Joni Mitchell sang words to describe our times “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.” Since March many things have been taken away from us starting with events that fell off our calendars like snowflakes from winter skies. Then the structures of daily life evaporated: school, employment, shopping, restaurants and sports. We were cut off from our grandparents and grandchildren. Weddings were cancelled. Graduations disappeared. Vacation plans collapsed. We could not go to church, serve in mission or visit the sick. Some could not have funerals.
Sure, there have been gains as families have re-discovered each other, lives have slowed down and faith has been re-kindled. But anyway you count it, it’s a season of losses. The proper reaction to loss is grief. Even before pandemic hit, our culture was in a denial of grief. As my friend Tom Lynch observed, “Even corpses have disappeared from funerals and they are now blandly styled as “celebrations of life” without any mention of mortality or death.” Society had already decided grief is illegitimate—an ugly thing to be buried in the age of self-esteem.
Nothing could be more fully human than to grieve loss or to mourn the dead. Jesus said it, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” As we enter into a world forever altered by the virus are we prepared to grieve? Is a reservoir of unexpressed grief building up in our souls? If “normal” returns, it will only come because we have decided to mourn our losses.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described 5 stages of grief:
1. Denial—the notion that the loss isn’t real. We minimize it as small and insignificant, just another “bump in the road.” Or maybe we can find something to medicate and numb us to our grief.
2. Anger—there’s loads of this being expressed. People who are confined and helpless against threats to their families get angry. This is the anger that has been unleashed in the debate over coming out of quarantine. It’s a powerful storm looking for lightning rods.
3. Bargaining—most often the grieving bargain with God, “Take this from me and I will do _______”
4. Depression—sleeplessness, grumpiness, withdrawal, silence, apathy, indolence mark depression. Such things are a particular challenge when forced to social distance and shelter at home.
5. Acceptance—this is that moment when you have a good cry. You acknowledge the burden you are bearing.
The stages are not successive, people often experience them all in one day. There is no “road map” through grief, each travels through it in their unique way and pace. The journey begins with the stark recognition of undeniable loss.
Grief is a private journey—no one can do your grief for you, no one else can ever really understand. Yet at the same time I am convinced we cannot and should not grieve alone. We need each other. We need community. We are not built to live alone. We need the church. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). Good grief requires conversation, prayer and silence together for as long as it takes. We are in a season of grief like our country has not known for generations. In the months ahead, we are going to need each other more than ever and we are going to need God more than ever. Join me in prayer for good grief.