The face of grief


I'll never forget the look on her face. I'd just arrived to a party and was milling about, hoping to spot someone I knew. Soon, I turned a corner and there she was, my dear friend, who I'd just learned had recently suffered a tragic loss. There was the news before me, written on her face, in her eyes, those pools of shock and sorrow. With every glance and gesture of hers, I saw it held tightly in her very body: the gravest pain, unspeakable and sacred. I called her by name and wrapped her in a hug, with nothing else to say. What do you say? No words of mine could soothe her broken heart, so I just held her instead.


Now, that's me. I'm the grieving one. I'm the one who holds the shock and sorrow in my eyes and heart and shoulders. I sometimes catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, Do I look different? Do these sad eyes of mine betray my grief? Can people tell by looking at me how very fragile I've become?


This culture of ours doesn't do grief well. We fear death, shy away from talking about it, tiptoe around the topic as if it's not a glaring reality facing each and every one of us walking on this earth. I want to talk about it. I want to tell people about my dad, who's now been dead for three months, and what that means for me. How nothing will ever be the same.


Yes, living with a wide-open heart is risky and exhausting and just about as vulnerable as you can get. But it's the only way for me. And I've been turning this over in my mind for days, weighing prudence and poise against poverty and pain as I just keep sharing and sharing, often with perfect strangers, the contents of my aching heart.


God shone a light on it all while I was at Mass one day this week, listening to the priest proclaim the Gospel. A man fell victim to robbers, came the words of Jesus. There he was, lying on the road, stripped and beaten and half-dead. His very appearance wordlessly begged for compassion and mercy and care. He desperately needed to be found—his life depended on it.


He's helped me to see: there's no need to hide my grief. While I'm not lying on the side of the road in danger of death, the compounded loss and trauma of these last three months has left me just as needy. And if I were to hide my need, out of embarrassment or for the sake of propriety, I would miss out on the immense consolation I've found. I've let my pain show, and I've received the greatest outpouring of love, from mailmen and hairdressers to nurses and priests. Strangers and friends alike have been blessed as they've opened their hearts to me, welcomed me in with compassion and mercy just as the Good Samaritan welcomed that poor victim along his path.


I think back to my friend, the one whose face announced her pain. I marvel at her courage to show up, to brave the ache and let every pair of eyes that met hers recognize, without question, the grief she was submerged in. I'm grateful she let herself be found.


I vow to keep doing the same, to reject the urge to hide or apologize or live in denial. To invite mercy, to let my neediness cultivate love in my neighbor. To be unashamedly poor.


Which of these, Jesus asks, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?


The one who treated him with mercy, replies the scholar of the law.


Go and do likewise.

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