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Is grief forever?

By Marvin Repinski
United Methodist Pastor (retired)

A Bible verse: “What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” — Ecclesiastes 1:3. These thoughts are, in part, tackling a nearly impossible part of most lives. We could word it in a question such as: Why do people — and other living creatures — suffer? Or, “why does a good God (for those who have some belief in God), allow pain — and subsequent grief, to even be a part of life? And think of the surface of the earth. Why the seeming inner rebellion of this round globe? Or, are there responses that one can venture to face suffering, pain, or alleviate pain by utilizing a variety of resources to assuage one’s grief?

Very partial “answers” have been provided through the ages. Partial they are, and sometimes contradictory or even foolish. Also, there are views that attribute causes of grief to the Divine.

In spelling out GRIEF, think of this subject in five words: Growth, Recall, Invitation, Examination, Freedom.

Growth is a word employed by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem, “We Trust.”

“I falter where I firmly trod,

And falling with my weight of cares

Upon the great world’s altar stairs

That slope through darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith and grope,

And gather dust and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all,

And faintly trust the larger hope.”

Wisdom in my search, tells me to place the multitude of questions and solutions that are repeated, and my own living in times of grief, to implore a larger hope.

Recall: The positive gifts, maturity, resilience, and mastery of large chunks of our present living may place a fresh breeze on what may harass us. It’s to be admitted that some pain, broken romance, disappointments, ruthless treatment, goals that go astray, the loss by death of loved persons, and a list as long as the names of persons in attendance at the Super Bowl, crowds our memories. I want to shout, “Halt!”

In writing this essay, I recall pain now locked in fragments from my junior year in high school. Announced from the church pulpit was the information that our youth leader was dead. Bob Hoffas was a soldier in the Army. His body was to be brought back to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, from Korea for a church funeral and burial. This event, now forever with me, lives presently with a healed grief. It was the first time that death was real for me.

Invitation: Today’s world on several continents has cauldrons of inhumanities, fire, flood, political oppression, and lack of the most basic needs for survival. Add the remorse of some families, of homelessness, a lack of just political systems, and humane hugs and security.

In his book “Biblical Wisdom” for Daily Living, Peter J. Gomes has wet his computer with tears. I am certain his heart is crushed — grief abundant — to write, “The only thing that stands whole and full and complete in the middle of ambiguity and beyond tragedy — is God’s love.” Might there not be an invitation to be supportive?

It may seem strange or irrational to some, a fairy tale or superstition. But Gomes invites us, as Jesus Christ was broken and suffered, to enter into the Savior’s body and enter into the sorrows of others. Is there a particular grief for the fans and players, at least, in losing a national playoff sports event? Some would say “Yes.” But see a larger picture even in the loss of a football game; the ending of the game may see the Clemson players in hugs with the other team. Is it that the grief of losing is absorbed a bit with the embrace of the winners?

Examination: Grief is a reality. Ask me, ask those in attendance of a grief support group that has been meeting at the Mower County Senior Center. What my nearly 50 years of pastoral ministry, counseling, and teaching have taught me, is that there are persons who seem to be prone to grief. Their lives have been like a box, a corral that has for almost a lifetime, been harboring a grieving over numerous events, hurts, disapproval, and loss. I, at times, stay on the sidelines of these situations. It may be that professional assistance is needed long-term to focus on a goal: “I want relief. I wish to be in better shape. I pray for emotional stability that may bring health.”

To achieve a lifetime of harmony, a balance of emotions, an ability to live, lacking the pain that makes one immobile, is a lifelong pursuit. It is my aim with myself and the relationships that are the web of my life.

Personal examination is not the teacher telling you, showing you, helping you to gain insights that bring healing. In his book “The Second Mountain,” David Brooks (for me, a man of wisdom), is, I note, the focus of his writing and he is speaking of himself. He informs the reader of what was once called “self-help” literature and gives examples of the bereavement, assistance of others, the “digging deep” into his own history and needs to grant a reader a tower of strength.

To refuse opportunities to improve our journey is just plain foolish, crippling, and it leads to a kind of abandonment of hope, stability, and finally love. Love, that awesome word when lacking is the pathway to a frown, a dry mouth, more illness that is ordinary, and sometimes they are people who tell us to “stay away from me!” Locked in solitude, this might be a choice out of embarrassment.

Sustained grieving often gets mingled with blaming the doctor, our parents, our genes, or our siblings. Healing that is available, if refused, may turn regrets into hate and the poison of hate may finally end with “I no longer wish to live —- find me a high bridge.” My ministry in various churches, a few hundred nursing homes, correctional facilities, care centers, hospitals, and homes of the disabled, have brought me head to head with persons who have suicidal thoughts. Am I being too real, to pulling back the blankets of pain and the charades that say, “I’m OK, but down deep, my insides and my head are a cage of riots.”

Freedom: I’m tempted to say for most of us, we don’t have it too bad! In the past year, we inhabit thoughts of others: the Middle East, our present political situation — other nations too — the thousands of burned out homes and businesses, and Pope Francis facing a push against his proposal of a non-celibate clergy. Daily, we are informed of worldwide protests and conflict like the countries to name just a few: India, Israel, Bangladesh and Hong Kong — and your child kicks the door because you won’t buy him some electronic gadget. Think instead of beautiful stuff like the Apple Lane Child Care Center.

To define a person who exhibits a free spirit, a personality not trampled by the pesky inconveniences, to be a part of a group at work that exercises an openness, an appreciation, and a basket of thank you’s, is a healing delight that keeps away grief. Or, it adds to the mending process. Teachers in our public and private schools in the greater Austin area are the examples of free spirits with discipline and respect for their students. They may observe “signs” of grief and appropriately respond.

Intrusion into the gray matter of the emotions of some persons may gain a gulp or to reach for the bottle. But, hang on —- prayers, faith, worship, and grace are about a different center; a focus by which many persons are sustained. No “big answers” may be available in God-talk, but that kind of talk is a pointer. Is there a spiritual “agency” that may speak to heart, mind, and emotions and say: “You are a needed, important, and a good person.” Jesus speaks of the wisdom of not building one’s house on the sand. Look it up: Bible, Gospel of Luke, chapter 6, verses 46-49.

This essay is only the beginning of some thoughts and feelings from at least a partially healed, wounded person. Is it true? “The darker the sky, the brighter the stars!”