One of the things that makes grief difficult is wading through the minefield of possession. Whether it’s a very sentimental coffee mug that shattered on the floor or a much loved person that we have lost, our grief can be compounded by how possessive we feel over that item or individual. It is easier to recognize and let go of possessive feelings toward our things, but what about people?
This is dangerous ground in a lot of ways, not the least of which being that when we talk about being possessive in terms of people, we typically think of abusive relationships where one partner is so possessive of the other that the one being abused is not permitted leeway to do certain things or spend time around people. And yes, often we see in those relationships that when the abuser loses the abused, their response shows a lack of healthy coping mechanisms for their grief. I’m not talking about that extreme form of possession, however.
Unfortunately, much as we may like to think it isn’t true, most of us claim some sort of ownership on the people we care about. This manifests itself in various forms, some are more apparently possession than others. We may find ourselves jealous at the attention a grandparent pays to a particular grandchild, assume it’s favoritism, and become increasingly bitter toward one or both parties. That jealousy is rooted in a sense of ownership of grandpa or grandma’s attention, time, and affection. We might invite ourselves along when a friend is spending time with another friend; sometimes that’s merely a matter of enjoying the company of both and knowing they would welcome our presence. Other times, however, it is a similar motivation to the grandparent scenario above. We may repeatedly tell someone how hard it is on us that they moved away without putting any effort into making new connections. I know it’s hard to have to build new connections, especially if there are other factors involved where some stability would be a great boost to our mental health. Still, we tend to use excuses rather than take ownership of what we CAN control.
The more tightly we hold onto something, the harder it is to let it go. Have you ever been in a situation where for whatever reason you physically held an item long enough and hard enough that it actually hurt your hands to open and release the item? It may have left nail marks or an indentation from the item in question. The same is emotionally true.
When we cling tightly to our possessions, our pets, our friends, and our family, without acknowledging we don’t really own any of them, we find grief to be a double hurt. The loss itself hurts because loss does hurt. But the forced opening and extraction causes an added level of pain that wasn’t necessary.
Grief is a good and necessary process, but we find it much harder to progress in it when we don’t recognize that everything is God’s first.
I absolutely love my husband. He’s a wonderful gift from God, and it is important that I remember this about him. God brought him into my life; God can take him away. It would hurt beyond what I can even imagine to lose him; I have a hard enough time being okay when he’s gone for a day for happy reasons. But it would hurt even worse if I couldn’t honestly say, “He is the Lord’s and the Lord gets to decide what to do with him.”
There are days where I cling far too tightly to my husband, and on those days, even a slight separation between us can bring out an angry, moody woman. I don’t respond well to his needing to leave to run an errand; I expect his attention even when he should be working. If I made that my habitual pattern of thinking, then should the Lord take him, my anger toward God would far exceed my grief at the loss.
Grief without that additional weight is honestly a beautiful acknowledgement of the connection we shared with someone or something. It is a wound caused by the absence of what was familiar and meaningful. If a loss doesn’t bring at least some level of that feeling, then the connection wasn’t very deep or the person experiencing the loss is not yet feeling the weight of the loss. Weeping and mourning the death of a loved one is not only okay, it’s a good thing.
Grief mixed with possession brings about anger, fear, intentional numbness. It is unhealthy. It does not understand what Job said in Job 1:21b (ESV): “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job lost his children, his possessions, his servants, everything except a wife and three friends who didn’t get it, but he knew none of it was really his. So when Job lost, unlike a good portion of us, he worshipped God.
Loss tends to bring out the deeper realities of who we are. Job stayed true to his faith and set an example for all of us how to live in the midst of extreme hardship. Will we point others toward faith or toward destruction by the way we grieve?