Thursday, November 5, 2009

Observations on Grief

A major theme in Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove is how people deal with grief. The fact is, in spite of the steps of grieving outlined by psychologists, the individual reactions and timelines for this process are as varied and individual as people are in all other ways. C. S. Lewis wrote two books about suffering loss and grieving. The first, The Problem of Pain (1940) was a scholarly and scripturally sound offering that gave readers pat answers for coping with grief. At the time of its writing, Lewis was a confirmed bachelor and the quintessential Oxford Don. Then he married Joy Gresham and watched her struggle with painful bone cancer until her death. In 1961 he wrote a new book, A Grief Observed, now with the experience of the overwhelming specter of personal grief, experience that is more than the 'answers' really addressed. I am also reminded of a song title--"When Answers Aren't Enough, There is Jesus" (Scott Wesley Brown). True, the only answer that really counts in the end is Jesus, but when a spouse, daughter, or parent has died, we usually aren't looking for answers as much as solace. Like I heard in another song, some of us have heard all the answers and even quote the verses to others, but when grief becomes personal, that isn't enough.

There is a time in the book when Kate asks her mother, "Is it going to get better?" Her mother's answer is profoundly accurate. "It's going to get different...I'm referring to the way you're feeling. About losing Kevin. About grief and loss and sadness. It changes...It seems to me that feelings are the most unreliable things."

I couldn't count the number of times that I've heard someone say, "I don't know how people make it if they don't know the Lord" (or words to that effect). I usually nod in agreement. During our times of grief and sorrow, we really can cry out to Jesus and let Him hold us. In a spiritual sense, anyway; there is still a yearning for flesh-and-blood contact, though, like a person's shoulder to cry on. Kate, the main character in Talking to the Dead, is one of those people who doesn't know the Lord. The book does an in-depth study of her paralyzing grief that overtakes her when her husband dies quite suddenly. Most of us have known cases similar enough to this that we feel empathy for this poor widow. To make it worse, her father died suddenly just a short time before the story began, and her mother is still working through her own deep grief. Emptiness. A great aching void. Haunting loneliness. Then she starts hearing Kevin talk to her.

In the book, Kate's mother found help by reading books about coping with grief. Maggie decided to change her life and get busy with lots of stuff. I know in my own case it helped doing things to benefit others, and I got super-involved with ministries at my church. Some people need to talk it all out and cry with a friend or two, but others don't want to talk at all.

Then there is the reaction of other people. So often it seems that they expect everyone to get over it, buck up, and get on with life after a few days. The truth is, even for those who deal with grief in the best ways, life is never going to go on exactly like it did before. Kate is an extreme example of this, perhaps, but as it turns out, she has a lot more baggage than it appears at first glance. She is a true case if someone who needs special assistance to plug in to life again. Unfortunately, she is also an example of what can happen when the helpers she finds are bad news. The good news is that God reaches out to the seeker and the lost, and this very lost young woman 'accidentally' runs into the one person God has chosen to give her the help she needs. It still isn't an instant solution--real life doesn't find resolution in an hour like on television. But with patience and care, the Holy Spirit draws her in. The love of God finally fills the deep void in her soul. Now I know I'm giving away a big part of the story (You probably expected it anyway), but it's important for us to dwell on the power of God's love over everything else. And when people we know are in the depths of grief, we need to embody the love of God as we are in contact with them. Patient, loving, drawing back at times, but ready to lend a shoulder for their tears as needed. I believe, as in any other case, really, it's important to bathe our actions and conversations with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide. One size doesn't fit all.

Although this was more a rambling of my thoughts than a book review, it was triggered by reading Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove. It has been well received by all the readers that I know and appeals to a wide audience. You can read an excerpt here tomorrow.

To learn more about Bonnie Grove and her books, check out her website.

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Laura Davis said...

Cathi, I can see that this book really touched you. It was very insightful into the world of grief.

Robin Lindsay said...

"I don't know how people make it if they don't know the Lord."

That's a question I've often asked as well. I relate to your answers, that when a Christian deals with grief, it takes time, but their relationship with God, and the help of the Holy Spirit, they can make it, but they will change.

Having suffered from severe depression many years ago, I can testify how much of a difference it made that I knew the Lord during that storm.