When I hear the phrase “Good Grief”, I’m reminded of Charlie Brown’s adage that described his daily personal frustrations. Using good with grief seems disingenuous for those of us who are in mourning. As I struggle almost daily with the flashpoint of tears, the sentiment of good has little comfort. But how do we become well again?
I’ve been on this quest for answers since my only brother died suddenly a few months ago. I shouldn’t be so selfish in thinking I’m the only one experiencing such pain. This heartache train is a journey with lots of passengers who have lost loved ones, are barely surviving from catastrophic natural tragedies or are mourning the relentless onslaught of negative news on a global scale. There seems to be plenty of pain to go around. Author Tim Jackson said, “Grief is a journey that sooner or later we all must take. It’s how we take the journey that makes all the difference”.
Like countless mourners or depressed souls around the world, I keep asking why and why now? I posed this difficult question to a local Amish Bishop. He surmised, “At times like this we often wonder why. The days pass in a blur and then we need to get on with life. I have found that peace lieth not in understanding why but in quiet submission to God’s divine will and realizing that we see but in part, and God has a much greater perspective. If we rest in his will, we can be assured that “’All things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ ~ Romans 8:28”
“I think we have to admit there are many things we can’t comprehend and the only way to find peace is to humbly submit to God’s infinite wisdom,” he continued. “’Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. The fiery trials we go through make us for better or worse. The same boiling water that hardens the egg softens the potato.’ ~ Song of Solomon 8:6”
I’m trying to be the strong one for my family and exude belief, faith and hope but grieving is hard work, and it takes a “village” to help me navigate my emotions into the delicate holiday season. I find, like with farming, diversity helps—even in mourning. My coping mechanisms start with my green and white wristband in memorial to my guardian angel, 7 year old Daniel Barden and continues on with love from my dear wife, children and family. I have turned to close friends, clergy, grief counselors, music and my own brother’s awesome passion to relieve the immense pain of loss.
Hospice’s Bereavement Counselor, Linda Clark told a group of us mourners that “grief is amplified” during the holidays and that “grief is a necessity and a privilege”. “It’s a myth that you should feel joyful all the time”. She suggested these tips for coping with the hefty bag of feelings during the festive season: “Have a plan because you can’t hide from the season, adjust your expectations, set realistic goals for yourself, find ways to remember, live in the moment, ask for help, find someone you can talk to any hour of the day and see the holiday through a child’s eye.”
Hospice’s Chaplin, Jill Farnham, delivered a prayer that contained this poignant passage: “At times our problems and longings cover us with a darkness that seems as if it will never end no matter what the season is. Help us Lord to remember that your love is stronger than any burden we may carry this holiday season. Renew our hope as we remember our loved ones this holiday season. Be ever present with us as we move into the future, not trying to hold onto the past, but open to your healing love and transforming mercies. Sustain us with the promise that love is not defeated…not by illness, not by trouble, not even by death itself. Let us not forget that at this moment we are being renewed and are being sustained this holiday season by your love, grace and hope; Amen”.
The diversity of “mourning tools” suits me, as a faithful farmer who likes tools. I am coming to terms with the “outta sequence of deaths”. I have found a renewed sense of empathy for my fellow men, women and planet through this grieving process even though I can’t understand it fully. It seems this anguishing, tearful journey has heightened my awareness of symbols. I was told this might happen as your heart clings for a sign from loved ones that they are present with God.
Albeit potentially construed as weird, I’ll share my signage while you secretly roll your eyes. The day of my Brother Scott’s funeral, I literally came within a few feet of a large buck while walking through his quiet savannah of black walnut trees. As we locked eyes, he allowed me to cry uncontrollably for 10 minutes without moving. I believe I saw my brother’s spirit comforting me that day. And on a recent kayak trip with my wife, sister-in-law and nephew recounting memories, we were besieged with Dragonflies (Native American culture honors the Dragonfly as a symbol of renewal after a time of great hardship.)
Perhaps the most indelible sign of hope, faith and resiliency that comforts me today comes from my dear neighbor and farmer, Lawrence Gilley, who lost his beloved wife, Carol, last year in the midst of cultivating vegetables, their pastures, a herd of Milking Devons and a loving family. Being a naturalist at heart, Lawrence presented me with seeds from his honey locust trees. This gift, whether he knows it or not, is a symbol we all need in our time of reflection, for seeds provide hope, seeds honor legacies, seeds rejuvenate and from a seed—-begets life.
It’s what we need to know. That life goes on, whether on earth or in the heavens. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Matthew 5:4