Twenty years ago, the Challenger space shuttle exploded claiming the lives of the seven crew members. The day after that tragedy, a TV crew was interviewing residents of Concord, NH, home of teacher and crew member Christa McAuliffe. One old timer was asked how the tragedy would affect the residents of Concord. He answered, “We will grieve our loss, but life will go on.” That statement needs to describe us who have loved and lost.
We do grieve our loss; nevertheless, life must go on.
Another response to our losses deals with the present moment. How are we handling the emotion of our loss right now, today? The emotion that accompanies the death of a loved one can be so intense that we do not know how to handle such feelings. Afraid of what might happen if the pain within us comes out, we try to bottle up our emotions and not let them out. We wonder: what happens if I let my emotion out and I begin to cry and I can’t stop crying – if I can’t regain control of my emotions?
The bottom line is that painful emotion is within us and it will come out sometime, somehow, somewhere. If we don’t allow ourselves to grieve with tears over our loved one, our grief may come out in inappropriate and damaging ways such as misplaced anger toward a loved one still with us or as destructive actions toward ourselves. Divorce, excessive drinking or drug use often follows tragic loss.
We need to find positive ways to let the pain within us come out. If not, that pain within will build up like gas under pressure and will eventually explode, with collateral damage to others or to us. If we don’t find healthy and healing ways to let our pain out today, that pain will emerge in unhealthy and destructive ways that can destroy other relationships and result in losing other loved ones as we drive them away in our anger and frustration. But this doesn’t have to happen. And it won’t happen if we allow ourselves to let out our pained emotions. Yesterday’s loss doesn’t have to create more losses today.
At the church where I serve as pastor, we offer a grief support group to help anyone who has lost a loved one to release and deal with the bottled up emotional pain. I encourage you to find such a support group somewhere and get involved with it for your sake and for your family and friends.
The third response to our loss deals with the future. How will our loss change us, redefine us, as a person? One thing is sure: Our loss will change us! The question is: will the change be positive or negative?
Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his best seller When Bad Things Happen to Good People, tells about a Chinese mother whose son dies. She goes to a holy man and asks him for a magic potion to bring her son back to life so she can get beyond her paralyzing grief. The holy man says that for such a potion he needs her to bring him a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow and loss.