Why Must We Grieve? Because We Love Another

Why Must We Grieve? Because We Love Another

“Grief never ends. But it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith: it is the price of love.”
~ Queen Elizabeth I

February is a cruel month. 
At least for me, when it comes to grief, that most human and haunting and heartbreaking and humbling of emotions. Grief: the sad and sharp feeling of losing someone that you love. We all grieve. It is inescapable, like the chill winds of February. 
Seven years ago, on February 14th , my dear friend and mentor Sue, died at 68; two days later on the 16th, my kind and gentle cousin Kathy, died at 49; and then six years later, twelve months ago, my beloved co-worker Jose, died on the 17th.  All succumbed to cancer. All left this world and the life of their loved ones and my life, much too soon.
So, now when I get to this time of the year, I stumble a bit in my grief. Walk through the door at church expecting to see Jose sitting at the front desk with a big smile to greet me, but she is not there. I run into a huge work problem and I still want to pick up the phone to call Sue for help, but, of course, there is no one at the other end to answer. Or I see Kathy’s photo appear on my Facebook timeline and I wonder how her kids are doing, her husband and siblings and Mom too. They miss her so, so much.
That’s the thing about grief. It is at once so personal and intimate. No one can tell me how to grieve nor can I tell you how to grieve. Grief and how we experience it, how we live in and through it; like a fingerprint, it is unique, one of a kind. I grieve by going quiet. I grieve mostly alone, lost in memory and gratitude and sometimes even regret. Did I tell her enough times how much she made my life so good? Did I thank her enough for how she so shaped who I am today?
But grief is also that most shared of human realities. Death never takes a holiday.  We are all created by our infinite God as finite beings, each of us marked with a personal end date, known only by our Creator, and so everyone we love, and me and you too: we will all die one day. That’s not morbid. That is fact.
To want to avoid death and grief—of course we desire this and yet: to grieve means we loved another. To grieve means we are challenged to look at the quality of the one life we live right now. Are we fully alive to this one God given day? Right now? To grieve can push us to live with more courage and more appreciation for the next breath we take, and the next gorgeous sunrise we witness on a cold and clear morning, and the next hug we receive from a tiny toddler or an aging parent or an old friend.  What if that was our last embrace?
Let not this precious life pass me by!
Grief can bring out sloppy and thoughtless theology and faith claims. Take it from me, one who does grief and death and dying for a living. So, no, your loved one did not die because God “needed another angel”. God is not thus so calculating or cruel or mean. And please don’t tell me that my loved one is in “a better place”.  That may be so, but while those seeming words of assurance might comfort you, do not assume they will help me, the bereaved. You see--I still want them to be in this place.
Some advice: when you are called upon to comfort one who mourns, always speak less and listen more. Be a sure and steady presence. Allow for the quiet between two souls. Ask open ended questions. How can I help? What can I do? A hot casserole and a kind card and a bunch of flowers and a phone call to check in are always ever so much better than spiritual platitudes or unthinking religious clichés. 
Yet so too, at its best, faith can help us in the grieving process. Me? I imagine Sue and Kathy and Jose are now somehow, somewhere, beyond the pale, yet still cheering me on in my one life, eternal witnesses to all of the living and to all those whom they loved. I absolutely know that they live on in the lives of those who loved them loved too. People may die. Love never dies. I imagine that each of us has a little piece of infinity within, a spark that will continue on in the universe, forever.
And so, we will all grieve at some time, maybe even right now, this February. My prayer for all who mourn is this: may you know comfort. May you know kindness. May you weep fully. May you laugh at cherished stories. May you walk on, even as you are aware that someone is missing.
To grieve it to be human. To grieve is to remember one unshakable truth. We loved. We were loved. We still love.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, MA.  His newspaper column "Spiritually Speaking," explores the intersection of faith and popular culture​.


John F. Hudson

Rev. John Hudson serves the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Sherborn, Massachusetts. His newspaper column "Spiritually Speaking," explores the intersection of faith and popular culture​.

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