The Grief Bear

If you stop in at a ranger’s station in any national park, you will hear warnings about bears. You will be reminded that bears are massive hunters and keen trackers with razor-sharp claws. Their color and size depend on what part of the country you choose to hike through. Unless they are foraging for food or raising their young, they prefer to live alone in a tranquil setting. They rear up on their hind legs, show their pearly whites, and shout a fearsome growl when defending themselves or their cubs. 

The unexpected sight of a giant bear will undoubtedly strike fear in your heart. You can’t outrun, outclimb, or outmaneuver a bear, but a few tips can help you win the day. You can stay calm, stand your ground, refuse to feed it, and make yourself look as large as possible. Keeping your backpack on offers protection and keeps food out of the bear’s reach. Feeding him endangers you and those with you. It’s always good to know when hibernation season ends. No one wants to become a hungry bear’s lunch! In general, bears are more curious than vicious and provide significant benefits for the ecosystem they are a part of. 

Grief, much like bears, can be a formidable force. It often hibernates briefly, only to wake up angry and ravenous. The cause of your grief always determines its size, shape, and the amount of time it chooses to track you. You can’t outrun, outclimb, or outmaneuver it. So, how does one begin to tame grizzly grief when it rears up on its hind legs to threaten our peace?

Six years ago, on Good Friday, I let myself into my mom’s house to discover she had gone to be with Jesus during the night. That scene jumped out at me like a ravenous bear waking up from a long winter nap. Massive paws of grief took hold of me and didn’t let go for quite a while. Songs, smells, memories, events, and holidays became the razor-sharp claws that slashed my heart. They say that grief is proof of love. Surely, it must be. 

Grief is also a process. Over time, it can teach us many beneficial things about ourselves, our loved ones, and Jesus that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s good to let others know what we’re feeling. Grief wants us to hibernate under the covers and keep to ourselves. Though that may be necessary for a while, we are always better together. If we let them, family and friends gladly form a protective layer around our hearts. Best of all, Jesus always has our back because He knows how we feel.

In John 11, Jesus wept when he saw his good friends Mary and Martha weeping over the death of their brother Lazarus. Even though Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus back to life, He felt compassion for those mourning. Still, there was a more significant lesson He wanted them to learn; their story was not about death but eternal resurrection! 

That Good Friday scene with my mom was not about her death. It was about her resurrection! Lazarus’ resurrection became a snapshot of what would begin to unfold for Jesus on Good Friday and culminate on Sunday. Every story of grief can remind us of our own resurrection. Our Sunday is coming, thanks to Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross! Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Then He asked a question for us all, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV)

Though my ferocious grief bear has been somewhat tamed, I still miss having my mom in the flesh. I miss her hugs most. However, the lessons and jokes we shared continue to speak to me. Many things take me back to happy moments with her when we were just two giddy girls maneuvering our way through a crowd of Christmas shoppers, singing with Elvis to the top of our lungs, or watching her eyes get big over how much I could eat. I can even go back to that final scene with her and replace the hot, stinky breath of grief with the sweet fragrance of my Jesus, who held me close and never left me. 

Some scholars think Jesus might have wept because He knew He was about to bring His friend back into this sinful world. I’m not sure about that, but reading that made me realize I wouldn’t have Mama leave her heavenly rest for one minute.

Instead, I choose to imagine what it will be like when I go where she is. Jesus and I will walk in the cool of the day together. We’ll pause at a patch of swaying green grass to pet the lion and the lamb rolling together in the warm sunlight. Then, I’ll kick off my shoes and wade into the River of Life. That ol’ grizzly bear will join me, and we’ll splash and play together like children while Mama sits on the bank laughing at the sight. 

“In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:6-9NLT)

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