Life is full of change, we all know. We seek it, look forward to it, plan for it, dread it, and try to prevent it. We need to be able to “deal with” change to live fully in a place of such wonder and loss, love and death, desire and discouragement. For every change, a difference occurs. With the difference comes a loss of what was beforehand, even if the loss is a welcomed relief like a cast being removed. When the cast is removed, we still have to face atrophy, need to work at recovery, and the fact that we needed a cast in the first place. We still wish the bone had not been broken.
That which we can thank God about is still no escape from life’s realities. For every change, an ending; for every ending, a loss; for every loss, a death; for every death, a grief. We have been created to live fully in the midst of change. To do so, we must face our need and our ability to grieve.
Grieving well sets us free to process change, to keep up with life, not recoil from life. Grief lets us come to acceptance, the courage to keep on living and loving in the face of inevitable change. It brings us to hoping again after a loss; risking again after a disappointment; reaching again after a discouragement; attaching again after a death of any kind; and loving again while knowing that pain will follow, all of which will put us in a position, again, of change. Such is life this side of heaven.
“You're on Earth. There's no cure for that,” the author, Samuel Beckett said. Grief is a painful gift, yet gift it is. It lets us live well in a place of pain, even the pain of nightfall after a “perfect day” or childhood itself coming to an inevitable close.
I remember when our youngest son left home for college—a great opportunity to grow, wonderful school, ready to go. Sonya and I could move into our next phase of living in a new world, one we had not lived in together for twenty years. We had good plans, and still wanted to be with each other. The first Monday afternoon after he left for school, I came home from work and called Sonya as I pulled into our driveway. I told her I was headed towards our backyard to sit on some steps that overlook an open field before a tree line a hundred yards away. I remember how dry and brown the grass on the field had turned as summer ended, the sun still hot, the sky bright blue.
Sonya said she would meet me down there, which was great. When she got to the steps and sat down, I looked at her and we smiled. Then, I said, “I miss him so much,” and when I did, we both burst into tears, and leaned on each other, crying, and laughing, and sweating in the heat of a late September afternoon. He had been gone less than 48 hours!
Even amidst such goodness, my heart carried grief, which I had historically been a master at avoiding, denying, and minimizing. Even though I said to Sonya how silly I felt to be crying over something so good, a real truth was that a personal era was ending. It would either be closed, or it would become part of the fabric of our lives, another square in the quilt that makes up a lifetime of living—loss and gratitude, grief and acceptance, remorse and healing. Because of grief permitted, we came to memory. Instead of simply closing a door to avoid the full impact of love, care, attachment, regret, remorse, valuing, and loss, we have the memory of having been alive with all of its realities. We cried about that reality.