“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
This is definitely a sad post, coming from a place of sadness. But by nature sad is not bad. Just as joy is an integral part of life, so is grief.
We all at some point will experience the pain of loss, the heartbreak of failed relationships, the struggle of low self-esteem. Yet, these things do not define us, no matter how large a piece they play in making us who we are as image-bearers of God.
At its core, grief seems to be a recognition within our soul of the fragmentation of our reality. When a relationship is torn - either by death or something less permanent - our heart feels the ripping of what was meant to be whole.
"It is not good for the man to be alone." - God, Genesis.
We often grieve in different ways... some more healthy than others. C.S. Lewis, the legendary author of the Chronicles of Narnia and a plethora of non-fiction writings journaled his experience with grief following the loss of his wife Joy to cancer. This eventually was published as his heartbreaking expose on the emotions "A Grief Observed" and to this day has helped people of all walks of life navigate the tearing of reality due to the loss of a loved one.
Our hearts as humans were meant to be given to another, so when someone that possesses our heart is lost, we lose a piece of ourselves. We feel for a moment that we might not survive it ourselves... after all, part of my heart is now missing, and I must have my heart to survive.
Lewis felt this all too well. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” We fear pain, we fear loss.. because deep down we don't believe we can survive on our own.
This is definitely a point worth pausing on... we WERE after all, created to be known and to know God and each other. This is a staple of the Christian worldview of humanity. So what happens if we are thrust into a situation in which we find ourselves violently alone?
In David Lowery's poignant film "A Ghost Story," this moving observation is made about our fear of being forgotten. "We build our legacy piece by piece and maybe the whole world will remember you or maybe just a couple of people, but you do what you can to make sure you're still around after you're gone." While it's coming from a different angle (and a different side of the grave), the point still remains that we are very much concerned with being remembered as people.
In the film, Casey Affleck's character (the titular ghost) is forced to watch in silence as his wife mourns his death in isolation. Unable to help, unable to connect, he is forced to watch as time speeds past. He exists in isolation, transfixed on his bride, unable to move on until he lets go.
He cannot experience closure. The pain of separation defines his existence in this ethereal plane.
Through the art of cinema, Lowery is expressing what Lewis wrote so simply... “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Lowery cleverly decides to examine our human fear of loss from another angle - forcing us to gaze into the mirror of our own insecurities.
This fear transcends culture and religion, it is a deep-seeded idea in the heart of every man: I am not meant to be alone, and I am terrified of being forgotten - whether in life or death.
It traps us in life, and it dominates our motivations in what we do. Even in the core of Christianity is a question: Does GOD know YOU? Do YOU know HIM?
Relationship is the core of a holistic healthy reality. So it stands to reason that the antithesis is isolation.
The reason why death stings so greatly is that life is meant to be fulfilling! We are made in the image of a communal God, and when we are neglected that community, the Imago Dei (image of God) we bear is found lacking.
“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?
How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The key to understanding our grief however, is in understanding our humanity. There is no way to cheat death, to live without experiencing loss. Once we heal from one pain, we move on into the next. It is a painful, yet inherent part of life. As David Malham stated in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, "Grief, after all, is the price we pay for love." It is a necessary part of the human experience and there is no choice but to accept it and even lean into it as a chance for us to grow. It is not weakness to experience both joy AND grief. It means we are human.
What then is the point? At times every human feels the weight of grief. We feel in our bones the ache that Lewis himself had at the loss of his wife. We feel the despair of our loss like a ghost waiting for the love that will never come back to him. We know in our hearts that something is broken in this world.
We are all waiting. Because eternity is in our hearts and we know there is something more.
Death can't be the end.
We cannot just accept that life ends on such a melancholy nihilistic note!
“Grief seems to create losses within us that reach beyond our awareness–we feel as if we're missing something that was invisible and unknown to us while we had it, but now painfully gone.” - Brene Brown, Rising Strong
This is why the hope of future restoration and the promises of God are so powerful to us. Revelation 21:5 encapsulates this hope with a simple statement from a reigning God in control of the chaos.
"And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We often miss the real hope of Scripture as being heaven... but it's not. The reason why the "GOOD NEWS" is GOOD is that Jesus will take the tears in our world, the rips in our emotions, the pain we feel.. and he will make it all WHOLE. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Lewis and Lowery both understood that grief is not something to be avoided, but something that is a sign of life. When we allow ourselves to feel deep pain, then we will be able to experience joy in its truest form. What we experience now is temporary.
We are not alone.
So we can let go, and embrace our grief.
"God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart.... Dare to stay with your pain, and trust in God's promise to you." - Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
(A Ghost Story is rated R for brief language and is available on all major streaming platforms and for purchase on blu-ray and dvd)