The gift of grief? This sounds like one of those cliché book titles you may see as you make your way through the bookstore. If you are reading this while going through a moment of grief, it may be a sentiment you are tempted to give a middle finger to. What gift could possibly be gained in a feeling of such tremendous loss and pain? What is there to possibly be gained by having part of you forever taken from you? How can we call the loneliness and emptiness that we feel upon waking, or when we are alone in our beds a gift? Is there anything good about those random moments of sadness we experience when we witness something that reminds us of the loved one we lost?
I am not here to tell you grief is a good thing. It sucks. It is not something any of us would choose to feel, nor anything we wish others to feel. What I am here to say is that there are things that only grief can teach us. There are things that our hearts may never know, or at the very least, never fully appreciate without grief. This, in its own way also sucks. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go through life without ever having to experience loss or grief? Why can’t we all learn everything we need to know without having to experience these emotions? That is not how life works, unfortunately.
While there is no correct way to grieve, or time limit for grieving, there are some things that are universal when it comes to grief. Lessons that grief teaches us all regardless of faith, race or nationality. This was brought home to me the other day. Last year I had lost two aunts in one week’s time. The hospice they were at along with a funeral home, hosted a ‘group memorial’ for everyone who had lost someone. As we pulled up to the building we noticed the parking lot was full. Upon entering we sat in two of the last seats available. You were given a program in which all of the names of the deceased were listed. There were over 100 names. They included every nationality, every race and as they read details of the individuals, it became clear every age as well.
I noticed all of these very different people were experiencing the same thing – grief. We may not have agreed on politics, religion or even what sports team to cheer for, but at that moment all of us could relate to the feeling of sadness and loss we felt. In this way, grief can be a common denominator. No matter where you live in the world, what faith you follow or what sports team you like, death will visit you in your lifetime.
Grief also teaches us humility. In the parking lot you could see there were people who drove very expensive sports cars and those who drove cars that were barely moving. Both of these people had experienced loss. Money cannot save you from grief. It does not matter if you are a CEO or if you work in the mail room, grief will visit you.
Grief, in its own odd way, teaches us the value of life. There were those who were quite young that passed away from auto accidents or perfectly healthy individuals that were suddenly taken from cancer or other terrible health conditions. Loss teaches us to value the lives and times with those in our life. We may never know when we may loose them. It is often after a loss of someone we love that we are tempted to call those we love just to tell them we love them. We go home to hug our children or our spouse and hold them extra tight, grateful we still have them to hold.
Grief also teaches us the value of our own lives. When I was diagnosed last year with several heart problems it made me realize how fleeting life could be. It motivated me to be the best man that I can be. Every night I make sure that the woman in my life knows how beautiful she is to me and how much I love her because I may not have that chance to tell her tomorrow. My second book had been in the works for five years leading up to that point. I was diagnosed in June, it was finished by September. Knowing intellectually that we only have so much time on this earth is motivating, but feeling that emotionally is far more motivating.
Grief and loss suck. There is no arguing that. It is through grief, however, that life becomes so precious. Memories become treasures more valuable than gold. Every blooming flower and song of a bird become a gift to be appreciated. Loved ones and the love we share with them become our most valuable possessions. Our time becomes the most important asset we have.
Grief is terrible. Grief is hard and grief is terribly personal. Still, even in the darkest of times we are given many gifts. Let us not waste our grief, but let it color our life. Not just with sadness, although that will always be a part of our loss, but let it also intensify our love. Let our grief allow us to appreciate the beauty in the little things, and understand they really are the big things. Let us not only treasure our memories of those we have lost, but let us be motivated to create memories with those who are still here so that when we are gone we may leave with them the gift that those who have went before us have shared with us.