My awkward relationship with grief

Photo by Matthias Wuertemberger

Yesterday I received a call from my sister. My grandmother had died.

We talked for a bit before she had to continue on with making phone calls. We hung up. I went back to work.

Monday kind of played out the way it always does.

When I told a couple of colleagues of mine the news and listened as they expressed their sorrow over it, I didn’t quite know how to respond.

This isn’t something new to me.

In the last year, both of my grandmothers have died. My maternal grandfather died around ten years ago (there was no memorial service). My paternal grandfather died about 14 years ago.

Every time my reaction has been pretty much… okay.

No tears, no five stages of grieving… just “okay.” And life continues to go on.

What’s been awkward for me has always been trying to navigate the (unintentional) external pressure that exists to feel bad whenever a family member dies. And it’s not that I don’t have feelings (my wife can attest to this), but I’ve never really felt like I’ve needed to do that when any grandparent has died.

It might be because we weren’t terribly close. The last time I saw my maternal grandmother was five years ago. The time before that was (I think) sometime when I was either in high school or just before I started college (so we’re talking 15 plus years).

It’s how my family always has been. I’m not saying it’s the best thing, just what is.

But here’s the thing I am grieved by—as far as I know, all of my grandparents have died apart from Christ. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, there wasn’t a consistent Christian influence within their lives.

And I’m not too sure what to do with that. 

Witnessing to my family isn’t easy—not just the ones I’ve not seen in over a decade, but the ones I actually do have relationship with.

My mother, father, sister and niece (not to mention my in-laws and sister-in-law).

But whenever there’s a death in the family, it makes it harder. Primarily in the sense that there’s just not a good time to bring up the conversation—”So grandma dying made me really start thinking about what going to happen when you die” isn’t likely to open doors to a healthy conversation, y’know?

But Scripture reminding us to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15 NIV); we can be with those who are grieving, we can grieve with them (whether or not that includes shedding a single tear)… we can be “there,” present and available.

And maybe that’s all I really need to worry about for the moment.

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  • Ashley Haupt

    I get this. I blogged about a miscarriage in February because it’s just how I process, but I was kind of unprepared for the response. Kind, caring, and compassionate, to be sure, but I felt awkward because I wasn’t grieving as people assumed I would be. God’s grace in that particular situation was just such that it wasn’t actually very hard, and I wound up feeling guilty about that in the end.

  • Flyaway

    I began praying for my lost relatives, high school, and college classmates several years ago. I’m delighted when I find out that one of them has become a Christian or that they have some Christian influence in their lives that I didn’t know about. Start praying now and you will be surprised about what God will do. My grandparents were Christians and I only saw them about once a year so I didn’t grieve when they died. I grieved when my sister died even though she was a Christian but she was a support to me. I guess we really grieve when it is someone who was a valued part of our lives. So we really grieve for ourselves.

  • John

    Thanks for your blog, Aaron. There is an integrity in your presentation. Concerning the death of a loved one who had not made an obvious commitment to God, I am encouraged to consider the questions Rob Bell asks in Love Wins. I do feel that the Bible’s hell is the cessation of life which certainly is in keeping with the character of God. Whether we get a second chance or not, life on this planet is a gift. For any not wanting God, there is not an eternity of suffering. That’s good to realize in the face of an unbeliever’s death.