By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
The personal grief that gets the most attention is usually connected to the most profound losses that human beings can experience: the death of one’s child or one’s spouse, for example. Grief in such cases takes a great deal of emotional energy especially in the early weeks and months. It also takes forever, it seems, to get through it. For one “making tear soup” in such cases the largest pot is required, the one labelled “More the I Can Bear.”
As I have learned more and more about grief in my own experience, I have become interested in the smallest of the tear soup containers—the little sauce pans marked “Not Fair” and “Bad News” and the smallest cooking pot labelled “Big Disappointment.” I am reminded that even our little losses—minor set-backs and letdowns—can be occasions for grief as well, even though we may not automatically think of them as “grief worthy.”
I first began to think about the reality of short-term grief when we were preparing the first edition of Tear Soup back in 1999. As we moved closer to the date when we would send the completed text and art work to the printer we fretted and fussed about getting everything just right. Several of us carefully checked the spelling of every word and made sure that there were no typographical errors. When we were satisfied that all was perfect we hit the print button on the computer and rushed the pages to the printer.
But when the first supply of books came from the printer we discovered that in each copy the last line of text was missing from one of the pages. All the words had been entered correctly into the computer but, due to a last minute formatting glitch that we did not catch, that last line did not make it into the original, so that every printed copied was flawed.
Pat immediately recognized that what we were experiencing, when we discovered the glitch, was loss. Something had happened that could not be undone—until the next printing, of course. So our only recourse was grief. All we could do in the midst of that big disappointment was “make tear soup!”
Since then I have personally found it helpful to identify and name little setbacks and disappointments in my life as occasions for grief. In the larger scheme of life such setbacks and disappointments are minor. But the day they happen, and perhaps the next day as well, they are a big deal. Like the time I accidently left my new hand-crafted wool newsboy cap, a gift from a friend, on the seat of the city bus. When I realized that I had lost something precious to me that I would never be able to retrieve, the sense of loss was profound. I literally felt sick for several hours until the symptoms began to dissipate. By the next day the worst had passed, though I still experience regret now and then when I remember that day.
Other minor losses that have prompted me to “make tear soup” have included last minute cancellation of vacation plans, letting a friend down who was counting on me, being let down by a friend on whom I was counting, and failing to get approval from my church council for a proposal that meant a lot to me.
Now, whenever such disappointments occur, I can simply say to myself, “This is a loss; I can’t pretend otherwise. I am feeling the pain of loss, and I can’t avoid this pain. But grief is a familiar companion and I know how to deal with it. I already know, for instance, that I will get through it—probably sooner than later in this case.
I can even think of this sort-team grief as another drill to help me keep in shape for the larger grief challenges that I may eventually have to face!
Have you experienced 48-hour grief also? Tell me about your experience by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.