Not All Grieving Seasons Are the Same

Christine CaineBy Christine Caine9 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Don’t Look Back: Getting Unstuck and Moving Forward with Passion and Purpose by Christine Caine


A few years before Catherine moved out, my mum passed away. She left this earth the day of my fiftieth birthday celebration. Although she had been ill for a while, and we knew she had taken a turn for the worse, when I FaceTimed with her before I went to my party, I did not think it would be the last time I would ever speak to her. I felt confident that we would get to share more of our lives together. After the initial shock, I found that mourning her death was completely different from anything else I’d ever experienced. In the days before we left for Sydney for her funeral, I kept thinking how I would never see her again this side of eternity. There was such a finality to it all, such a foreverness. It wasn’t like grieving through a minor transition with the hope of finding something different once we were through it. She was gone and I was left. The only transition would be my learning to live without her, and I didn’t feel ready.

Mum was the woman who loved me before she ever saw me, who wanted me, who adopted me, who named me. I deeply loved her, and she deeply loved me, even though there were times when we didn’t completely understand each other. I was not your conventional Greek daughter, and in many ways, my relationship with Mum was complicated. She had a different vision for my life than the path I chose, and it wasn’t until she died that many unresolved things came to the surface of my heart—things I didn’t even know were buried down deep in my soul.

What I came to understand after my mum’s death is that how we mourn, and perhaps how long we mourn, is affected by what or whom we’re mourning—and maybe all the surrounding circumstances. My adjusting to moving to the United States or to having Catherine move out and live a couple of hours away from home was completely different from when I had to say goodbye to my mum. Mourning her was much deeper and lasted longer than any other grief I’d known. It took time, and even when I thought I’d moved on, it would sneak up on me and surprise me when I least expected it. But that’s what grief does, doesn’t it? I’ll never forget hugging someone who was wearing Mum’s perfume, Chanel No 5. I thought I would buckle at the knees.

As more years have passed, I don’t get triggered quite so easily. My mourning season is over, but to this day, I miss her. I still have “Mum” and her phone number listed in my favorites on my phone. I can’t bear to delete it. I know I can’t call her, but I like having her close like that all the same.

When I grieve, most often I cry and feel sad, and yet, coming from an expressive Greek background, I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve been a bit more dramatic. Nick, on the other hand, being from a British background, is consistently stoic. I may be the only person who can detect when he has a change of emotion. No doubt, the way we express our grief is different for us all. I’ve known people who grew numb or found it hard to function, and others who were more angry or frustrated. The important thing is to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves time to grieve what we need to grieve.

If we look to the Scriptures, there are allowances and periods of time made specifically for this. When Moses died, God initiated thirty days of mourning. When Aaron died, he was mourned for thirty days.3 Bathsheba mourned the death of Uriah for the duration of her pregnancy, when she carried David’s child.4 When Jacob died, the Egyptians mourned him for seventy days.5 And Scripture gives many more examples of mourning.6 Although I’m not sure why they were all for different periods of time, clearly it matters that we take time to grieve.

When I was very young, each time someone in our big Greek family died, the older members of our family would mourn for forty days. As part of this tradition, they signified their grieving period by dressing in black. It was more common in the generation of my grandparents and my great aunts and uncles, but I vaguely remember seeing it. From what my mum explained to me, it was a tradition that helped people recognize the need to grieve and then to move on, and it let others in the community know that they were mourning. In the weeks following the funeral, Mum said the family would gradually transition from wearing black to wearing charcoal or purple, signifying their journey out of deep grief into stages of lesser grief.

Perhaps, when our mourning tries to keep us wearing black, what we need to do is venture out with some purple, figuratively speaking, though I admit, black is my go-to wardrobe essential. I’m not in a state of perpetual grieving, and I’m not on my way to another funeral; I just happen to wear black most all the time because it is easy for me. It requires me to think less about my wardrobe and more about everything else. My girls have tried to help me change, and from time to time, I have given in to them, but somehow, I always revert back to black. In that regard, I suppose I am stuck, but it’s not in a way that holds me back from the future God has for me.

What about you? Is there a place where you’re stuck? Is your grief holding you back from the future God has for you? Is there some place in your heart where you are still wearing black on the inside, even though you appear to be wearing purple on the outside? It’s all too possible for any of us to tell a tale—with our activities, our expressions, and even our clothes—that all is well, when the truth is our hearts remain cloaked and weighed down in the garments of grief. I find it a relief that God promises to help us with all of this if we invite him in. He promises to give us “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”7

Adapted from Don’t Look Back: Getting Unstuck and Moving Forward with Passion and Purpose. Copyright © 2023 by Christine Caine. Published by Thomas Nelson. Available now wherever books are sold.

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