Making Room for Lament


Diana Trautwein -Room for Lament4

In the months from April to August of this year, we have attended five funerals and sent a eulogy to be read at a sixth. These were services of worship and remembrance, held in honor of people we loved, people whose lives intersected with ours regularly, even when those lives were very short.

It began with my mom’s death on the 19th of April after a 7-year journey through dementia. At the end of May, we dealt with the shock of an accidental drowning—a 2-year-old grandson in our extended congregational family. That death was followed about five weeks later by the loss of a dear friend and leader in our community. She died only seven months after an abrupt diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

The week we came back from vacation in early August, we attended an emotional farewell for a dear 8-year-old boy who was born with only half a heart, and whose life had a lasting impact on our entire city. At the end of that same week, we listened to parts of a life story we had never heard, as we said good-bye to a faithful woman in our congregation who passed away at the age of 105. In the middle of last month, I received news of the anticipated death of a former colleague and partner in ministry who had a heart attack and a brain bleed while in the physical therapist’s clinic. We traveled 100 miles south to be there for his stunned widow and adult children.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the most self-descriptive word I can come up with these days is, ‘weary.’ Although I ‘do not grieve as those who have no hope,’ I grieve nonetheless. I don’t think I have begun to fully internalize all the facets of my mom’s death, what it means to be an orphan in this world. That truth tells me that there is even less space inside to grieve well for each of the other losses which have left such huge holes in our lives.

The words I want to amplify in this particular season are the beautiful and necessary words of lament. These are the words that speak the pain in us out into the atmosphere, words that call us to be fully human, acknowledging that it sometimes hurts to be alive when others are no longer breathing beside us. I want to make space inside—and outside—for the tears that bring healing, tears that tell stories, tears that say, “I loved them and I can no longer whisper that truth into their ears.”

So let me say this as loudly and as clearly as written space in an e-magazine will allow: lament is required when we walk through the valley. Imagine that I am using my big-girl, outdoor voice when you read those words, will you? Because this is important: there is no such thing as loss without pain and suffering. The bromides and clichés that are too often bandied about at such times are less than useless. In fact, they can be harmful. People do not want to hear about “God’s plan” when they are in shock, when they are exhausted and empty, when they don’t know how they are going to get through the next hour, much less the next year.

We must give each other permission to grieve, and to grieve in the way that is unique to each of us. No one has permission to say to us, “It’s been long enough. Get over it.” No one. Hearts that are broken do not heal without scars. Lives that are lanced by loss do not magically zip themselves up into nice, neat packages. When Jesus saw the grief his dear friends experienced at the death of Lazarus, he wept. JESUS WEPT. Even though he knew what was coming next, even though he knew his friend would walk out into the sunlight one more time. Surely we can do no less.

One week after my mom died, a wonderful friend sent me a small package. Inside was a book called, “The Cure for Sorrow.” It is a collection of beautiful poem/blessings to be read and read again in times of grief. And I’m here to tell you, that book is one of the things that is saving my life right now. It’s written by a woman pastor in Florida named Jan Richardson and I highly recommend it. Her words have been a rich addition to the psalms of lament that are a part of my regular devotional routine these days, and I offer a few of her words here for you to ponder, read aloud, and internalize as you walk through whatever dark valley you are experiencing today:

From, “Enduring Blessing,” written by Jan Richardson:

What I really want to tell you
is to just lay this blessing
on your forehead,
on your heart;
let it rest
in the palm of your hand,
because there is hardly anything
this blessing could say,
any word it could offer
to fill the hollow.

Let this blessing
work its way
into you
with its lines
that hold nearly
unspeakable lament. . .

EXACTLY— ‘nearly unspeakable lament.’ These are the words we need when sorrow overwhelms, when weariness wins, when pain persists. Here, let me amplify that for you: WE NEED THESE WORDS—and our good God knows that. I am thankful every day of my life for those 150 songs in the middle of our Holy Book, maybe especially for the ones that are sung in a minor key. There are seasons for each of us when ‘tears are my food, day and night.’ When such a season arrives on your doorstep— and, I promise you, it will—you have all the permission you need to sing them as loudly and as long as you must.

Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  1. Andrea Christiansen says:

    Thank you… praying for the strength and presence to abide with others inside the space of lament.

  2. You are always wise, Diana, and this feels like balm.

  3. What came across for me is “hopeful lament.” Lament coupled with hope, with a deeper picture. Thank you for bringing us with you as you grieve, as you allow space for all of the emotions.

    • Exactly — hopeful lament. As long as we don’t insist that people move at a particular pace toward hope, that’s exactly what we want to proclaim and be grateful about. Thanks, Annie.

  4. “Although I ‘do not grieve as those who have no hope,’ I grieve nonetheless.”
    Such mighty words, freeing ones. I am so sorry for all your losses, and so touched by these words.

    • I’m glad you find them freeing, Beth. That’s a primary reason I wrote them down. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. Lynn Morrissey says:

    I remain so sorry about your mother, Diana. How can one just “snap out of it,” and just “get on with it”? While not always true, I sometimes think that the longer we have loved someone, the longer we grieve, because the more experiences with that person we miss. My pastor says that the Church needs to lament and seldom does. We, of all people, who follow the example of our Lord, should know that Jesus wept over death and that He Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It amazes me that God grieves. Perhaps He grieved for me when, just days after my beloved father died, a (well-meaning) friend emailed me and said, “Stop crying, Lynni. REJOICE! Your Daddy is in heaven, and you will see him again SOON!” The invisible smiley face emanating from that post sent me spiraling deeper into lament. It’s where I needed to be, even without his permission. Lament your precious Mother’s passing, and the deaths of all those dear loved ones. Lament. Weep. Grieve. Shout. Now is the time of weeping and of healing. Please receive my deepest condolences. I wish I had known your mother. I’m indebted for your generous sharing about her.

    • Thanks, as always, for your kind words and encouragement, Lynn. And such emails/posts are the very things I’m trying to push back against in this piece. The gift of presence is one of the best things we can offer anyone in the depths of grief. That part Job’s friends got right. Then they started talking and it all went downhill from there!

  6. Soong-Chan Rah wrote a great book about lament a couple of years ago, and I was fortunate to have read it during the time when things started veering off into chaos with my own mum. One of his major points is that we just don’t get it here in North America, and when we forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain, we forget the reality of suffering and pain.

    More than once in this summer of grief, I have wished that I really could hear your “big-girl, outdoor voice” in real life, because I believe that God is teaching you some important truth in this dark time.

    • “Prophetic Lament” is one I know I need to reread and reread and reread…

    • I think Soong-Chan is right about this – and so many other things, too. We don’t get it and we need to work on that, to make space for the full range of human emotions, not just the happy/clappy ones. Thought of you as I wrote this one, my friend. I’d love to hear your voice, too!! I’m trying to listen to whatever it is that this season is bringing me to hear and learn from, but some days, it ain’t easy!

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