(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Living and Growing: Giving space for grief is healthy and grounded

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3

After I let the chickens out and told them not to poop on the porch, I picked the last of the raspberries for my granola this morning and had a moment of grief. It’s like the grief I felt eating the last egg produced by my chickens before they entered their ninth year. This is the passing of the season and I needed to take a moment to feel sad about it and thankful for the bounty that’s now come to an end. There weren’t tears, but I let my heart hurt for a minute about the passing of a season. It was hard to imagine the raspberries would end when there were so many to pick that we couldn’t keep up, but endings come. I could immediately run to the store to buy an outlandishly priced quart of raspberries from a far-off land and pretend endings don’t come, or I can sit with the passing and recognize the season will come again, but now is not the time.

Giving space for our grief and allowing ourselves to mourn the passing of seasons instead of denying endings keeps us healthy and grounded. Mourning takes practice. If we recognize all the losses along the way, learn to let go of control, and appreciate what has been then we have some rhythms and tools in place when the big losses wash over us.

Juneau experienced some significant losses and no amount of practice prepares people for such unexpected devastation. However, when we live in the rhythms of acknowledging and mourning endings then we have language to talk about it, and some awareness that the “punch in the gut” feeling is normal. Endings hurt and there is no magic escape from that pain. Grief is normal; pretending it doesn’t exist is not normal.

We recently did a grief coaching training that emphasized giving space for people to mourn. Grief was described as what we felt internally, and mourning was how it was expressed externally. We don’t give many safe spaces for people to mourn. There is too often the assumption that people should buck up and move on. The gift of sackcloth and ashes, or paid mourners who wept loudly, or wearing black mandated that space for mourning be made and respected whether someone felt like they needed it or not. I wouldn’t mind a black armband every now and then to tell the people around me that I’ve had a loss, so I might be a little raw and need a little more space.

I grieve for all who experienced loss of home and possessions in the flood. I also grieve for the loss of predictable patterns. What will the river or the glacier do next? Will this happen every year? How do we plan for a future where homes outside the flood zone were flooded, and yards swept away? If you find yourself being reactive, angry and controlling in the face of this uncertainty then there is a good chance that grief is coming out sideways. When we don’t give space and tools for mourning, then grief often comes out as anger and control.

So be gentle with yourself and others. Give space for tears and stories of loss. One ritual I’ve found helpful, besides prayer and worship, is to watch a movie that will let me weep. “Life is Beautiful” is one of my favorite tear-jerkers. It lets my tears freely flow without having to explain to anyone why I am sad. Or I go for long walks and allow myself to dwell on the loss until the tears come.

This morning I simply took a little longer to pick the raspberries and a little longer to relish the fresh burst of sweet. I thanked them for this season and told them that I looked forward to what next year will bring.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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