Being a man, I have trouble with most emotions (when I am aware of them in myself or others). Often, my response to emotions is to think about the experience, but that tends to pin feelings down rather than give deeper expression to them. I’ve learned by trial and error to trust feelings by giving them my attention and expressing them momentarily as I sense them. I was able to practice this recently when faced with the loss of Bob Saucy.
With this latest grief, losing Bob so suddenly, I was numb, and then deeply sad for a week, and then intermittently beyond that. I remained aware of our hope of Heaven and the mercies of God. The separation of death is a great grief and cause of sadness. It seems that many Christians resist deep sadness through loss to death by talking lots of theology about our hope of Heaven. Bob’s death drew me down to feeling more empty than I’ve ever been aware of feeling before. Then I got a bad cold, which I partly welcomed as a physical experience of what I felt in the weariness of my grief.
The paradox of Christian grief is our theology of continued life and a future reunion with those we’ve lost. I doubt that we should immediately cover or minimize our sense of loss by affirming Heaven. To be deeply sad in the face of another’s death is not a despair of hope in the resurrection. Jesus wept at Mary’s instigation when Lazarus died. It may be that we avoid grief, vulnerability in overwhelming emotion, and the embarrassment of weeping, by affirming a rationalistic theology of hope. I don’t think this is healthy.
We may grieve and hope, remaining confident that all is not lost forever, and grieve in deep sadness over losing for now someone who is very valuable to us. Our grief may continue for a long time of weeks, years, and decades. Grief and continuing soreness of our loss is not a denial or failure to believe in the hope of Heaven. Grief is personal; I shudder at the ways I’ve heard some Christians expect others to “get over it” in a speedy fashion. Rushing through our grief may be a missed opportunity, and a dangerous avoidance of something important God intends for us to experience.
In the past, my short-circuited capacities for emotion prevented me from feeling much more than numbness and regret when friends long-loved were lost to me through death. I hope that a sign of my increasing health is that I feel sadness in loss now, and stronger longing for life without death in time to come. Just as Jesus’ tears over Lazarus told his deep embrace of true human life, I hope my heavy sadness across many days and weeks is a sign that I too am more human than I have been in the past. I am finding that grief is something to visit with frequently, if even momentarily.
I appreciated many things about Bob Saucy that others have mentioned repeatedly, and now I treasure his gifts even more with him departed. I intend this year to read again his book on the heart. With sadness, I feel grateful to have known and shared some life with one of the spiritually (and physically) healthiest men I’ve known. He lived as an invitation to a deeper life with God. It’s been said that you cannot give or teach what you have not experienced for yourself; in many ways Bob led the way by experiencing the things he taught, “further up and further in.”