I’m an optimist. Truly I am. I am a person who sees both sides of a coin (in most situations) and, more often than not, tends give the positive side of the coin more weight than the negative. I like looking at the positive side.
I think my kids would tell you that, after going on a field trip, one of my first questions would be “What did you like best?” about that particular experience. Even if it had been less-than-ideal, there was always something positive to note and discuss. It’s the “Look for the Silver Lining” way of thinking that is engrained inside of me.
I’m a naturally positive person, but I was also raised on gospel music and teaching that emphasized a positive Christian outlook. God would take care of everything. As a kid, my sister, mom, and I used to sing a trios recorded by The White Sisters and other Christian musicians of the 1960’s – “Brighten the Corner,” “When There’s a Rainbow in the Sky,” “Count your Blessings,” and many more similar songs with similar sentiments. I believed them; I truly expected the “clouds of frown to go smiling by.”
The clouds of frown go smiling by
There’s a promise written there
Of our Father’s love and care
When there’s a rainbow in the sky.
(John W. Peterson; Copyright 1964 by Singspiration)
Secular music from my growing-up era – at least music that was allowed in our home – also echoed the “look for the positive” attitude (although “Look for the Silver Lining” was written in 1919, it was popularized in the 1950’s and 1960’s). The “right thing to do” was to look for a silver lining and tears were out of place.
Please don’t be offended if I preach to you awhile,
Tears are out of place in eyes that were meant to smile.
There’s a way to make your very biggest troubles small,
Here’s the happy secret of it all.
Look for the silver lining
Whene’er a cloud appears in the blue
Remember somewhere the sun is shining
And so the right thing to do
Is make it shine for you
A heart full of joy and gladness
Will always banish sadness and strife
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life
(music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by B.G. DeSylva, 1919)
After Jason died, however, I would have to say that the “Look for the Silver Lining” platitudes and attitudes just didn’t work for me. The “God will carry you” bereavement Bible quotes or “it’s time to move on” books – especially given to us by people who disappeared and did nothing at all beyond that to walk with us – were not what we really needed at that time. After a while, even the “we’re praying for you” statements – by those who did nothing else – sometimes hit us the wrong way.
One time we had a Christian lady we barely knew tell us that God may have allowed Jason to die to prevent something worse down the road. Huh?? What does that mean??? Was that her reminder to me to look for a silver lining or God’s greater purpose in Jason’s death? We had various people tell us that God had a purpose in Jason’s death. We had people tell us Jason wouldn’t want us to be sad. (In reality, with his huge, empathetic heart, he probably would have understood.) At the time, I felt like I had been thrown out into the middle of a category 5 hurricane, like wave after wave of grief threatened to drown me. I felt like was swallowing salt water and gasping for air, going down for the third time, so exhausted from trying to keep my head above water, lost in an ocean of grief with all familiar landmarks gone. I didn’t need a platitude. I didn’t need someone telling me that the “right thing to do” was to look for a silver lining. I needed a friend!! I needed to know that someone cared!
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that a rainbow is a reminder of God’s love and care for us. I do believe there are many things we will never understand until we get to heaven. I also firmly believe that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) no matter what the circumstances. I don’t have any problem with looking for a silver lining, taking time to smell the roses, and looking for the beauty in each day. (I remember the first time after Jason died that I noticed the flowers were blooming. At a time when my grief was so deep that my outlook more closely echoed W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” than anything else, I was amazed that beautiful flowers were blooming – and that I actually noticed how beautiful they were.)
I had no problem with gentle encouragement from the few people who stayed in my life; I knew it was given with love. (I’m afraid I can’t say the same for people who weren’t around and whose sole “support” consisted of sending me a book, suggestions of book that might help me “move on,” or emails or notes containing Bible verses. That was a real struggle for me.) I had no problem with someone telling us s/he was praying for us (as long as s/he actually was). For a while, I could actually tell people were praying for us; I could also tell when the prayers diminished.
The fact of the matter is that we were left alone by most everyone we knew at the time to walk a long, difficult, lonely walk. I can’t begin to describe how alone we were and how awful it was. I believe that we are the hands and feet of God on this earth, and that He expects us to put action to our faith. Yes, God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. But, does that let us all off the hook? Does that mean we have to do nothing because we expect God to do it all? In my opinion (just my opinion – I don’t mean to sound harsh or judgmental), for a Christian to tell a bereaved person that God will carry him or her – and then for the Christian promptly disappear and do nothing – fits more into the “faith without works is dead” category (James 2:17) than the “love one another” category (John 15:12-15).
You’ve Got a Friend
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
(Lyrics and Music: Carole King, 1971)
Lean on Me
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on
(Music by: Bill Withers, 1972)
We needed friends! We needed people to tell us and to SHOW US by their actions – and continue to show us by their actions over the years – that they loved us, that they cared Jason died, that they cared about us, and that we were not alone. We needed kindness, hugs, love, support. We needed practical help – help with the yard (our yard had been torn up because of septic system overhaul, and Joe ended up doing the work all alone), help with cleaning the house, and help with the laundry. We needed people to talk about Jason and to write/tell us things they remembered about Jason. We needed assurance that we were not pariah; rather, that we were loved and that we would continue to be loved and supported.
What we didn’t need was someone to tell us that the “right thing to do” was to look for the silver lining.
© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney