Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Grief: Compassion vs. Bitterness

Bitterness is a bale of barbed wire. After someone we love dies, we wrap it around to protect us from ever getting hurt again. Life can’t get in, but we also can’t get out.

Bitterness has razor sharp edges. At a time when we aren’t able to feel anything else, we can feel this.

Bitterness is different than sorrow. Bitterness is sorrow covered with the jalapeno of anger and the habanero of rage.

We feel sorrow when a wife dies. We feel bitter when she dies in her forties from a horrible disease that caused her intense pain. Mark Twain lost three of his four children during his life. Then his wife Livy died, and he became a bitter man.

Bitterness is a defense mechanism. Bitterness is a filter that colors how we view life, and how much joy we let in.

We feel bitter if we thought that life promised us if we worked hard, followed the rules, and were good people, then we would live to ripe old age with the person we loved. When this doesn’t happen, we feel bitter because we held up our end of the agreement.

Can we be bitter in our own life and compassionate toward others?

I think it’s a continuum. As we move away from bitterness, we move toward compassion, both for others and ourselves. I don’t think we will be happy again until we let go of most of our bitterness. 

When someone we love dies, we stand on the corner of Bitterness Boulevard and Compassion Avenue and we have to decide which way to turn. Compassion for ourselves is hard to muster if we think there was something we could have done to keep our loved one alive.

Kindness for ourselves often has to be kindled by the compassion of others. We need to be reminded that we are worthy of love.

Compassion is a warmth that surges through our body.

When people come and sit with us in grief, when they listen to us share, when they accept us in our brokenness, we feel the healing power of compassion. And because of our suffering, our eyes open to the wounded and broken, to all the suffering going on in the world, and all the ongoing deaths of innocent people.

Because people took time out of their lives to help us, we realize how crucial compassion is in the world. And our hearts, although still broken, open again to others and we are able to take compassion to them.

Compassion is the balm that soothes our burned heart.

Chiura Obata, one of ten thousand Japanese Americans who were wrongly taken from their West Coast homes and locked up in World War II internment camps, told his fellow internees in Topaz, Utah that they could either be bitter and look down at the barren ground and focus on that, or look past the barbed wire and see the beauty of the mountains.

Bitterness is a one-way street that has a bakery with delicious smells coming out, but no parking spaces. Every time we pass by unable to stop, we become hungrier and more bitter.


Compassion is when someone sees us, pulls out of a space, and lets us pull in.

No comments:

Post a Comment