At one time, a little boy in a yellow and black squiggly striped shirt was famous for frequently lamenting “Good Grief!” to express his dismay at his situation. No matter how amusing the scenario was for Charlie Brown to resort to his most memorable catchphrase, I always thought that the words themselves never really made much sense. Can there really be such a thing as good grief? Is there actually some variety of that horrible feeling that could be considered positive? It is rather a dark thought to be having while reading a comic strip about a little boy with a cute dog and blonde bird, but I’ve always had a bit of a morose streak in me. There are times when these kinds of random thoughts feel more pertinent to share than at others, and I have felt recently more compelled to gather a few together into some sort of a bundle that might make sense to someone.

There is no shortage of unhappy detours and rockslides for us to endure on the roughly hewn mountain trail of life, but the intense despair and emptiness of grief never seems like a path that anyone truly chooses to take and never feels anywhere close to good. When someone is assailed by the emotions and emptiness of a devastating loss, it is difficult to articulate comfort or support in any meaningful way. We stammer condolence, but words alone cannot express the depths of sympathy required to ease the pain. We reach out to hug or hold, but arms cannot replace the presence or protection that was taken away. We see the loss, we share in the loss, but no one can repair it. We feel truly helpless, but we still must assist somehow, so we try. A card, a flower, a plate of meat and cheese, none of these things actually help, but we are desperate to show we care somehow. We shuffle awkwardly through a line to ineffectually whisper some comfort-like words that are received in equal awkwardness and punctuated with a trembling handshake or embrace. We solemnly move through the line with eyes averted, internally chastising ourselves for the words not coming out quite right, for sounding trite and hollow like a glitter greeting card.

On the other side, the bereaved are struggling for composure, sometimes in shock but still trying to stand strong. They accept the words, the cards, the plates of meat and cheese with a conflicting smile that approaches gratitude, but guiltily skulks away from any emotion that feels inordinately too early or disrespectful to entertain. Nothing feels appropriate, so everything feels inappropriate and uncomfortable. All spoken and written words ring hollow out of no one’s fault but the complete inadequacy of our language to convey the breadth of emotion that builds and seeps from the corners of our eyes. No one knows what to say, no one knows how to reply.

Everyone handles sorrow in their own way and it is usually difficult for us to see our own limit and see it in the same hue of light that is seen by our friends, family and neighbors. However, one common element that remains the same under any shade of light is the feeling that grief is awful, and we would rather stay happy, or at least comfortable, rather than deal with that painful emptiness.  We block memories from our minds, bottle up our emotions and build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves at all costs from experiencing that harm. Those defenses are different for each person and they significantly alter the fragile facade of recovery. We can sometimes succeed in keeping the pain behind as we bravely attempt to stagger forward, but its creeping shadow lurks low and close, waiting for the vulnerability of solitude, biding its time to viciously clutch at our heels.

A sudden strike upsets the delicately constructed balance and we crumble to the floor amidst the dusty rubble of our carefully fashioned defenses. A storm of tearful memories rises up from the cloudy blue into a swirling rage, releasing its fury at gale force and battering our soul with relentless blows. When the storm finally subsides, we’re left alone and defeated in a gloomy puddle of brokenness and despair. At that darkest moment, in that full devastation, is it possible to feel anything but completely helpless and shattered? It is a strange thing to feel not mourning but to feel comfort in the midst of unspeakable pain, but that pain should confirm what you already know…this matters to me. Feel the good that is now amplified from the mourning of its absence. Feel the calm privilege of having had the opportunity of holding anyone or anything so dearly that it matters to you so. Feel not the loss, but feel the beautiful fullness of all that you were given for a time.

One day you will reluctantly find yourself on a hill of cold stones in the crisp winter air as the wind flutters coats and crunchy leaves and distant notes of Taps. Time will be a dark and murky bog, and your heart will hang heavy in your chest. Though it doesn’t seem possible, don’t feel alone. Stand close in those moments as the final words of the final memorials are shared. Feel peace in stillness of the final prayer. This pain, this loss, shows what you’ve already gained.

Hold close…to what you have and were given.

Hold close…how much this matters to you.