Tricky Grief

depressed woman sitting with hand over face - photo by Liza Summer via Pexels

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.


  1. Gretchen, whenever I read one of your blogs, you put into words what I am unable to do. My mind, heart & soul are awaken to the point that I experience every thought & emotion felt with similar experiences. You are truly gifted. Please continue to share your thoughts, experiences & emotions.
    They are very healing to so many. Blessings!

  2. Thank you for the helpful tools:
    being grateful, honest and open to others. It’s been two weeks since my husband past away from complications due to cancer. I will remember your words of wisdom. I have three daughters who moved to Dallas from New Orleans. Maybe someday we can meet when I move there!
    Gratefully, Althea Guste Wise

  3. Thanks Gretchen. Long live the memory of the life-supporting contributions of the late Wally. May his tribe increase.

  4. Your post really hit home for me. I was so touched by it I forwarded it to my sister and cousin who are also sometimes overwhelmed by tricky grief. We each read about your experience with tears but all of us appreciated your suggestions for dealing with our own tricky grief. Thank you for sharing.

  5. My parents told us that when a deceased loved one comes into our thoughts, we are to pray for them and their intentions.

  6. Gretchen – Thanks for sharing. It’s so true, out of the blue ‘tricky’ ‘sneaky’ grief will pounce, anywhere, at the line in the store, in my car, I do love your ideas, especially imagining God grieving with me, very heartfelt. We just had a memorial for a friend on Saturday who also passed from cancer, so my thoughts are with you in losing someone too. We all received flower seeds so I am sure I will be struck every time I see a flower. God Bless.


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