“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.”
— Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)
I went to visit with a 91-year-old lady in a palliative care wing of a hostel for the elderly recently. When I reported to reception, an administration staff member, Morag, greeted me and, in a second, the colour drained from her face. “Mrs. Jones passed away earlier this hour,” she said, bringing me the news and monitoring my reaction at the same time. (I had called by telephone a few days earlier, so we were mutually aware that I was now literally “too late.”)
I was granted access to Mrs. Jones’s room, so I could pray with the body and thank God for Mrs. Jones’s life. I prayed also for the family; the only members of which I knew had to come from interstate. I was grateful I could pray. Afterwards, as I drove back to the church, I thought about her life, her probable exposure to the Depression, World War II, and the fact that, without much doubt, she would have lost family and friends to that six-year conflict, and endured the post-war rationing period.
Even though I had never met Mrs. Jones before, I realised God was allowing me to grieve her loss, because I was thankful for her life and allowed God to spread within my mind some vision for what Mrs. Jones’s life may probably have become.
There are two separate functions within recovery from loss—grief and gratitude.
For those who grieve, they vacillate in their loss from grief to gratitude, and back and forth again—if they are in touch with God, for God allows each of us a brief respite, where we journey with him in the truth of our loss, but with shreds of thankfulness in our hearts.
Grief and gratitude can coexist; they often do.
Those who grieve may be confused by these overwhelming emotions and stability of mind and heart may seem a distant objective. Still, through the stormy seas of the present season we sail, in a little boat called “Intrepid,” and though we are tossed and turned as if in a washing machine, we do come out washed on the other side.
Allowing Both States – Grief and Gratitude
Allowing both states of grief and gratitude to come and go as they wish is the maturity of grace over us.
We do need encouragement, and through both there is encouragement.
In grief we are encouraged that we are doing the work required of us in forging the new identity. Though it is excruciating, there is a great deal of growth we are embracing in sitting with, and allowing, our grief.
In gratitude, these moments of respite, we learn to draw on the comfort of God, as we realise how special it is to have these memories; how special it was to have had these experiences.
In loss, both grief and gratitude come and go as if through a swinging door. Such instability may leave us confused, even overwhelmed. But God’s grace can help us as we allow grief and gratitude their ‘visiting’ times. There is a reliable semblance of peace through God’s grace in our grief.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Postscript: Mrs. Jones’s real name has been kept private.