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.