Grief and stones (August and Remembering, vol. 3)

A few days or weeks after my mom died, I remember reading a poem.  It was folded up in one of the cards that I (or my family) had received – full of condolences and best wishes, of awkward half-starts and attempts at showing love in the midst of loss and hurt.  This poem talked about how grief was a jagged stone that cut and left scars, and that we carry around with us in our pockets, unable to leave it alone, continually grasping and plucking and fiddling with this thing, cutting ourselves over and over again on the sharp and ragged edges…  and then, one day, in the future, the poem stated that we would pull out the stone and find that the edges had been smoothed off, and while we still carried our grief with us, it would be smooth, and round, and no longer painful.  It would still have weight, and substance – nothing would ever change the fact of the loss, of the trauma, of the grief.  But the promise was that it would one day not hurt so much.

I remember hating that poem.  I thought it was cheesy, misguided, and full of lies.  It hurt in such a deep place, and I couldn’t imagine that hurt ever being soaked up.

Now, 15 years later, while the poem itself still may be cheesy and too sentimental, I am able to see the truth in it.  The stone of grief is present – but there is healing and redemption that has taken place in that time.  The family we have now is not the same family we had then.  And I can be thankful for the good that has come out of this darkness – for Love so strong that it seeks to redeem all things – even a cheesy greeting card poem.


*I was re-reading Lament for a Son recently, as a new friend recently lost her father.  In it, I came across this gem:

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything else to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.”

Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.

But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.

I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected – gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.

Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings – never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence salt.

And later, when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with a quick, thoughtless, “Fine” or “OK,” stop me sometime and ask, “No, I mean really…”

~ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son


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