could relate to the tears….in a wistful way. I have been so traumatized that I can’t yet cry. I pray they will come soon as I know they are healing. And I pray that you know our tears will be mingling together as precious treasures. (Psalm 56:8) Thinking of you! Your student, Dottie Escobedo-Frank PS: did you ever get the two books that came out of my DMin program? If you send me your address, I’ll send them to you.
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Dottie thank you, friend, for your kind response. Tears come when it is time. There is no managing grief… I know that for sure!
Never got the books. I would love to see them!
I loved this. So beautifully true! …..tears are a holy offering…..and If someone cries in your presence they are honoring you. Tears are a precious gift to human beings for self and for others… from the Creator God, the one who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.
“Grief claims real estate in your heart with boundaries that seem to shift like the sands on the beach, real estate that was not voluntarily surrendered.”
As with Gail, I love this image.
I have not been confronted with grief much, even though my mom died several years ago after a long decline that meant my “real mom” died a decade earlier. My dad is 94 and still skiing black-diamonds and mogul fields. So when he goes, it will be a grand celebration of what he could accomplish so late in life.
But when my niece suddenly lost her husband to suicide recently, my soul sank into darkness. I empathized. I cried. And I wrote about these shifting boundaries using a dance metaphor. You never know who your next partner will be. Depression? Denial? Acceptance?
What I am learning is how to engage with grief and not run from it. Dance with it, as painful as that it. Allow it to do its redemptive work within me and allow it to grow into something new.
I am so sorry for your losses. I lost my brother to suicide not quite a year ago. The recovery was and will be long term. I, however, because of Jesus can say it is well with my soul. Not happy or healed, but well.
Somehow in all of this, like you, I am learning not to avoid pain but to walk through it. Grief is enlarging my soul permanently. Meanwhile, I am looking for my next dance partner :-). I have been a dancer most of my life so your metaphor is particularly meaningful to me.
Sometimes you have to allow the porcupine to snuggle up into you lap knowing that Jesus has redeemed and blunted its quills.:-) My prayers are with you … as they are with me. My brother-in-law’s mom will be crossing over the bridge within this week.