Grieving Through Graveside Conversations

Rev. Deb Koster

March 31, 2024

Losing someone we love can be disorienting. Our hearts still feel the connection even though our earthly physical connection has been severed. When my grandma passed, I lost such a dear friend and mentor that, at times, I felt untethered. She was such a stabilizing force in my life that her absence was significant. My heart still needed to talk with her even though she was not physically present with me. The grief I felt kept me from engaging well with others and finding joy in each day. I needed an outlet to keep me from getting stuck in my grief.

Speaking your truth

As I talked with a counselor about how often I wanted to share things with my grandma, she suggested that I could still have a graveside conversation with her or write her letters to share the news of the day. My counselor encouraged me to lift the burdens off my heart by putting them down on paper or speaking them out loud. I thought it sounded ridiculous, but the practice itself proved to be beneficial. There is something cathartic about expressing a burden that frees our hearts from the weight of it. C. S. Lewis said, “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.” 

There are many good reasons to connect by writing a letter or conversing with someone who is no longer living. Here are a few reasons I think a graveside conversation is worthwhile:

Letting go of regret

When someone dies we often carry regret over missed opportunities. Why didn’t we make more time to hear stories and ask questions? We wish things in our relationship had gone differently. We wished we hadn’t said this or had said that. In hindsight, we may have a better understanding of the struggles our loved one was facing and wish that we had made different choices. Speaking those regrets aloud can help us to set down those burdens and forgive ourselves as God has forgiven us.

Setting down guilt

Confession is a valuable practice for bringing peace to our body, mind, and spirit. God forgives us for every sin we confess and yet we can struggle to forgive ourselves. We were never meant to carry around a weight of guilt or shame. If you are feeling guilty for something you did or didn’t do, writing a letter or speaking those words out loud can turn those burdens over to God to carry for us. Setting those burdens down frees us from carrying those loads we were never meant to carry.

Honoring the connection

In sharing our life updates with a loved one who has died we remember the love and connections that we had while they were living that brought us joy. Looking around a funeral home you see people engaged in conversations and sharing memories that brought them joy. Sharing these memories honors the relationships that you have been blessed to share. Even when death parts us from one another, our love and connection continue.

Recognizing the distance

A personal conversation can help us release our emotional burdens. Writing a letter or having a graveside conversation, though helpful, is not the same as having a loved one with us. As we share our hearts without being able to hold a hand or an embrace, our connection is incomplete. We value the chance to share our burdens, even when the conversation is only one way. We look ahead to a day when there will be a reunion instead of distance.

Hold hope for the future

We have a God who has experienced suffering, knows our earthly pain, and walks with us through whatever we face. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit walking with us through all of life’s trials. God has promised that a day is coming when grieving will be no more. We look ahead to the day when our sorrow will come to an end and we can rejoice in the community of all God’s saints.

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelations 7: 17).

As we walk through seasons of grief and discern how to move forward with peace, choose to give yourself grace. Even Jesus wept. A graveside conversation or a letter to someone who has passed away are just tools that can be used to help us process and find closure. There is no correct way to grieve and it takes time to process a loss and discern our way forward. Give yourself grace and express your grief in whichever ways are helpful to you. While we grieve we do so as those with hope, knowing that God is walking with us and we are never alone.

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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