“They (students) are grieving, as am I. We are in desperate need of someone to tell us it is all right if you cannot operate as your pre pandemic self. Let us, as educators, be the voice that tells our children, I see you and I hear you. And it is OK to grieve. What is an education for, if not to show students what it means to be human?”
-Claire Marie Grogan, Education Week (March 31, 2021)
“Sorrow is better than merriment
Because a sad face may lead to a glad heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.”
Before I came to Valpo, I was pastor of a congregation in Franklin, TN. I joined the staff there in November 2014 — just a few months after a congregation member named Meredith lost her husband, Jerry.
As many of you know, the grieving never really ends. It changes. It stops being the only thing we can feel, but it continues being a part of us.
One of the ways Meredith continued to express her grief was this: whenever we dove into the topic of prayer during a small group study, Meredith would say: “But it’s not that simple. We had hundreds of people praying for Jerry, and he still died.”
I loved Meredith’s honesty. I loved that she wouldn’t settle for easy answers. And I am still inspired that she carried that question about prayer so close to her grieving heart, and yet she still found her home in her faith, she still served God through the Church, and she still prayed for others. Wow.
Meredith bravely shared both her grief and her doubt — two things we’re not usually comfortable expressing out loud in our culture (even, sadly, at church). Her sharing became a blessing. I hope it was a blessing for her, in giving her a chance for self-expression and receiving support. I believe it was a blessing on the whole small group, because it gave us the opportunity to share our own grief and doubt — and then to go deeper into our questions about God, together.
So back to Valpo and the here and now.
The end of the academic year is always a bittersweet time. Graduates are excited and celebrating — and they grieve as they say goodbye to the place and the groups of people that have been their home for the last few monumental years. Other students, faculty, and staff are excited for them, too — and we wonder what our community will be like without them. We prepare our hearts to miss each other, even as we look forward to what comes next.
Of course this year brings added layers of grief to the last weeks of the semester. Graduates are limited to two guests at commencement, and their professors and staff mentors won’t even get to be there. Our end-of-the-year parties have to be limited in number and we can’t serve food. We’re all still disappointed about the things we’ve had to give up or change: from singing together in worship to traditions involving human touch to just seeing one another’s faces. We mourn what used to be and what could have been.
And yes, it is good to focus on the positive: the feat of making it through college during a pandemic, the hope given us by the vaccines
But it is also good to mourn. To name what we miss, what we wish, what we’ve lost. Because when we do this — especially when we do this together — it gives us the opportunity to actually work through our grief. To process it and to put it into its correct place in our spirits. And in talking about it together, we are turning that grief into rich experiences: real conversation, time with people we trust, mutual support — maybe even laughter.
So: give yourself time to mourn if you need it. Give those around you the space to mourn, too. Be the brave one to open up first, to make the way for others.
Because when we grieve together — that’s when God most easily turns even our grief into something like a blessing.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
-Jesus, Matthew 5:4
Prayer: Holy God, through the scriptures we see that you embrace our disappointment and grief. Remind us that you are here, whether we are full of joy or full of sadness. We offer our truest feelings to you, trusting that you can shape all things to be part of your love. When we doubt or when we cannot see beyond the now, give us faith to carry us through. We pray in the name of Jesus, who showed us the way. Amen.
May 5, 2021
Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.