What I’ve Learned About Grief

Martin B. Copenhaver

Before I became president of Andover Newton, I wondered how much of my experience as a pastor would be useful and transferable to this new role. I anticipated that some of my experience would be relevant, and some not, which has turned out to be the case. What I did not anticipate, however, is that I would so extensively draw upon my experience of ministering to grieving families and congregations.

Gratefully, this is not a death. Andover Newton is not closing. We are making moves that will ensure that we can pursue our mission in the future. It is understandable, however, that there are some in the wider Andover Newton community who are grieving the loss of our campus and, more generally, the loss of Andover Newton as we have known it in the last 50 years (1965 is when Andover and Newton formally merged).

Here is some of what I learned about grief in my 34 years as a pastor that seems suddenly relevant:

There is no right way to grieve and everyone grieves differently. It can put a strain on a family (or other community, such as a school) when a shared grief is experienced differently by each individual. That means we need to make room for each other — and room for ourselves — to experience grief in our own ways.

In grieving, there are no short-cuts. Anything that looks like a short-cut is an illusion. Grieving takes as long as it takes.

Grief that is not expressed tends to grow, rather than to diminish. And, again, everyone expresses grief differently.

We never grieve the loss of just one person (or thing). When we suffer one loss, other losses reappear and are added to the experience — making it that much more powerful.

There is both an individual dimension and a communal dimension to grief, and both are essential.

There is no substitute for ritualizing a loss. Grief without ritual can be like the fabled ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman, forever wandering because it has no place to land.

It may be a truism, but it is also true, that time heals.

My prayer is that each of you who are grieving in response to the changes at Andover Newton will feel supported by the Andover Newton community. I specifically hope you will join us for the Reunion/Convocation to be held on campus September 22–23. There will be many dimensions to our time together but one will be an opportunity to grieve — through conversation, perhaps, but also through ritual. It will feel uncommonly good, and fitting, to be together at such a time.

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