I was reminded recently of how difficult grief is at a synodical convention where two women spoke to me about death.
Lillian had lost her husband two years ago the 18th of June. She struggles with living alone for the first time in her life. She shared with me her pain and frustration, and that there are those who think she should be “over” her grieving process by now. She told me she no longer knows who she is and now goes by Lily. As I stood holding her pain with her for those sacred moments, I thought of my own husband of 32 years alive back home and I wondered, what had I to offer, really? I had an ear and I had a heart.
As I l entered her struggle, I shared Lillian’s resentment for how neatly grief has been packaged in American culture. It has been made into a process with seven stages presumed to be linear, though they often are not, and people are more or less expected to show all those stages in order and follow them. But almost two years later, Lillian wants to wail for losing her husband—she wants to wail loudly until exhaustion, and Lillian has never wailed in her life!
As I held Lillian and shared her suffering, I said a prayer for God’s grace to intervene. She asked me to write something to help her and the other women who have had their lives turned upside down and inside out by the death of a loved one. I told Lily that I would blog about her, and this is that blog.
But my encounter with death did not end with Lillian. Within the hour, my new friend Arlene, my driver for the weekend, shared how she still missed Sarah. She was 31 years old when she died suddenly in the Minneapolis airport some years ago and came up when Arlene shared with me how she knew a pastor at the convention; they both had known and loved Sarah. Arlene told me that Sarah died in the spring and her father passed in the fall that same year. She had struggled so fiercely with losing Sarah that she had been unable to grieve for her father until two years after his death.
Some of you know that sacred spaces and spiritual healing is central to my ministry. As Arlene told me about Sarah, I prayed: Okay, Lord, there are no coincidences, so just what am I to do? This blog is a beginning.
I am humbled by God’s grace and I live a life of gratitude, but I hold with wonder these encounters with death.
I know for certain that both life and death find their way and we ride either or both depending on our season.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice, Women of the ELCA.