Sunday, December 11, 2011

Give Grief

By Caryn Rivadeneira

I’ve been talking a lot about grief lately. My grief, that is. And about lamenting, about all the times I’ve cried out to God about the things that have broken my heart, the things I have lost, the things I cannot change. I talk about my grief when I do radio interviews, when I speak to women’s groups, when I’m leading discussions.

But the other day I noticed something troubling: while I can write about my grief, while I can stand in front hundreds or be “on the air” telling thousands about the trials of my life, I have a hard time expressing it to just one person. Or two. Or a few friends around a table.

I noticed this when a friend called. She asked how I was doing. Although I was not doing well at that time, I gave her my standard chirpy, “Great. Thanks. How about you?” And shoved down all my sadness, all my worries, all the things that had in fact been causing me to panic that very day.

I told myself it was because we didn’t have long to talk. There was no time to go into all the things that made me “not great,” all the things I was waiting on God for.

But the truth was, I was embarrassed, ashamed to admit to this friend that my life was still not in order, that I feared slipping back into the funk that made me write a book about my experience in the first place.

It wasn’t until I got off the phone that I realized the opportunity I’d missed. Something I haven’t always seen as an “opportunity.”

You see, I was raised to believe that no one cared about my problems. I was taught to say—just as I did with my friend—“Fine, thank you. How are you?” any time anyone asked how I was.

It was polite. And—my folks told me—no one wants to hear a complainer.

My parents meant well. Truly. But they were wrong. While that may be a polite response in some ways (though I could argue against that) and while every last person who asks how we are probably doesn’t want to hear a litany of complaints, some people do want to hear it.

Namely, our friends. Our families. Our colleagues. Our brothers and sisters in Christ. People who care at all about us.

In fact, sharing our grief isn’t just something that’s good for us, it can be a gift to others. Which is the opportunity I realized I missed with my friend.

In me not telling her I wasn’t doing well, I not only missed out on the opportunity for her to walk alongside me in a difficult time, but for me to tell her that I understood what it meant to hurt. For me to open the door for her to share any struggles on her mind.

It’s hard to be vulnerable. To share embarrassing things when we want so badly to be seen as successes—in so many ways.

And yet, sharing a bit of grief as well as our joys can be one of the best things we can do for one another.

So, this Advent season—as we all are waiting on our Savior—I’ve decided on the gift I’m giving my friends, my family, my any-one-who-cares: I’m giving them grief. My grief. I’m going to speak honestly and openly about the sorrows—and joys—of my life right now. And hope they can see me as a safe person to share theirs as well.

Anyone care to join me?

Caryn Rivadeneira is a founding member of Redbud Writers Guild and author of Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When It Lets You Down. Visit her at


  1. Caryn, This is necessary but hard. I so desire to have a Sister in the Lord I can truly share my struggles with but I don't have one....yet anyway.

  2. Caryn--this is so real and wise. I loved it. I, too, grew up being told "no one wants to hear it", so I hid my less-than-stellar moments/emotions, too. I'm learning to invite trusted others in; an exercise in humility and faith. Giving grief is good.

  3. What do you say when someone asks? I'm slowly letting myself be seen at church again after a year of grieving our child. And everyone asks & I don't know what to say, so I just say "ok." Some of them I don't trust to be honest with. But most of the time I don't feel I know how I am doing. I wonder what would happen if I answered "I don't know."

  4. I appreciate your candor in your "refill." Whenever I ask people how they are doing, I always wait for an answer, an honest answer. But I'm not good about sharing what is really going on with me. Your article was extremely helpful to me and convicting.

  5. Jesus wept.
    Sometimes I think we think this happened only one time in his life... I don't believe that. I believe that weeping was part of his life. If he wept to see his friends in pain over their brother (knowing full well that that brother was coming back to life) how much more did he weep over those he walked away from - he didn't heal everyone, didn't bring every body from death back to life, he walked in the fallen world and he saw and felt what we feel - I think sometimes we think he doesn't weep for us and with us to this day. I believe he does.