How to Grieve: An Open Letter to the Hells

When my mother died this past winter, I was offered countless words of comfort. I was told to cherish the memories I had made with her. People quoted precious words of scripture. I received sweet cards and letters reminding me that I will see my mom again and that she is always close. I sincerely appreciate all of the comfort given to me during those first weeks of loss. But the single most useful thing anyone said to me was this: 

No matter how you are grieving, the hells will tell you that you’re doing it wrong. 

That might not seem like the most comforting statement in the world, but it has gotten me through so many low points in my stages of grief. I have turned to this phrase time and time again as the hells have attacked my grieving process at each and every turn. And there have been a lot of turns. This truth has become one of my smooth round stones with which I can slay the Goliath that tries to make me feel small and weak in my sadness. After all, being able to call out the hells is vital in fighting against them. 

The following is an open letter to the hells in response to their relentless attacks on my grieving process. My hope is that it will serve as a useful tool for others who are navigating loss. 

To: Hell
Attn: Grief Manipulation Department 

What the hell? 

Such a greeting has never been an appropriate start to any other letter I’ve composed, but it sure suits this one.

How dare you attack me at such a vulnerable and painful time in my life? No matter how I try to process this loss, there you are telling me that I’m not doing this right. 

If I’m soaking up my blessings, you are there to tell me that I’m in denial about how big this loss is. If I haven’t cried in weeks, you tell me that I must not have loved my mom very much and I’m not missing her enough. If I do cry, you tell me I must not truly believe that my mom is in a far better place and that I will see her again. You call my every move into question until I feel utterly paralyzed and so unbelievably small. Your web of lies and self-doubt is one sticky mess and I’m sick of it.

Sometimes I think I’m doing fine but then your whispers start to infiltrate the cracks in my contentment. You whisper at first, so I almost don’t realize that it’s you talking and not me. I try to ignore you, but then you get louder. 

When my voice breaks and the tears come, you roar in my ears and it takes a host of angels— on earth and in heaven— to remind me to listen for the still small voice. The voice that doesn’t mock me, push me, prod me, break me, shake me, twist me. The voice that guides me steadily through the fire and wind and crashing waves. The voice that shows me that the web of lies looks strong, but can be destroyed by a single deep cleansing breath. The voice that says that grief is hard. Grief is weird. Grief is unexpected. Grief is confusing. And even though it’s not okay, it also somehow is. The hardness, weirdness, unexpectedness, and confusion of it all is just as it should be because there is no right way to do this. No matter what you say.

So you might be convincing as hell, but you forget that I’ve got an extra angel on my side these days. And now, more than ever, I feel how close the Lord is and how you cannot touch me or break me. I know you’ll keep attacking. I know you’ll try new tactics and sometimes I’ll fall for your tricks. But consider this a warning.  I’m paying attention. I see you sneaking in the shadows. I hear your vicious lies. The Lord comforts those who mourn and no matter what you throw my way, you can’t change that.

Sincerely,
Justine

About Justine Buss

Justine Buss is a theatre practitioner, writer, wife, and mother currently based in Toronto. She was born and raised in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania and studied theatre and English at Muhlenberg College. She spent her professional career working with young people in theatre and is now a full time stay at home mom. She is married to Reverend Jared Buss and is mama to three firecracker kiddos. She stays in touch with her theatre roots by directing Christmas Tableaux and New Church Day pageants every year. She also loves doing crafts, singing with Voices Rock Canada, writing stories and poems, shopping, and going on adventures with her family. She is grateful for the expressive outlet that New Christian Woman provides. It's so good to take the time to reflect on and write about the things that are on our minds and hearts.

18 thoughts on “How to Grieve: An Open Letter to the Hells

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Its poignant and real. And true. There is no “right” way to grieve. I hope your words are healing for others! Xo

  2. Oh Justine. This is profound. Hugs to you, always, and I so admire your clarity, and strength (and vulnerability too)! ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thank you! It felt really good to get it all out on paper, as it were. It’s funny how it didn’t feel all that vulnerable to write. It just needed to come out and seemed useful.

  3. Thank you, beautiful heart, for finding these words. It’s so incredibly powerful to bring these ideas to the light! And so helpful to so many. So beautifully written, and so full of truth and heart. Thank you!

  4. With tears in my eyes – I am missing your mom.
    This is perfect, and so true! I love a quote I saw this summer, someone posted on FB- the hells only attack what you love. Everyday I remind myself of this. It’s a wonder way to help them go away! Xoxo

  5. What a beautiful gift you have given to all of us grieving, even for something “that didn’t happen the way that we trusted it would.” The onslaught of cancer, a troubled marriage, a tragic accident, a betrayal. Although we will all die, the loss of a beloved mother, spouse or friend leaves a hole in our lives, and we grieve, not for what happened, but for what will not happen, because they are gone. A line that sticks with me, harsh, but true, is, “You think the worst thing is that she will die, and then she stays dead.”

    1. Oh that line is so harsh and so true. Oof. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that the hells attack us in a similar way in all kinds of grieving–not just someone dying. I’m glad that this resonated with you.

  6. Dear Justine – What a raw, touching and beautifully expressed letter! Grieving is difficult, and it was wonderful to read how the Lord had led you through His Voice to find His Comfort. Thank you.

    I will confess, your header:
    To: Hell
    Attn: Grief Manipulation Department
    made me smile. Beautifully put! The hells are the masters of manipulation, and your letter is an excellent reminder of their nasty power. Glad the Lord is leading you to overcome them and wishing you all the best.

  7. You really nailed this subject matter, Justine. You speak with knowledge that comes out of pain and grief. Thank you for turning those dark things into something helpful and clear. You are certainly not wasting your opportunities for growth. Wow.
    Oh and your letter to the hells is clever and witty and just the kind of thing you’d cook up. By the by, this would be such a great assignment for high school girls I’m comp or religion class. Just sayin. (You’d be a great teacher of Writing classes there.)
    Thanks for adding humor to these insights. Bless you.

  8. Loved the letter. I fought the hells when my husband died. I missed him so much and there is no right way to grieve. My family helped me so much. Thank you Justine, I loved your Mother from the time she was a babe.

  9. Fantastic! What a great, therapeutic, cathartic and creative tool in your grieving toolbox, to write this out. Such a concrete way to remind yourself of Who’s in charge and that the slimy, conniving and hateful trickery of the evil spirits has been ‘found out’ and called out. “Go to hell!”, “Get the hell outta here!” This is the real and appropriate time to use terms like that, huh? (when our kids were pre-teens I would tell them, the ONLY time it’s okay to use terms like that was in addressing evil spirits : ). So proud of you on this journey.

  10. Gorgeous!! Powerful. So good. Thank you for sharing these articulations and insights, Justine!! <3 <3 -And much love to you as you keep on keepin' on.

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