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Mourning and Moving On: Growing through Grief 

A pastor reflects on civil rights, loss and the Biblical case for coping with it all.

A road with sunshine at the end.

I’ll never forget having the wind knocked out of me when I heard the news that Kobe Bryant was gone. It was as if the world stopped. There was, of course, the shock and sadness at the tragedy of it all: the legendary basketball player killed alongside his daughter and others in a helicopter crash. But I also mourned the void that his vacancy left in the world: one of philanthropy and community development.

There is something about grief that knocks us to our knees. Whether it’s subtle and expected or unexpected and traumatic, we are never the same after it happens.

When we rang in 2020—and a new decade—not that long ago, none of us knew that all our lives would be turned upside down by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It almost feels like we’ve lived multiple years in only a few months. Most of us have experienced grief of some sort, whether we’re grieving those lost to the virus or grieving for the security of “normal” life that no longer seems to exist.

Last month, I enjoyed re-watching Selma, which chronicled the journey of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. As the grandson of sharecroppers from rural Alabama, this movie inspired me and it also challenged me to be a bridge of hope and an agent of change.

So, I really felt the ground shake beneath me yet again when I learned of the transitions of Reverend C. T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, two towering figures of the American civil rights movement. Of course, unlike Dr. King, these legends were blessed with the gift of long life and were actually able to taste some of the fruit of their labors. Immediately I began to grapple with the weight of their absence. Pondering to myself, where do we go from here? What do we do when our elders become our ancestors and their presence is no longer with us?

While grieving and thinking about this, I was reminded of a familiar passage of scripture. In the Book of Joshua, God speaks to Joshua after Moses dies. He reminds him that while Moses has gone Joshua must arise and possess the Holy land. Therefore God commissions the children of Israel to mourn Moses but prompts Joshua to move forward. These verses comfort me in a crisis. When we refuse to mourn, we allow ourselves to think we are healed when we aren’t. However, when we refuse to move, we can become so paralyzed by the past that we refuse to launch into the future.

It is no secret that our land currently needs much healing. Whether it’s the land of police brutality, the land of unfair housing, the land of voting reform, or the land of coronavirus—all of us require healing and a return to wholeness.

I believe that in a time such as this, while many, myself included, have lost loved ones during the pandemic and are grappling with deep-seated grief from the world that once was, we must mourn—and then we also must move, knowing that God embraces us when we feel wounded, broken and hurt. This gives me hope. Hope that springs from the promise of a better and brighter tomorrow.

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