Some of my dearest friends live in Roseburg and in the wake of yesterday’s shootings, a permeating and tangible flood of love is pouring into their community. I found this promise in my hymnal – “Earth has no sorrow but Love can remove.” With that sparkle of hope, I share my own experience of love removing sorrow and my prayers for the dear families and friends of Roseburg.
She left us abruptly and without warning. I was advised to be grateful that she didn’t suffer.
That didn’t help.
The temptation was to turn inward, to wallow in the dark side of losing my mother. I found myself anticipating and fixated on an unfillable void. The future, how would it look and feel? I sat in front of the blank computer screen with a “very loud” proverbial clock ticking off the minutes before the memorial. Friends told me I didn’t have to say anything.
But I desperately wanted to get above the emotional upheaval. I wanted to share a sense of comfort with everyone. I knew that love would win.
An email from an insightful friend appeared in my inbox.
“Karla, when I was praying about your mom, I saw that everything you love about her, you get to keep. Why? Because she didn’t create any of the qualities you love in her; she reflects those qualities. God is with you and all of His goodness and love expressed in your mom is yours forever. Just as the moon doesn’t create light on its own, but only reflects it, your mom doesn’t create love; she just reflects it. The love that she loved you with was actually God’s reflected love. God and that love is still enveloping you.”
After I read those words, the eulogy just poured out and with that, came the confidence and grace to stand up and read it to a grateful group of friends who found in it, their own comfort and healing. I too felt deeply loved.
In my experience since, I’ve learned that our culture carries high expectations for the aggrieved; expectations that we may take for granted or as a normal process. Recent findings are concluding, though, that grief is not a linear, finite project which can be summed up in a series of stages such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In his January 10, 2015, NYTimes blog, “Getting grief right”, psychotherapist Patrick O’Malley, opines on the traditional grieving process. “THAT model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language.”
Based on his own loss of a loved one, O’Malley has dropped that model and now works with an approach which reveres the deep love shared with the deceased.
I too have found that deep love is key in overcoming grief. Grief leaves little room in one’s heart for the anticipation of goodness, but unconditional love can break the stranglehold of grief and give the aggrieved a crack of light through which anticipated goodness can shine. Those simple concepts shared with me in the email helped me to break through the darkness of grief. I realized that God’s expression of love is constantly embracing us, but to experience this, especially after a death, God’s love cannot be sought in a physical body. In praying to overcome grief after my mother’s passing, I found that I had to look with faith for a reflected love that a body can’t provide. I had to look for inspiration in unexpected experiences, for moments of patient grace, for previously unnoticed outpourings of love that came in many ways. I had to get out of that negative fixation and really look for God’s tender care in every moment.
I had a faint inkling of what I needed to do. Several years prior, I lost a close companion unexpectedly and I dreaded her continued absence. In my prayers one night, I asked God to free me from obsessing about the picture memories that kept replaying in my subconscious. Instead, I cherished all of her non-physical qualities, qualities like companionship, joy, forgiveness, spontaneity, etc. It really helped me be much freer more quickly than I thought possible. I learned a valuable lesson about prayerfully seeking and being grateful for the spiritual qualities of a close companion rather than replaying the physical memories.
I’ve discovered that one of the most profound examples we have of “grief overcome” is that of Jesus’ foreshadowed departure. So tenderly, he reassures his disciples, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7 KJV)
By opening his disciples’ hearts to the anticipation of comfort and an even greater good, he prepared them for their futures – healing their fellow man, coming together in the Pentecost, and establishing the Christian church. Jesus blessed his disciples with the love he reflected from God, and despite Jesus’ bodily absence, they got to keep that love!
Even today God continues to guide and comfort, regardless of the circumstance.
The same Love is embracing each of us right now. It needs no physical body, it doesn’t rely on human habits or history. It doesn’t matter how we assess the stages of overcoming the grip of grief and the pain of loss. Our loved ones have always reflected God’s love – they represent God’s tender care for us.
We have Jesus’ promise, “I am with you alway” at the close of Matthew. Such Love is the all-encompassing Comforter. It is what we learn from our loved ones about Love. And we get to keep it forever.