I’m grateful to have Jonalyn Fincher here today talking about a very important subject, one that I think we all need to consider. To live an uncaged life, we must grieve well. She is a philosopher, wife and mother who has grieved the death of close family members and life long dreams. She and her husband Dale lead Soulation, a non-profit equipping Christians to be more fully human.
I’m delighted that Mary has given me a chance to talk about life uncaged. With the stories from #YesAllWomen, we know that suffering still exists and continues to remain unheard.
If we don’t want our trials from our past to define us, we cannot simply stuff them down, or ignore them and expect to fly away fancy free. We are chained down unless we dare to face the pain. And facing pain always involves grief.
Last year my friend, Aubrie Hills, and I decided to write a short book on how to grieve well. We wanted to include our own stories of facing pain, the work Aubrie has done in hospice and thanatology (fancy speak for helping people die with dignity), and honest comfort. I’m pleased to present to you our finished work, Invitation to Tears: A Guide To Grieving Well.
The epidemic of rushed and poor grievers is growing in America. Have you noticed, grief is one of the hardest things for Americans to do. And yet, grief can be more like a journey and less like a monsoon. We can even grieve skillfully.
Grieving isn’t like the skill of riding a bike; it’s more like the skill of sailing. Skilled sailors know what to do when the skies turn slate, when the wind stings their cheeks. But even the most seasoned sailor knows it is impossible to cut the same path through the ocean twice. The paths through the seas, and our paths through grief change. In this way, we cannot become so good at grief that the process becomes easy. Every line we take through the sea of grief is both rewarding and painful. We may recognize some harbors and currents, the same stars and blue sky, but our route cannot be repeated.
And grief cannot be rushed. Let me tell you a story about four vital tasks of grief, tasks we do not race through in one set order, tasks that we must visit again and again to grieve well.
1 – Accept the reality of the loss
2 – Process the pain of grief
3 – Adjust to a world without
4 – Reinvest to embark on a new life
When I lost my mother-in-law, Lois Ann, attending her wake helped me accept this loss. But, it took nearly a year before I and my husband had the energy to trek across the country and wade through Lois’ belongings.
Being in Lois’s home without her active presence forced me to begin processing the pain. The process continued when we drove many of Lois’ belongings 3,000 miles home to Los Angeles.
These “linking objects” were very precious in the years after her death. My husband and I wanted to prize the things Lois prized. To break a figurine or scratch a table was an affront to Lois and to her memory. When my son was born six years later, I felt I needed to further adjust to Lois’ absence. Lois would never know her grandson.
When we built our first home, we began to sort through and give away many of Lois’ belongings. We found we could honor her by refusing to have a possessive-driven memory of her life. We now focus on three treasured items: an heirloom rocking chair, Lois’ watercolors, and her letters to us. We began task four, reinvesting emotional energy, but it took nine years to reach that point.
When Aubrie was fourteen years old, her grandparents died within several months of each other. Aubrie and her father took on the excruciating task of combing through their belongings. She could not accept their absence until she processed that their lives had been reduced to piles: clothing to give or throw away, untouched bath products, and kitchen items. The piles of newspaper clippings affected Aubrie most viscerally, simply because they were so meaningless to her. Aubrie kept all the clippings. Wouldn’t tossing them away into the garage be tossing away pieces of meaning for her grandparents? Adjusting was difficult. Every piece was a memory inside Aubrie. Without these things, would she forget who they were, who she was?
Perhaps you’ve felt the same, to leave a bedroom untouched, mail unopened on the counter, empty chairs at the table, diaries left unopened, yearbooks dusty and untouched. Processing often happens by bringing back the sights, words, and smells of the past.
Many years later, Aubrie can see that holding onto newspaper clippings temporarily helped her process the pain of no longer having her grandparents. The newspapers helped her recount their stories even to herself. But these clippings were not something she held on to forever.
Instead, she decided to keep only three, laminating them. Today, she reinvests them as bookmarks for her favorite books. Every time she sees them, she can pause and remember. Without carrying the weight of those boxes of clippings, Aubrie was freed up to see their simple beauty, chosen with purpose by someone she loves.
Invitation to Tears offers a place to practice these tasks of grief. We’ve added compass checkpoints at the end of each chapter, to notice where you are, to listen to music, read poetry, watch films and read Scripture.
An excerpt from Compass Checkpoint 4
Listen to “Hush Little Heart” by Daena Jay
• So much of any loss experience leaves us feeling prematurely pruned. This song captures the tension between knowing life has changed and then speaking the truth of that change to our own hearts. Lyrics begin with, “Birds fly away when the weather changes, why can’t we do the same?”
• Who has given you freedom to grieve in your unique way? Write down their name and what they did to free you.
For more, purchase your copy of Invitation to Tears: A Guide to Grieving Well and join Jonalyn Fincher in her read-along this August. More information about the read-along here.