Today as a community we are coming to terms with two very different kinds of losses. On a national level we are marking the 18th Anniversary of September 11th; a painful and complicated day that holds starkly different memories for all of us. And we also are just becoming aware of the loss of Evelyn Fitzgerald, a long time member and staff member at Memorial, often the first face many of us saw when we came here for the first time and a constant source of joy and hope: both because of her infectious smile and because of the many ways we have seen her struggle through and overcome multiple bouts with cancer and brain tumors in her time with us. Her death seems unbelievable in part because of all she has overcome before.
Which makes today a particularly good day to reflect on grief and what ‘Good Grief’ looks like. You see we live in a culture that does not embrace grief. In fact we often shun grief, hide from it, run from it. When someone dies the first thing we are told is to ‘calm down, breathe, don’t make a scene’ so that you can go to the hospital or morgue. It is not uncommon to see a grieving loved one pulled away from the scene of an accident because they are ‘getting in the way.’ We are instructed almost immediately to ‘get it together’, so we can deal with the business of death. Even our public theology often eschews death — ‘It was part of God’s plan’, ‘I guess God needed an angel’, ‘God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.’
We almost say to each other that our grief is an affront to God, a challenge to God and that God knows better.
That friends, is bad grief. And Bad grief leads to all kinds of bad outcomes down the road.
If we don’t allow ourselves to grieve. To slow down. To take time away and process the loss, the hurt, the trauma and the heart ache; we just end up expressing those emotions in other ways.
As a nation that may look like a vengeful war in an entirely different country resulting in more than 4,000 U.S. deaths, 30k+ injured and more than 200,000 Iraqi casualties. In a city it can look like a spiraling murder rate and overdose rate and a hands off police department. In a family it can look like any number of things - violence, separation, estrangement, anger, divorce, hate, hurt.
Grief is holy. Grief is necessary. Grief is Godly.
And the alternative can be hell.
Friends whatever your connection to the events of today, practice some good grief. Take a step back from your daily routine. Remember the joyful moments that Evelyn or others brought you, put words to the feelings you have - maybe even put pen to paper and offer up some words of your own shame, guilt, worry, hurt, or loss. Reach out to someone who you have hurt or who you are just distant from because of your own grief.
There is a reason that our natural impulses during a time of grief are the same as the most basic desires of a child; because grief naturally draws us close to our Father and our Mother, to God in God’s self. And if we take time to indulge the natural pull of God’s love inward, we can begin to grieve well. To love well. And to heal well.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18