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COLUMNS: Love in a time of grief

Rev. Katie Yahns, Sentinel columnist
Posted 2/11/23

Hearts, flowers, romance, and special dinners for two seem to be everywhere as we approach Valentine’s Day, right around the corner.

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COLUMNS: Love in a time of grief


Hearts, flowers, romance, and special dinners for two seem to be everywhere as we approach Valentine’s Day, right around the corner. It’s the season devoted to love, following the myriad legends of St. Valentine as a champion for the power of romantic love and devotion between couples.

But lately I have been dwelling a lot on a different form of love, one that is not as romantic but just as powerful: grief. My father passed away two months ago after a long off-and-on battle with cancer and accompanying illnesses, but it still came to pass much sooner than any of us expected. I am still getting used to the idea of saying that he died, that he really is physically gone.

I know others have reflected in this column on grief, so I hope you will bear with me. This is my first encounter with grief of this intensity. Over the years I have served as a pastor, I have heard and shared so many different metaphors for grief after a loved one dies, trying to express care and support. Now that I’m on the other side, some of them have proved to be more helpful than others. Sometimes people say things in an awkward but well-intentioned attempt to lighten the burden of grief — for themselves as well as for the one grieving.

But this is not a burden we can avoid carrying, and nobody else can carry it for us. To be human is to love. That’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God, as found in the book of Genesis. And to love is to grieve. They are two sides of the same coin. Deep grief points to the presence of deep love.

I have learned that the heavy sadness is only one part of the complicated mixture that makes up grief. The surprising part for me has been the disorientation of my dad suddenly not being there physically anymore. It feels like one point on my compass has been erased, and when I attempt to chart my path with only three of the four cardinal directions, I find myself hopelessly off course.

Others have compared it to a tidal wave that crashes into your life, so that you find yourself clinging to all sorts of things, trying to stay afloat long enough to get your bearings, only to find that you are far away from the familiar territory of the shore.

I share my experience to hopefully empower you to grieve in your own way — and if you aren’t grieving now, I’m glad, but someday you will be. Every single person has a different experience of grief and deserves the right to walk that path. Grief makes so many of us uncomfortable because it reminds us of how deeply we can be hurt.

There is no way to live life without risking grief. As C.S. Lewis writes in “The Four Loves,” “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” When we try and protect ourselves from grief, we close ourselves off to love. We deny a piece of our humanity.

I realize this reflection has been a bit of a bait and switch. It is not about Valentine’s Day, as you may have assumed. But it is about love. For those of you who are walking daily with grief as your companion, please know that you are not alone. There are groups, books, articles, podcasts, prayers, and all sorts of resources out there if you need them — but you may not.

Grief counseling is not a shameful thing — even if you had an unhealthy experience with grief years ago, it’s not too late to ask for help. Not every day has to be a good day, or even an improvement on the last, for it to be part of your journey toward healing.


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