A friend of mine once told me that grief is tricky. It envelops us in emotion when we expect it, like on birthdays and anniversaries. But it also tends to sneak up when we least expect it, like on a random Tuesday afternoon.
At least, that’s when it snuck up on me, on a Tuesday afternoon while I was sitting at my computer typing an e-mail. I was finishing up an enthusiastic response to someone about a new opportunity, and the thought popped into my head: “I should definitely call Wally on the way home to tell him about this. He’d really love to hear it.”
It took a couple minutes longer than it should for me to remember that I couldn’t call him after all. He had passed away just a few weeks before from complications of cancer.
I was so struck by that moment. For a few minutes, it was like my friend had never died. Then I suddenly remembered, and that tricky grief flooded in and took my breath away.
What do we do when grief pops up unexpectedly and leaves us breathless? Here’s what I did:
- I paused in gratitude. I considered why that e-mail in particular had drawn me to want to talk to my friend, and I thanked God for all the conversations Wally and I had about similar things in the past.
- I told God exactly what I was feeling. In a moment of raw honesty, I told God how much I missed my friend and how angry I was that he was gone. I didn’t try to cover up or qualify or push away what I was feeling.
- I imagined God grieving with me. I reminded myself that when Lazarus died, Jesus wept, and it was probably not the last time Jesus wept for or with one of us.
- I shared the story with a friend. I realized that I was not the only one who missed Wally, and so I reached out to a friend and let her know how the moment had struck me.
What helps every time grief unexpectedly hits is that I have a large toolbox inside of me filled with Ignatian tools like looking for gratitude, having an honest relationship with the God that suffers with me, and finding good companions for the journey.
I owe that toolbox in part to Wally. He was one of the many Jesuits over the years that have helped me fill it. May he rest in peace.
Photo by Liza Summer via Pexels.