We Are a Lenten People, Too: A New Way of Doing Grief This Covid-19 Season

Southwest Conference UCC Blog Post by Shea Darian (April 2020)

Year after year on Easter Sunday we joyously proclaim, “We are an Easter people!” But, Easter Sunday 2020 came and went. We find ourselves still wandering through a Lenten desert – not knowing when or how the nightmarish suffering and everyday losses wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic will end. 

Passover prayers echo from our lips as losses mount in every state and nation. We collectively grieve illness and death, economic woes, lack of resources and healthcare, and not being able to live, learn, work, play, or worship as we normally do. Every aspect of culture is full of change that brings loss, and loss that brings grief. 

There is a profound gospel message to be found in our grief this Easter season that requires some real daring to receive. It is this: Our beloved resurrection story does not change the fact that our grief will always be with us. Grief is as much a part of our human story and experience as is the Love of God. 

The healing potency of Easter Sunday that often gets buried in the reverie of joyous celebration is that this holiest of days is set at the intersection of the Lenten and Easter seasons. It is that place in the Christian calendar where sorrow and joy, despair and hope, life and death meet to remind us that God’s love is present with us through it all. The same is true for grief. Although grief is often misunderstood to be synonymous with sorrow, like Easter Sunday, grief is found at the intersection of celebration and suffering. So, as we make our way through the Easter season, we have no choice but to take our grief with us. 

We humans grieve when we lose what we cherish. But despite the fact that grief is born out of all good things in life, we often regard grief as an enemy to be eradicated. I beg you to consider (and invite your loved ones to consider) that grief is not the enemy. In fact, grief is that part of us that serves as a motivator and catalyst for healing – if only we will give grief a chance to work its wonders. 

This wisdom story from India, retold in my forthcoming book, Doing Grief in Real Life: A Soulful Guide to Navigate, Loss, Death & Change, serves as an allegory for the intense challenge grievers face in responding to grief:

A youth wanted to befuddle the elder of the village. The old one was said to be exceedingly wise. But the young challenger imagined that youthful wit could outdo the wisdom of the rickety old sage. So, the youth caught a little bird, carried it to the elder, and hiding it between young hands not yet worn or weary, the youth announced: 

“I have a riddle for you, old one. Here in my hands is a bird. Tell me – is the bird alive, or is it dead?”

The youth delighted in the game. There was no way for the elder to win. If the old one ventured to guess “dead,” an open hand would release the little creature and the bird would fly free. If the elder guessed “alive,” the youth would set a fist and crush the bird at once. 

But the old one looked into the eyes of the young seeker and replied with care, “The answer, my child, is in your hands.”

Such is the puzzle of grieving. Grieving is a life-and-death challenge to which our spirits inquire, however silently or soulfully: “How will we hold our grief?” Will we crush it with silence, denial, a forced sense of victory, or will we open ourselves to grief as a teacher that reminds us how to live fully and freely?  

In our culture, we mistakenly view grief as something that happens to us, like a Covid-19 virus from which we desire to quickly recover. But grief is as common to the human condition as hope or love. Proposing that we “recover from grief,” is like proposing that we recover from being human. There is no such thing as a cure for grief. There is only this: learning to grow our capacities for grieving in ways that inspire healing. Grieving and healing, in fact, are one and the same.

Most of us have only a vague understanding of what grief is and how it affects us. So, let me give you a crash course: There is no universal grieving path. Researchers have proven many times over that stages and phases of grief are a myth from the past. Even so, our foremost grief experts continue to argue among themselves about how grief and grieving ought to be defined. Each one of us (grief experts included) come to grief and grieving from our own unique vantage point.

Through three decades of studying grief and grieving, a question pounded at the door of my psyche: Given our endlessly divergent paths of grieving and healingis there some sort of navigational tool that might prove to be universally relevant and useful to grievers and healers? For years, I doubted that any bona fide answers existed. But, the grief-related suffering I witnessed in my ministry and personal life prompted years of exploration and pondering.

Suddenly, without warning or effort, I caught the thing – my theoretical Model of Adaptive Grieving Dynamics (MAGD). It flashed into my consciousness: a picture of the human grieving process that expands in all directions. It’s a view of grieving in which all of a griever’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual responses to grief are relevant. Not a paint-by-numbers grieving model, but a picture of the grieving process that provides a sense of relational direction – whatever a griever’s unique responses to grief might be.

For those interested in a detailed description of the MAGD and its scientific justification and theoretical underpinnings, see my journal article, “A New Mourning: Synthesizing an Interactive Model of Adaptive Grieving Dynamics” in Illness, Crisis & Loss, volume 22:3, 2014.

Engaging in all four of the MAGD’s grieving dynamics in ways that are meaningful and effective for you – is the essence of adaptive grieving. Together these responses provide needed release, relief, and reprieve from suffering, and help to recreate life and relationships as you adjust to personal, social, and environmental changes brought about by a grief-striking loss. Specific grieving responses (emotions, thinking patterns, behaviors, physiological changes, spiritual perceptions, etc.) fall into one or more of the following categories:

Lamenting: Experiencing and expressing grief-related pain, distress, or disheartenment.

Heartening: Experiencing and expressing what is gratifying, uplifting, or (even, surprisingly) pleasurable within the grieving process. 

Integrating: Perceiving the life-shifting changes brought on by a grief-striking loss and incorporating these changes into everyday life.

Tempering:  “Taking a break” from grief – that is, suppressing grief-related suffering, or avoiding grief-related changes and realities that distress or overwhelm a griever physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually. 

As you become more familiar with these four universally relevant grieving dynamics, take note of your strengths and needs for balance in the grieving process. Learn from the strengths and growing edges of others. Be careful not to set up camp in only one type of grieving response, because just as each type of response can be a path to healing, each has its limitations. As the good book says, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing… a time to search and a time to give up… a time to be silent and a time to speak” (excerpts from Ecclesiastes 3:4-7). And so it is with seeking a balance of lamenting, heartening, tempering, and integrating as we grieve the losses of a lifetime. 

During this Covid-19-Easter season, we write our own grieving biographies as we choose. Our grieving choices will determine whether our grief-related suffering and healing serves to diminish or enhance our relationships with one another, and with everyone and everything the world over. 

Right now, as we tune into the palpable pulse of suffering at this extraordinary time in our world history, may we bravely and humbly open our hands to grief. May we allow this God-given gift of our humanity to work its healing powers. Because, we are an Easter people and we are a Lenten people, too.

Click here to view post on SWCUCC website.

Published by Shea

Shea Darian, M.Div. is a family and grief educator, spiritual care provider, and award-winning author. Shea is the creator of the Model of Adaptive Grieving Dynamics, published in the journal Illness, Crisis & Loss, Vol. 22(3), 2014. Books on family spirituality include Sanctuaries of Childhood: Nurturing a Child's Spiritual Life and Living Passages for the Whole Family: Celebrating Rites of Passage from Birth to Adulthood. Shea's new book, Doing Grief in Real Life: A Soulful Guide to Navigate Loss, Death & Change will be released in 2021. Visit www.sheadarian.com.

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