In Celebration of Grief

We have had a terrible dry winter and spring in the southwestern desert. Day after day has dawned with clear skies and a relentless sun. The land has grown parched. The pine trees in our yard have turned brown, and the threat of fire looms across the mountains above our town. It has become a season of drought, need, and danger.

When I got the call about Dad, my husband and I went into panic planning mode. In the rush to get to my flight, I forgot for a while that it was Easter Sunday. When I trundled my bag out of the airport in the Carolinas the first Sunday in April to say goodbye, the air was moist, the foliage thick and green. There were flowers everywhere. The lush, early spring in the American south made a sharp contrast to the parched desert home I had left that morning.

This spring has brought a lot of sadness. In addition to losing Dad, many of my students were struggling to cope with very difficult situations, and we have friends dealing with illness. I’m a teacher, and my challenge this spring was to find a way to process grief while maintaining focus and energy. My typical way of dealing with my emotions at work is to put it in a box and close it up. This sorrow was just too great, and spilled over with unstoppable tears.  I paused each day and drew a breath at the threshold of my classroom. How could I lead this group with such a fragile heart?  My tears could not always be controlled. My desert home needed raindrops so badly, and all I had was tears.

I had a random encounter with a cashier at Trader Joe’s. He told me to laugh every day, and cry every day. I said “No problem!” Tears sometimes do belong in a teacher’s work, as ideas provoke painful thoughts, and students’ struggles sometimes become our own.

So, what do I pack for this season of sorrow?

First, I place my gratitude for my grief. It signifies the years we had with Dad: the camping, the hikes, the ski trips, the visits to his home. There was my growth as a daughter, my joy at watching my son accept his grandfather, my husband’s easy relationship with my family. We did not get those years with my Mom, and for that and for all who have suffered the premature loss of a parent, I mourn.

Second, I pack in these tears, for they signify the budding of a grieving heart, as it opens and yearns to honor those whose loss causes us pain.

Also, I fill myself wondrously with the power of memory, this God-gift that keeps alive the soul of family and friendship for each new generation.

Finally, I set down my thanks that I could share my father’s passing with my sister and stepfamily. I did not get this when Mom died, she lost her battle with cancer over two decades ago, just months after I had moved thousands of miles away to take a job. She, typically, did not want to bother me, and I was preoccupied enough that I didn’t sense it was time to go say goodbye in person. For all those, like me, who have experienced the lack of a closing “goodbye”, I am sorry. The trip to say goodbye to my Dad was a precious opportunity to bond with the three strong and beautiful women who continue as my family.

The ancient Greeks had a concept of the proper time, the season, when something must be done. They call it kairos. Spring is the season to plant the seeds, and autumn the season of the harvest.  I wasn’t able to sense the proper time to say goodbye to Mom, but cherish that I had it with Dad. I trust that now it is my season to let healing tears fall.

I want to bring mindfulness to each moment. In the midst of grief, flashes of anger come over me. I mean to say “I trust you, Jesus,” but instead I call out “Why?” A friend has written a grief-prayer that touches me: “Why Lord? Why do we love, and then lose the ones we love?” I ponder the Beatitude: Blessed are those who mourn.

The one thing I am sure of is that my grief is precious. My sorrow brings solace.

In the midst of this drought, I say, let the tears fall, and may rain come likewise to nourish this dry earth.

Claudia teaches at a liberal arts college in the desert of New Mexico. Teaching is her vocation, and she treasures all the students she meets and gets to know. In her free time she loves to read, write, and have coffee dates with her husband. She had an overwhelming conversion experience 5 years ago and is just now learning to tell her faith story