Question Eight: “Can I grieve with others?”
Introduction to the series
Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss. My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease. He would have been 58 years old in October.
In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love. Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.
Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays. At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.” But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone. I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.
This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I grieve with others?”
I remember as a child that the biggest trick a magician could do was making someone disappear. The trick, of course, involved misdirection and trapdoors. So, there was no real magic to it.
But people can be made to disappear and there is nothing like struggling at life’s ragged edges to make at least some people vanish from our lives. There are a lot of reasons this happens. Some of it can be traced simply to a change of routine. Illness, unemployment, or depression can take us away from familiar places where we encounter co-workers and friends.
But, candidly, a lot of people disappear from our lives when we struggle because our struggles serve as a reminder to others that the same thing has or could happen to them. Our innate desire for self-preservation kicks in and “poof!” We’re gone. The resulting isolation of those we love makes any painful place in life that much harder.
That’s why it’s important to be able to say, “Yes, I can grieve with those I love.” I can stand with them. I can expose myself to their pain. I have the spiritual strength to set my own fears aside in the name of being present to someone I love.
The ability to grieve creates a space for those we love to claim their space in the land of the living — to live their lives in honest recognition that they have suffered a loss without being defined by it. The ability to grieve with others recognizes the loss someone has suffered without layering on the loss that comes with isolation. AND it recognizes that one day we will be in the same position….But the ability to grieve with others is not an endless “vale of tears.” Even those who suffer can’t and shouldn’t endlessly rehearse their loss. Dave and I talked a lot about his illness and about the losses he suffered as a result. But there was also a lot of time for relaxation, jokes, laughter, and even nonsense.
The result was rich with memories — of times spent together, of Dave’s capacity to care for others in the midst of his own illness, and of his courage. And I like to think that his own journey was a bit easier, because I was there for him.
Would you want to grieve alone? Do you really think that you can? Are you sure? What was it that Jesus said? “Do unto others, as you would have them do to you….”
For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:
Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”
Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”
Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”
Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”
Question Five: “Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?”
Question Six: “Can I stop blowing smoke?”
Question Seven: “Can I say something that helps?”
To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:
(Click on the book to order)