“I love this song!” I over heard a woman exclaimed as I sat with a hospice patient in a facility. “It reminds me of my couisn,” she told her coworker. “He died at 16 in a car accident. My brother was driving.” Her recollection was heartfelt. Without missing a beat, however, her mood switched. “I can’t listen to it anymore,” she announced in a hurried voice. In an instant she had fled the nurses station and headed down the hall, leaving her co-worker and beloved song behind.
She had been ambushed by grief.
Brutal as it is, that’s how grief works sometimes. Out of nowhere and without notice, memories of our deceased loved ones spring up, snatch our serenity, and leave us stripped and shaken.
I was ambushed once in a grocery store. It had been about 6 months since my father dropped dead at a gym, literally. There was no warning. No signs of illness. Zero chance of survival. His aortic artery ruptured and he was gone.
The shock of his death had worn off months prior and the time of grieving, passed. I was doing well. Or so it seemed until I strolled down the canned food aisle. No sooner had I reached for a damn can of organic beans was I suddenly flooded with sorrow.
I was remembering a conversation my dad and I shared the year before in that very aisle. He was baffled that I would spend twice the amount on an organic product when I could buy a much cheaper, generic brand of beans instead. I couldn’t believe, with all that he had taught me about caring for our planet, that he wouldn’t applaud the extra money spent. The memory was so clear. All I could do was stand there, crying with a can of beans in my hand, ambushed by grief.
“The best way out is always through.” I often call upon these words of Robert Frost when I collide with difficult times on life’s journey. In order to soften grief, we cannot ignore it or run from it. Rather, we must move through it—through the memories of favorite songs and canned beans as we flow with the tears and move with the pain that springs forth.
Processing a death or any kind of loss is on going and sometimes never fully resolved. My sister, whose oldest son, Deniz, died as a toddler, acknowledged that years later the pain from his death lingers on. “The heart that beats,” she told me on what would have been his 17th birthday, “waxes and wanes with grief.”
And so it is. With life, comes loss and with loss, sorrow. Grief, an inevitable part of living, waxes and wanes, and yes, is sure to ambush us now and again.
Psalm 46 (NIV) begins with these two verses: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
When life appears to be giving way and falling apart, when grief rises up out of nowhere, it is scripture like this that lift my spirits and assures me that I do not journey alone. Even in the canned food aisle grieving the death of my father, God was and is my ever-present help.
As your own life unfolds, believe in something greater than yourself. Be grounded in and inspired by your faith (or your spiritual practices or philosophical beliefs). Have a safety net of close friends and/or family with whom you can rely on and confide in. Reach out. Be compassionate, especially with yourself. Show empathy. Embrace change. And, when ambushed by grief, fear not.