The Way of Grief

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

He’d just lost his wife, the woman he’d loved for years, the one he’d shared everything with. He described the early stages of his grief this way:

“How could things go on when the world had come to an end? How could things–how could I–go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide? Everything–every object–was pervaded by the void. I could teach my classes smilingly, even to calmly reading a poem about loss…But that first day of teaching after the St. Stephen’s night, when I left the class to go home, I saw the MG, small and somehow forlorn, invaded by that void, and I was barely able to get off campus before the tears came….There were, though, thousands of other things and memories, each of which must be seen once in that piercingly bleak emptiness.”
~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

I read the words and identify with them. I know that void, the blankness of imagining life without, the reality that life will be–now is–without. I walked to classes, turned in assignments, taught my students, carried on with life. To the outside observer, I was fine. People commented on “how well I was taking it.”

I wasn’t taking it well at all. I continued in the routines of day to day life, but every step was now pervaded by the void.

Then as now, I shook myself and said I couldn’t be experiencing what I was. To say that my experience was anything like Vanauken’s is to make light of the depth of his grief. It’s like the pet owner who compares the adoption of his pet to the difficult process his neighbor is going through to adopt a child.

Yes, I had reason to sorrow. But grief? Grief like this?

A woman I know lost her husband of more than a quarter century at about the same time as I experienced my loss. She had reason to grieve. I–I was overreacting, clearly.

I was shamed when I wrote of the difficulties of day to day living–of living through my pain. She commented, identified, encouraged me to trust God amidst it all. How could she be identifying with my grief? She had reason to grieve–much more reason than I. I should be comforting her, not she comforting me.

Yet however small my loss may have been compared to the losses of others, I was grieving in the same way.

The same void. The same questions. The same need to trust God just to make it through the next moment. The same little things that set off fountains of tears. The same pain that can’t be put into words.

Long months have passed, months where it took all my energy to merely cling to Christ. Months where I’ve barely been able to see through the tears, through the void. The sun peeks out from behind the clouds every now and again. I begin to think that my grieving days may be numbered.

Then I read of grief like Vanauken’s and the grief rushes back into my soul. My heart aches as I read of the intimacy he shared with his wife, the years they spent together, the years he lost. My heart aches to think of the memories I don’t have, the time I didn’t share, the stories I can’t tell.

I am crying again, grieving again, feeling my loss with such intensity.

And again, I think, what right have I to grieve? My loss is so very small–Vanauken’s loss, Annette’s loss so great. How can I dare to grieve over so little, so long?

I don’t know, except to say that grief does not know the measures of reason.

“How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide?”

I don’t know, except to say that this is the way of grief.

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Reader Comments (1):

  1. What a beautiful, heartfelt post. And that’s all I can really say.

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