Recently, the magazine I own and edit got a hate letter that was so full of venom and hostility, it gave me shivers. The ultra-religious lady who wrote it is young and passionate about her beliefs. She was quite critical of those who express their grief pain, because she doesn't believe pain is necessary in grief. She evidently thinks that if we would just trust God, we would not be suffering. She is not bereaved, and it would appear that life has not yet delivered to her the kind of agony that so many of us have experienced. However, nothing is wasted if we can learn something from it, and the writer of this letter has opened my eyes to a truth I would like to explore with you, my friends.
It occurred to me that her passionate indignation may come from a place of brittleness in her soul. She seems rigid, judgmental and apparently without tenderness or mercy, and she is positive she is right. I can remember a time in my life when I was almost as sure of everything as she is now, but I hope my approach was a little softer than hers! In the passion of youth and inexperience, it is easy to be pretty cocky about convictions.
However, I can look back with deep appreciation to God for the "different me" that my life experiences have produced. My heart is a lot softer now, and my tolerance is bigger-more stretched and expanded. Now, it's easier for me to forgive, and my judgments are much gentler. I like me a lot better now than I did before I was tried and tested in the furnace of grief. But getting from "there" to "here" has been an excruciatingly painful journey. I have been tenderized!
When we tenderize meat, it can take quite a beating. We break down its fiber and completely change its original form. Sometimes we even put it through a machine that flattens it out, makes it broader and wider (and less dense) and gives it a waffle-like appearance. But because of the breaking down of its tissue, and the rearranging of its cellular structure, it is more delicious and easier to swallow. It can nurture in a much more pleasant way!
Grief is a great tenderizer. Emotionally and psychologically, grief has beaten us around and squeezed us between rollers with merciless spikes, but we can come through on the other side with tenderized understanding, compassion and wisdom.
In the scriptures of the Old Testament, wine was symbolic of joy and cleansing. Used appropriately, it made people feel good and it literally was used in the cleansing of wounds. Oil in scripture was symbolic of healing. It, too, was often used to help heal wounds-in addition to its role in both cooking and lighting. These two substances, wine and oil, were used to bring into the lives of the people joy, healing, light and hope.
But before they could have oil or wine, there had to be a process that crushed the grapes and the olives to produce the new, changed forms. Sometimes one thing has to appear to be destroyed in order to bring about something different that is even more useful and nurturing.
This can be a hard and painful lesson for us. Most of us would have happily settled for olives and grapes and thicker, tougher meat. We don't want to grow because of pain and pressure. Given a choice, I know that I wouldn't have chosen the path of suffering, and I would have stayed in my comfortable rut of smug wisdom.
But since none of us had any real choice, we can take some comfort in knowing that our tenderizing process has been enriching to humanity. We have primarily learned to seek with more honesty, to cut through the peripheral, to serve rather than be served, to care rather than strive to be cared for, to give instead of receiving, and to love instead of castigating.
I guess I'd rather live out the time I have left hoping that just in case my daughter who is on the "other side" can see me now, she can nudge the kid next to her and say proudly, "That's my mom!"
Good Grief Resources (http://www.goodgriefresources.com) was conceived and founded by Andrea Gambill whose 17-year-old daughter died in 1976. Almost thirty years of experience in leading grief support gropus, writing, editing, and founding a national grief-support magazine has provided valuable insights into the unique needs of the bereaved and their caregivers and wide access to many excellent resources. The primary goal of Good Grief Resources is to connect the bereaved and their caregivers with as many bereavement support resources as possible in one, efficient and easy-to-use website directory.