Grief is a Language Shared by All


By Bethany Everson Na | Twitter: @BethanyNa007

My shoes were still caked in mud from the cemetery as I walked to meet my best friend. Shards of blue sky were attempting to pierce the heavy drapery of clouds, and a few raindrops fell on my eyelashes. Or were they tears? It was hard to tell. Then, after I met with my friend and heard her news, I was certain that, yes, they were tears after all.

It was a hard weekend.

I do not want to lay claim on someone else’s devastation and use it as a writing exercise. Please recognize that is not my intention. But as a writer, when I experience deeply moving (and sometimes even mundane) events, I have to write the words in order to know how I feel.

As Henri Nouwen wrote, “I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust it will emerge as I write.”

There was a tragic death in my husband’s family last week—Friday night was the funeral, and Saturday was the burial. And it was brutal. A young life taken too soon—it was completely and utterly heartbreaking. The only thing that gave me comfort was our shared faith—she was a devoted Christian and so I rest in that fact.

But still.

I mulled over many thoughts while at the funeral. My husband is Korean and the funeral was conducted in his mother tongue. I sat and gazed at the glistening coffin, the cascade of flowers draped over the lid, and listened to the rhythmic prayers and words from the pastor in a language I do not understand. I kept thinking about how God is a God of every language, and of none. All over the world, people of every tribe and nation speak to God. It was beautiful to be reminded that English is not God’s primary language. As people, we try to wrangle our experience and understanding of the divine into an assortment of consonants and vowels. It is imperfect, but it is all we have.

I did not know the words of the prayers and eulogies offered at the funeral—but I understood them, nonetheless. Grief speaks no language. I knew what the pastor was saying, I could feel it inside my very marrow.

The mother’s guttural moans and cries of agony as her daughter’s body was slowly lowered into the ground, did not need to be translated. Grief is a language shared by all.  And when we cry out to God and cannot even form the words in our head and when our heart is shattered, He understands. I am deeply convinced of that fact. God transcends language.

She was buried on Saturday in an enormous and elaborate cemetery overlooking Los Angeles. It is a veritable Disneyland of graveyards. You drive up to the information booth, obtain a map and directions to the particular grave, and drive by strangely named areas of the cemetery up to your final destination. It is beautiful and a bit bizarre. We all huddled around the fresh grave, the earth clawed open and waiting. It was eerily quiet, except for the mechanical noise of the hand crank that lowered the casket into the ground. The sound was out of place with the beauty and sacredness of the space.

Death, just like life, is a messy affair.

After the funeral, I drove to meet my friend in a parking lot a few miles away. She had big news to share with me. I anticipated that she was moving and was simultaneously excited for her and devastated to lose proximity to this friend I’ve had for over 20 years. The news was far worse and earth-shattering. We sat and cried in the car.

Life, just like death, is a messy affair.

It is now Sunday night and I am thoroughly exhausted. As an overly empathetic introvert, I absorb other people’s feelings and emotions. This character trait exhausts me on a good day—but after this weekend, I feel wrung out emotionally and physically. I am just a bystander to the grief, helpless to assist and desperately wanting to alleviate the pain. But I am not able to do so.

So, I pray.  I write. I make pizza, do laundry, and snuggle with my dog, baby, and husband (in that order!) I am grateful for what I have, and I am angry for the injustices of this world.

I hold both of these truths with my outstretched, open hands.

And then I put those hands together in prayer, pleading with the Lord in my limited language for His peace to fill our hearts.



About Bethany:

Hi! I’m Bethany Everson Na, a 33-year-old attorney and writer from Orange County California, where appearances are paramount and housewives are desperate. I was born and raised in a conservative evangelical tradition, and my faith has dramatically shifted the past few years as I am leaning into my doubts and embracing uncertainty. Instead of being repelled from Christianity, my new spiritual posture has deepened my relationship with Jesus.

I have traveled the world, from Amsterdam to Uganda, and believe that the most magical place on the planet is New York City during Christmastime. I also hold fast to the conviction that Simon & Garfunkel are highly superior to the vastly-overrated Beatles. Don’t even try to change my mind.