Grieving that which never was

Grief is a brutal thing. It reaches inside to our very core and rips and tears at our insides. We talk of broken hearts, but in reality grief can feel more like a pain in our gut, an inability to breathe, a numbing of our mind. It attacks the very function of our bodies as we try to process an emotion that is too big to comprehend.

Grief is often attributed to those things which we have lost - loved ones, homes, jobs, money, stability etc. But grief can also be the main emotion for things that never were and will never be. Grief is as real for the mother who has lost a child, as for the woman who will never be able to conceive. It is as real for the person who has lost a job, as for the person who will never be able to work.

For those who have to grieve that which will never be, dreams that will never be accomplished, it is often hard to talk about. They are told to accept their circumstances, to find joy and peace in what they have, rather than focusing on what they don't have. But their grief is still real, deep, and profound. The person with a terminal illness who will never travel as they dreamed they would, or the person with a chronic condition which means they will never be able to study and go into a profession they wanted. This grief is real for them. The loss of dreams, of what could have been, is a terrible wound that they need to be able to grieve without being told that what they have now should be celebrated.

Accepting what is does not minimise the grief of what could have been. A person who is ageing and remembers the strength of their youth, a body that could do more than what they can now, should be allowed to grieve the things they can no longer do, the dreams that cannot be achieved with what they now possess. By denying people the ability to grieve what will never be, we are telling them that their feelings, their dreams, their dying hope, is not legit. We deny them the chance to work through that pain and, by doing so, build new dreams, new hopes, and find peace in those things.

It is not possible to find peace in our circumstances until we are allowed the chance to work through all the emotions that those circumstances bring us. The joy AND the pain, the hope AND the grief, the pleasure AND the suffering. It is uncomfortable to do this. It is ugly and frightening. It involves sobbing and screaming and raging. It has anger and frustration and despair. To sit with someone in that place and not offer trite advice or simple catch-phrases, but to sit and to feel that pain with them, is the most uncomfortable and rewarding thing we can do. We have no answers, all we can offer is that we will sit in the darkness with them and, when they are ready, we will help walk them back into the light.

Until we learn to sit in silence, as Job's friends did first, and not move into advice or promises or answers, as Job's friends did second!, we offer nothing to the grieving person except our own discomfort with their pain. So let us sit. Let us sit in silence. Let us treat their pain as holy ground where we sit in patience and cry with them, hold their hand, and offer nothing but our love, our presence and our time. Let us grieve with one another, and let it be enough in that moment.