“What’s wrong with me? I have no right to be sad. There are so many people who have it much worse than me. Think of Jennifer. Her sister was killed in a car accident at 21, and then her son had cancer at age four. Or what about Sarah, who just had a miscarriage after praying for and waiting for a baby for so long? My loss is nothing compared to that.”
Shifting in my chair at the beautiful mountainside retreat center in Hong Kong, I try to pay attention to the Fresh Start seminar. Just days before I left for the East Asia trip, I got the news that my sweet 101-year-old grandmother had gone to be with Jesus. It wasn’t really a great surprise. We all knew it could be any day. And it wasn’t a great tragedy. I know she is now in heaven, and is no longer limited by her frail physical body or weakened memory.
Grieving – with Guilt
Yet I still miss her. For the past four and a half years, I helped my mom to care for my “Abuela,” who lived with my parents. Every day we got her up, helped her get dressed, and took her to the table in the sunny yellow living room for a breakfast of shredded wheat cereal with sliced bananas and 2% milk. Abuela loved to watch the cardinals and chickadees and goldfinches that came to peck at the birdseed in the feeders my mom placed by the windows.
Abuela loved anything pink. Her eyes would light up at the sight of flowers, especially if they were pink carnations or roses or lilies. “Oh my,” she’d say softly. “How pretty!” Abuela loved babies and young children. She’d reach out her hand and touch the chubby cheeks and smile. “Why, hello there! Aren’t you cute!” Abuela loved her family. She may not have remembered what she had for lunch a few minutes earlier, but she never forgot the faces of her children and grandchildren, and even her great grandchildren. And Abuela loved her Jesus. Each night when we prayed before bed, even if her sometimes muddled mind couldn’t say anything else, she never failed to say, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
The tears are coming now as I picture her gentle smile and warm eyes. I wipe my face and try again to concentrate on what Pastor Steve is saying.
“You can’t compare your offense, hurt or loss horizontally,” I hear him tell the eager crowd, then pause for translation. “There will always be someone else who has it worse or better than you. Resist the temptation to compare your situation to others.”
It feels like he’s talking just to me. How does he know what I’m thinking?
“Don’t minimize the loss or the hurt,” Pastor Steve continues. “Jesus didn’t minimize it. He thought it was worth going to the cross for.”
Permission to Grieve
My accusing inner thoughts are silenced. It’s true. I’ve been comparing my loss to others, and feeling like I have no right to grieve because my loss isn’t as great as someone else’s. But though I am happy that Abuela is in heaven, though I am thankful for her 101 years of life, though I am grateful that I had so much time with her at the end of her life, I am still grieving the loss of not having her with us on this earth. I need to allow myself to grieve, andI need to give myself permission to be sad. I need to recognize that it’s OK to miss her. And I need to stop comparing myself to others.
Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, even though he knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead a few minutes later. He allowed the time and space for grieving. He “wept with those who wept” (Rom 12:15), sharing the loss of Mary and Martha. Jesus didn’t minimize their sadness, but joined them in their grieving process.
My loss is significant. Because my heart is important to my heavenly Father. He understands when I have moments of missing my Abuela’s girlish giggle, or her meticulous way of washing dishes, or her gentle kiss on my cheek when I said goodnight. He allows me to cry, to mourn, to grieve. And He gives me the hope that though “weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning!” I look forward to that eternal morning, when I will see my sweet Abuela again, and when my Jesus will wipe away every tear.
“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30:5b (NLT)