Yes, grief is a strong word.
I don’t regret using it.
Grief and loss are part of life; we just don’t like to talk about it. We all lose things that we love or hoped for. We grieve, of course, in the face of death. We also grieve dissolving friendships, losing a job for whatever reason, giving up the dream of having a biological child, moving to a new place and making new friends, and so many more occasions when we lose something, whether that thing was tangible or not.
Grief and loss are perhaps especially part of someone who lives overseas’ life. Moving overseas means you say goodbye to family and friends, a familiar language and way of life, knowing how to get things done, eventually friends you make overseas, and probably more. These aren’t losses that you have a funeral for. But they are losses.
So learning to grieve well is part of this life. This can be easier said than done. American culture isn’t good at helping us grieve. We just want to get over it and move on. But despite our best efforts, we can’t stuff grief forever. People show grief in many ways: withdrawing from life, not sleeping or sleeping too much, addictions, keeping very busy, being overly emotional, and more. As someone at my cross-cultural training said, “Its not wrong to mourn, its wrong to get paralyzed.” We need mourn, to grieve. In the long run, grieving our losses helps us to be healthier people.
In the midst of the grief (both anticipatory and real), I am reading a book called Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion Through Life’s Losses and Sorrows by Joyce Rupp. It has been very helpful for me to think about how to say goodbye and how to grieve. She suggests an approach to praying our goodbyes that has four steps: recognition, reflection, ritualization, and reorientation. We need to name what we are grieving; sometimes with intangible losses, this is the hardest part. We need to take a look at the loss and let God hear our cry about it. We need to find images or symbols and movements that speak to us and help us act out our grief. Eventually, somewhere in the midst of this, God meets us and we find healing. The book also includes some suggested prayers for different occasions. I haven’t read them all yet, but they include suggested images, scripture to meditate on, guided free prayers, and written prayers. I’m not sure if looking forward to is quite the right expression, but I am thankful for this resource as I deal with my own grief.
That’s a long introduction to this prayer. On my last Sunday in the United States, this is my prayer—for myself, and especially for my friends and family who are grieving with me.
You created us for relationships, for us to love each other and depend on each other.
Thank you for the gift of family and friends.
Thank you for the hours we’ve spent together—eating, playing, crying, praying, laughing, cooking, talking.
Thank you for the ways that we have been iron sharpening iron for each other.
Thank you that I am a better person because of all of these wonderful people.
This is a really hard goodbye. For all of us.
We cry out to you from hearts broken by the miles and years that will separate us.
Wrap your arms around my family and friends as they grieve.
May they know your permission to be sad and to cry out to you.
Be near to them when they miss me.
Help us to figure out new ways of building our relationships.
In the midst of all these tearful conversations and moments,
help us to remember that you do not leave us in darkness.
Help us to trust through our tears that “weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.