“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
When I was a junior in high school, I took an Introduction to Psychology class. Why did I choose this particular elective? I was interested in psychology. Others who had taken it said it was good. I liked the teacher, and it beat taking something like wood shop. (No offense to anyone who loved wood shop. It just wasn’t my thing.)
A class requirement was a book report on one of several books chosen by the teacher. I chose to read and report on the book How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, Harold H. Bloomfield and Peter McWilliams. I’d like to say that I chose this book because of my deep compassion for those who suffer loss. It would be nice to claim that I had some premonition of the vocation I would someday pursue; a vocation that calls me to walk with people who grieve. It would be downright swell to say any of those things and more, but the truth is that the book was short. I was chin deep in love for the first time and schoolwork was not high on my list of priorities, whereas my young man was. So even though I was an avid reader, a book that looked to be a quick read was okay by me.
I soon discovered that the size of the book belied the depth of its content. A unique fusion of psychology, prose and poetry, the authors took the reader not only through the stages of grief but gave voice to the multitude of losses that we all experience. From the “biggies” to the small losses we may not even recognize as occasions for grief – growing older, retiring, moving, etc. I found that I not only read the book, I absorbed it. Yet once the report was done, I put the book on my shelf and didn’t think much about it. Until my relationship with my first love ended, then I read it again.
Over the next several years I would read and reread that book, and it showed. Its dog eared corners were often turned down to mark some particular point or poem. It had gotten wet and the pages swelled and dried. Passages were highlighted. Each loss I experienced drove me to it, poring tearfully over each word, seeking comfort and reassurance from these people who obviously knew exactly what I was feeling and told me over and over again I would survive.
I learned that grief would wash over me in waves, growing stronger then ebbing; a brief respite before it crashed against me once more. I learned that no stage of grief was neatly defined, the lines of one stage blurred with another. I could move from agony to anger and back again several times. Grief observed no rules as far as that was concerned. Yet there are some rules when it comes to grieving. One rule is that when you suffer a loss you will grieve. Not allowing yourself to grieve at the time of a loss doesn’t mean you escape grief. It will catch up with you – one way or another.
I found this out the hard way when I was living in Richmond, Virginia. My mother called me at the office one day to tell me the horrible news that a high school friend had committed suicide. I was devastated beyond words. But before I’d had time to process this friend’s death, I found out that I was getting laid off. One loss replaced another. I didn’t really think about this again until several months later. I was spending a weekend taking care of two-year-old twins. Once I had strapped them into their cribs (I mean gently put them to bed), I sat down to watch the movie Dead Poet’s Society – a film I had seen once before when it first came to theaters. Even though I knew what happened, when the pivotal scene of the young man’s suicide approached I went from calmly sitting on the couch to lying on the floor weeping. Grief.
Somewhere in all of my moves I lost my copy of How to Survive the Loss of a Love. Perhaps I gave it away, thinking that I knew everything I needed to know about grieving. I guess I do know a lot more about it now. I’ve been through it enough I should have gained some wisdom. But a new season of grief is upon me. And I wish more than anything that I could open my book and read each page, finding solace once again in the knowledge that grief, like everything else, doesn’t last forever.