The Sound of Grief

By Colton Lott

The squeak of permanent markers on balloons slice across the background humidity and cacophony of a hot summer’s morning. The bugs in the unkempt grass make horrific rackets. The mosquitos drone and bother legs, arms, and faces. A few sniffles here and there, stifled and reserved.

Perhaps the sound of the felt tips on latex seems so unnaturally loud because it is an artificial sound, but I doubt that answer. I think it is because of the noise’s poignancy. Around me are high school students attempting to eke out on these helium-filled blimps their last good-bye to their friend who died in a tragic accident just four short months ago. This should have been his first high school weekend event at camp. Unfortunately, he was absent, just as he would be missing for the rest of their lives and his own.   

Some of the church adults that help with these young adults are concerned that they are getting trapped and lost in their grief. I echoed their sentiments in side conversations approaching this ceremony, hoping that this time of writing messages on little heaven-bound vessels would help provide a sense of closure to the teenagers and the adults who sponsor them.

This isn’t the only way grief sounds, though. The night before, as I approached the cabins, I had a deep conversation with a clergyperson who is on regional staff. I was getting ferociously worked up about how the camp, the church, and even the people had missed opportunity after opportunity. Finally, when my brain turned to mush in the heat of anger and the warm, wet air of the evening, I said, “I am just so angry these days, and I never used to be such an angry person!”

He countered with, “You’re grieving . . . all of what could have been and what isn’t. It’s the journey!”

Perhaps the sound of grief is also the chomping of teeth accompanied by the rolling of eyes.

* * *

In many ways, comparing the death of a child to the continued death of my innocence about church seems to be grotesque (and that is the nice phrasing). Yet, they are both very real and very painful. Different, surely, and they certainly carry a separate weight. However, I bring them together because they are both real expressions of this peculiar human emotion, one that elicits the more primal feelings of sadness, anger, and fear.

Children should live! Dreams should be realized! All should be happy! Labor should be rewarded! Death should be reserved for those who greet it like the next adventure! Goodwill and prudence should prevail and succeed!

But they don’t. Children don’t always live. Dreams aren’t always realized. All are not always happy. Labor is not always rewarded. Death is not reserved just for those who can greet it warmly. Goodwill and prudence don’t consistently prevail or succeed. This life is not always beautiful.

And who were we to think that it was going to be? Why do we cling to these hopes? Why are we so doe-eyed? Why do humans have such an incredible capacity to be filled so full that they are as fragile as those helium balloons that sang out the saddest notes of mourning?

I don’t know.

But there are moments when the anger is so real and the sadness is so heavy that I am glad that I have friends to lean on and talk to. When the bubbles burst and the cold realities set in, I am thankful for the church, even when I am mourning the church we have instead of the church we could have had.

But most of all, I am thankful for those young adults whom I have gotten to know so well over the last six years. In the midst of their squiggles and sniffles, I could hear a few rounds of carefully muffled laughter. There was some giving, some taking, and great reliance. There was, for a fleeting second, the church that could have been, right before my eyes.  

As we let the balloons go, the bodies of the youth seemed to compress, just a bit, as if the air was physically taken out of them to lift their little carriers away. They left that moment and took the memories of their friend with them, hopefully finding the closure they so desperately need for their hellish summer. And had I not written this article, they would never had known that in that moment they modeled one of the best churches I’ve ever known.

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