Let sorrow do its work.Elizabeth Prentiss, “More Love to Thee”
Since Rob died, a number of people have told me, “He would want you to keep living.” I always appreciate that encouragement. It gets at the heart of what loss can do in your life, if you allow it. Honestly, after a year of grief, I have realized that’s a big “IF.” It is a hard, oftentimes painful, decision to chase resilience and growth after loss. Sometimes I’m so exhausted by grief I don’t even want to try. Some days, grief weighs me down so much that I’d rather dig in my heels and tighten my fists — let sorrow crust over the already hardened places in my life instead of breaking them apart.
Post-loss growth doesn’t mean sunshine and rainbows in the face of gut-wrenching pain. The only way to grow through grief is to feel the full weight of its pain. You can’t pretend it away or push it down and expect to flourish again. Post-loss growth simply means that we commit ourselves to the vision that the pain won’t be wasted. We choose to allow our grief to make us better not bitter.
If we allow it, the death of our loved one can become the catalyst that begins a chain reaction of good — relationships repaired, purpose pursued, learning gained, perspective reoriented. I’m not talking here about making lemonade out of lemons or looking for the silver lining in clouds. I’m staunchly against romanticizing grief. Instead, this is the simple truth: grief always offers us a choice of how we will respond. Turning toward good in the midst of grief is hard, especially when there is residual hurt. I know. I live it. But I believe it’s necessary. In fact, I think our lives depend on it. Here’s why.
Healing Our Hearts
Recently, a dear friend’s husband underwent a significant heart surgery. Literally his heart was broken, and it needed to be fixed. Pronto. When I talked to my friend after the surgery was complete, I was shocked. Just four days after her husband’s heart endured massive invasion, his medical team had him out of bed and walking around in the hospital room. I was aghast. How could someone who’d endured so much be expected to start moving? What about rest?
My friend explained that movement after her husband’s surgery wasn’t just preferred, it was necessary for the health of his heart. Even with its newly installed parts, his heart actually couldn’t work right again unless his body started teaching it how. To really live again, he had to get up and start walking. Sure, rest was vital and required; but so was movement. Choosing to move instead of stay still was his ticket to healing.
The same is true in grief. Regardless of how we respond to grief, we are changed by it. Why allow ourselves to be hardened, compounding our pain? Why not use such a sorrowful experience to allow new movement in our lives, to learn and grow? As we move forward with our loss, our broken hearts will find new strength. We can become better people for the sorrow that has shadowed our paths. We can allow our suffering to draw us closer to others, to remake us more into the image of Christ. Grief may always be our companion, but we can have a fruitful relationship with our suffering.
When I think of Rob, I know he’d want me to allow grief to make me better not bitter. He’d want to see my old familiar gripes disintegrate into new wisdom and perspective in the face of his death. He’d want to see me work hard at relationships instead of allow old unhealthy patterns persist. He’d want to see my heart begin to work again as I moved toward living more like Jesus. He’d want me to truly live.
Below you’ll find a list of “He’d want me to’s” that encourage us to pursue growth and life in the face of death. If it’s helpful, put your loved one’s name into the sentences, and read them aloud. He (or she) would want you to live.
He would want me to become tender, not harden.
He would want me to learn compassion.
He would want me to bury the hatchet.
He would want me to reassess my priorities.
He would want me to forgive.
He would want me to make good use of time.
He would want me to say “I love you” more often.
He would want me to gain perspective.
He would want me to carry, not bury, my pain.
He would want me to try new things.
He would want me to cry.
He would want me to laugh.
He would want me to do the things that really matter.
He would want me to invest in relationships.
He would want me to look to the future with hope.
He would want me to pay attention.
He would want me to find joy.
He would want me to become more like Jesus.
He would want me to live.
Do any of these resonate with you? What “He would want me to’s” do you have? Feel free to share them in the comments below or send me your thoughts. Let’s teach our hearts to work again as we move toward growth in the face of painful loss.