In a world of people that are regularly divided into “the glass is half empty” and “the glass is half full” kinds of people, I tend to be one of those people who is inclined to say, “Look, it’s 4 ounces, no matter how you look at it.”
Part of that reaction is professional socialization. Academics are charged with thinking hard about a subject and then producing the evidence for the case that they want to make. (Or that’s the way it is supposed to be, anyway.)
And part of that reaction is a product of my own spiritual journey. I’ve seen too many people hurt by the easy optimism that is served up by happy clappy folk, who (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not) want you to get over your pain, so that they can get over you being in pain.
So, when it comes to the anniversaries of loss – loss of a loved one, loss at work, loss in our homes, loss of dreams – I am pretty wary of easy suggestions. When I think back over my own anniversaries of loss, I’ve found the easy suggestions just make me angry: Angry at the insipid ease with which they are offered, angry at the way that they paper over life’s realities.
So, what I offer hear as some thoughts on navigating those anniversaries spiritually and emotionally, I offer with the advice that, if this doesn’t help you, find another way. No one can “tell” you how to navigate your own grief. Here goes:
One, sit with the loss.
Don’t rush past it or bury it. Feel it. The greatest emotional and spiritual strength available to any of us is forged when we are honest about our losses. Naming the beast is better than trying to tie it down. It will come back. And the spiritual path through loss is the only one that is reliable.
Two, ask yourself, where is the spiritual fortress in the middle of your loss?
For me that fortress is God and confidence in the hope of the Resurrection. I believe in the reality of that Resurrection power and I believe that everything of enduring importance that is lost in this life is restored to us in some way in renewal and restoration that the Resurrection will bring.
I don’t find it helpful to dress up loss as a blessing in disguise or to deny the pain that comes with loss. I also don’t believe in optimism, which is the confidence that circumstances will improve. Sometimes they don’t, but I hope in God, whatever the circumstances.
Three, try to remember the gifts that are the other side of your grief.
This is the hard one for me. It may be hard for you as well. When I encounter an anniversary of loss or one of those reminders that just grab me by the throat in some random moment, my tendency is to get stuck with the loss. That’s not a healthy place for me. On the other hand, I don’t want to lapse into the dishonesty and denial that I’ve already named as a problem.
So, what I try to do in my meditating on those losses and in my prayers about them is to remember the gifts that were attached to the person, place, or experience. I’m not suggesting that you to that in order to deny the loss, but to hold onto both of them as part of a whole.
To love is to risk and eventually experience loss. Both are a part of the often-painful beauty of the world in which we live.