Over the past few years, I’ve begun reading longer books to my children–chapter books, not just picture books. I like to search for old books and then tell my boys the year in which the book was published. “This book was written before Grandpa was born!” I’ve told them on multiple occasions–for books such as Homer Price and Mr. Popper’s Penguins.
We’ve also made our way through quite a few of the Laura Ingalls Wilder classics. Fascinated by these stories as a little girl, I enjoy experiencing them again while reading them aloud to my boys. But what I don’t appreciate about these stories is the “stiff upper lip” attitude toward almost any and all sadness. In the last book in this series that we read, Ma sharply scolds Laura for crying, “Shame! Shame, shame, Laura! A great big girl like you–crying! For shame!” I don’t recall the exact reason for Laura’s tears, but I do remember she cried for something that seemed significant–a death or a loss or a leaving behind of something precious.
I stop at those points in the story and explain to my children that it’s OK to cry; it’s OK to feel sad about saying good-bye to a friend or seeing a pet die. I understand that a pioneer spirit demanded resiliency and endurance and inner strength. I want all that for myself and my children, too. I see no strength, though, in pretending things are OK when they are not, no courage in shaming another for his or her sadness.
I remember one of my first true experiences with grief. I was 8 years old, and my 85-year-old great-grandmother had just died. I don’t remember if I asked to attend her funeral with my mama, or if it was just expected that I would go. Mama took my little brother to view the casket; he put a quarter in Grandmaw’s coffin, and then Mama took him home. He must have stayed with Daddy for the funeral services–which seemed to go on and on and on. I remember sitting in the pew of the church, hearing the weeping of family members all around me as I leaned against Mama’s shoulder. I felt exhausted from all the crying I’d done. But I understood why crying was a valid response to this loss. And so I cried because it made sense to cry for my great-grandmother’s death.
That experience grew me up. Until then, I had sucked my thumb since (I’d been told) I was 3 days old. I sucked it to fall asleep at night; I sucked it at age 3 despite the cast for my broken arm that inhibited access to my thumb. I sucked it when I got an F on a quiz in second grade. But after Grandmaw’s funeral, I stopped. I don’t remember deciding to stop; but I do believe I realized that, if I were old enough to join the grown-ups in the serious business of grieving the death of a loved one, I was old enough to give up the thumb-sucking habit.
“Ignorance is bliss,” some say. Remaining ignorant of an injustice or a tragedy allows me to insulate myself from sadness about it. Or, I can insulate myself from mourning if I just pretend. The “stiff upper lip” is easier to pull off if I can simply deny pain or loss. But I tend to favor “Christian realism,” as our pastor in New Zealand discussed. Honestly, authentically looking heart-breaking situations full in the face, accepting them as they are, and then mourning them.
Romans 12:15 admonishes us to mourn with those who mourn. And thankfully, we can mourn with hope! Hope that there is more than this life can offer, hope that God makes all things beautiful in their time.
I desire to grow in maturity to grieve and to grieve well, to grieve with hope and even gratitude in the grief. To grieve, especially, not just for my own hurt but for the hurts of others, too–to let my heart break with what breaks God’s heart. And to teach my children how to grieve well, too.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… 2 Corinthians 1:3