Grief is funny sometimes. Years after my mother died, I broke down in tears at the grocery store when I got to the salad dressing aisle and saw the Wishbone Italian dressing on the shelf. My dear mother used to toss the communal salad bowl with copious amounts of the dressing. Then, in true hillbilly form, we each proceeded to put another dressing of our choice on top of our servings. Believe me, I had a field day at the salad bar when I got to college. This is all to say that my grief came pouring out like that salad dressing, but it happened at a grocery store. With me, it doesn’t matter if I’m at home, driving the car, or grocery shopping. Grief just hits me sometimes all at once, and sometimes unexpectedly.
I was a daddy’s girl, so when my father died when I was 41 years old, it hit me hard. I was with my siblings and my mom, so I had tried to hold it together when he was hospitalized and then when we finally got to the end. But when I walked into the funeral home, I completely lost it. I remember my cousin coming up to me and telling me that my dad wouldn’t want me to “cry like that.” I’m pretty sure I came back with something brilliant like “I don’t give a crap.”
Grief is hard. Losing people we love is hard. Watching the news fills me with plenty of grief. Guns. Wars. Hatred. Everyone reacts in their own way to global and personal grief, but it all takes a toll. There’s a Psalm that comes to mind whenever I get so far gone that I start to believe there’s no end to the grief we go through, and this is knowing there are millions of people who have unspeakable reasons to grieve that I can’t even imagine.
I’m not a Bible quoter by any means, but every once in a while I read something that sticks with me and this morning it was this one: Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those whose spirit is crushed.” It’s one of the reasons I turn to God first whenever I am grieving, or whenever I’m feeling pulled apart or struggling with anything. And then I think about how Jesus suffered when he was alive and the way he died. I think about his poor mother and all of his friends and disciples and what they must’ve gone through. His story ends with resurrection though, and his assurances that he is indeed still with us, even though it isn’t in physical form.
I know there are people who think relying on God is a weakness, or even an ignorant concept. But that’s OK, they can think whatever they like, because I know those words comfort me and I know that spending time, either quietly or in prayer, talking through these things with someone I cannot see, makes me feel heard and better.
There’s no protecting ourselves from the grief that lies ahead or to take away the grief we’ve already experienced. All we can do is brace our hearts every day by working on whatever practice it is that grounds us — prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, our families and friends, whatever settles us and feels like love. It’s that love we feel when we slow down and really look around ourselves and see what is good in the world. The “good” need not be complicated. It could be a conversation you had with one of our children. The 15 minutes you carve out to sit in silence. A phone call to your brother or sister. All of those things are precious and only require that we take a moment to recognize their worth and how they make our lives better. And they’re free.
I don’t think there’s a key to grieving properly; even though there are books and groups that help, I still feel like we each have our own way of experiencing loss and we’ll have different ways of getting through it. Remembering we have each other is one way to feel better about it, and whatever you go through you know there’s likely someone else somewhere else who has faced the same thing.
In the vein of talking about grief, the Hebrew Center is offering an adult education class on Loss, Grief, and Transformation with insights from modern literature and Jewish tradition. Rabbi Caryn Broitman and Myra Stark will lead the group. The class was conceived before the war began, and is focused on personal loss, Rabbi Broitman wrote to me in an email. It takes place Sunday mornings from 10 to 11:30 am on Nov. 12 and 19, and December 3 and 10. It’s a hybrid in-person and online event, and you can register and get more information by calling the Hebrew Center at 508-693-0745. You’ll be given a link with the syllabus.
We all have grief in common, doesn’t matter what our beliefs are, grief catches up with all of us eventually. But we do have some powerful tools to help us through it.