By John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
oc-cu-py 1.to take possession of by settlement or seizure 2. to hold possession of by tenure; specif., a) to dwell in b) to hold (a position or office) 3. to take up or fill up (space time, etc.) 4. to employ, busy, or engage (oneself, one’s attention, mind, etc.)
--Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition
With spontaneous social movements around the U.S. and elsewhere giving new currency to the term “occupy” these last few months, I am thinking that the concept could also serve us well when we are confronted with the reality of personal and family grief.
Those who have embraced Occupy Wall Street and its hundreds of replications in cities across the land, have decided that, instead of being occupied and controlled by autocratic forces beyond their control, they will take possession of, hold, and employ the power that in a real democracy rightly belongs to the people rather than large for-profit corporations and the politicians controlled by those corporations.
When we face grief because of the death of a loved one, or in the face of any other loss, we often find ourselves being directed by others to behave in certain ways, because such ways are more convenient and less threatening to those around us. We are, as it were, occupied by the expectations of others and not free to take care of ourselves and our unique needs in such a time.
The answer then is to “occupy our grief,” using one or more of the definitions of the word indicated above. It is okay, if we choose, to take possession of our grief and make it our own. It is okay, for as long necessary, to dwell in our grief, to busy ourselves with our sorrow, to let it engage our full attention for a season.
If we occupy our own grief, we get to decide its nature, its intensity, its rhythms, and its duration no matter what others may think or say!
The Hebrew Bible, in 2 Samuel 12:16-23, tells the story of David and the illness and death of the child born to him and his wife Bathsheba. Confronted with his impending loss David takes charge of his own grief, refusing to eat and to behave in the other ways urged on him by “the elders of his house.”
And David alone decides when it is time to move on and to resume his life and work. Thus, in verse 20, we are told that when he was ready “David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the LORD, and worshipped; he then went to his own house” where he defended his style of bereavement before servants who tried to get him to behave differently. Not a bad example for the rest of us to follow!
So my word this month to the readers of this newsletter is this: “Don’t hesitate to occupy your grief! No one else is better equipped than are you to take charge of your personal bereavement.”