Resources Theology

Come Sit Beside Me on My Mourning Bench

December 17, 2014

“To comfort me, you have to come close. 

Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”
– Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Grief often isolates us, even amongst those of us who grieve the loss of the very same person or thing. I have talked about this often with my family, as in hindsight we realized that we all grieved separately the loss of my dad eleven years ago. It takes work to grieve together. Each year on this day I set aside time to grieve my dad’s death, but also to remember his life. Often I like to write what God has put in my heart, mostly because writing has a way of making my thoughts tangible and real. But I have realized that even on these days, and even in my writing, my remembering is often isolating – a lonely grieving. 
Inviting people into your grief is hard – grief is fiercely personal and intimate – it almost feels dishonorable to share it, like a breach of the contract of sorrow. But “to comfort… you have to come close.” So today, after eleven years of grieving my dad’s death (often isolated and alone), I want to say with Wolterstorff: “Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” 
My mourning bench is a collection of books, stories, and songs that I have grown to love over the years, that each meet me in my sorrow in different ways. I want to share these in hopes that somehow they will bring comfort to others who are grieving as well. I cannot guarantee that these will all comfort you in the same way they have with me – there is no formula for grieving, as I have found. No sorrow is the same. But perhaps they will lead you to the “Man of Sorrows” and the “God of all comfort” that I have found in them. Perhaps you can come and sit with me sometimes, as well, and I in turn can sit with you.
They are listed in the order of significance to me, each with a brief description of why I value them. I will try to update this as I come across new means of comfort to add to my mourning bench.
BOOKS:
 A Grief Observed C.S. Lewis
I think I’ve read A Grief Observed at least a dozen times. It is essentially Lewis’ personal journals after his wife (Joy) died. He puts into words what my heart has cried for eleven long years. It is a raw account of a man wrestling with death and God, with all the literary beauty of Lewis’ writings. It voices anger at God, and takes us through the whole gamut of emotions, banging on God’s door – but ends back where he started, with the silence of God. “But… it is not a locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze… Like, ‘Peace, child, you don’t understand.’ ” I cannot more highly recommend this book to anyone wrestling with grief.
Lament for a Son – Nicholas Wolterstorff
I just finished this book today, and it is very similar to A Grief Observed. It is Wolterstorff’s personal writings after his 25 year old son died in a mountain climbing accident. Again, he puts into words things about dealing with death and grief that I had on the tip of my tongue. I found myself reading parts of it over again, saying – “That’s exactly what my grief is like.” I will come back to this again, this is where I found the line I love: “Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”
Another book that I just read this year, but is more of a book written for others than the first two in this section. Sittser wrote this after he lost his wife, mother, and daughter in a car accident. He writes as someone who knows grief, and I identified with him very much in his experience. He has a lot of wisdom to share with those who are freshly dealing with grief, about community and forgiveness and growing through suffering and sharing your comfort with others.

STORIES:

This book may seem like an odd suggestion for dealing with grief, but I identify with the main character in her wrestling with God. I will warn that some of the book initially can be difficult to get through, but the end (and story as a whole) is very much worth it. My journal is filled with lines of this book, which can only be understood inside the context of the story as a whole. I sometimes think Lewis wrote this book just for me, and that he saw into my mind to write it somehow.
Night – Elie Wiesel
Another seemingly odd suggestion for wrestling with grief, but there seems to be a raw realism in the way Wiesel wrestles with God in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp. I have written more about why this book is dear to me in these posts: Where is God? (Part 1),
Where is God? (Part 2)
Hannah Coulter – Wendell Berry
This is a fictional account of a woman who grieves the loss of her (first, and second) husband (and in some senses, her children). It is beautifully simple in its story telling, and yet profound as a woman lives in light of loss. I identified with the way Hannah grieved in community: “I need to tell about my people in their grief. I don’t think grief is something they get over or get away from. In a little community like this it is around us and in us all the time, and we know it. We know that every night, war or no war, there are people lying awake grieving, and every morning there are people waking up to absences that will never be filled.”  
SONGS:

“The Silence of God” – Andrew Peterson
A beautiful song originally by Michael Card, about wrestling with the silence of God. The bridge of the song is my favorite part. I probably listen to this song once a week, at least.

“Rita” – Bebo Norman
This is a song that Bebo wrote about his sister’s death.  I’ve written more about this song in this post from a few years ago: Dealing with Death.

“Wounded” – Shane & Shane
One of my favorite bands, and I’m not actually sure why they wrote this – but it has ministered to and comforted me a lot over the years. On the album (Pages) it is followed by an instrumental song called “Healed,” which is fitting.

“Center Aisle” – Caedmon’s Call 
A song that Derek Web wrote about someone who committed suicide, and him attending the funeral. I really identify with much of this. Unfortunately, it is not on Spotify to listen to, but you can get it (or listen to part of it) on Amazon below.

“All That I Can Say” – David Crowder
Another song about wrestling with God that I have grown to love.

“Far Away” – Lecrae
Lecrae wrote this song after the earthquake in Haiti. It is essentially a retelling of Psalm 62:3-5 which asks why God seems far away in the midst of suffering and loss, as I wrote about in this post: Far Away.



“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

– 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
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I would love it if you would share your mourning bench with me. What resources (books, stories, songs, or other things) have comforted you?

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1 Comment

  • Reply Lisa Wood December 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I also lost my father in December (6th, 13 years ago). I find strength in Him and I rejoice that my dad no longer suffers (for 7 years), which was unbearable to witness. I couldn't wish him back for one more day of what he was enduring. Hope your health is good Jason.

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