This might come as a surprise, but I don’t have a lot in common with Audrey Hepburn. The actress managed to snag three majors awards (including an Academy Award) for her first movie, Roman Holiday while in her early 20s. She is one of the rare people to earn Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony awards. In addition to her incredibly successful acting career, she is noted for her humanitarian work, especially many years with UNICEF which were recognized, in part, with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But I do share with Hepburn the pain of grief. “There’s a curious thing about pain,” said Hepburn. “In the beginning, it’s an enemy, it’s something that you don’t want to face or think about or deal with. Yet with time it becomes almost a friend. If you’ve lost someone you love very much, in the beginning you can’t bear it, but as the years go by, the pain of losing them is what reminds you so vividly of them — that they were alive.” Hepburn was reflecting on her own experiences of her early teenage years growing up in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Her beloved Uncle Otto was executed by the Nazi’s for refusing to cooperate and that death, and all the deaths she later saw in the bombings, never left her.
Grief, and the pain it creates, connects me with Audrey Hepburn. Grief is a great equalizer since all who love will likely grieve and we are people who love. So we grieve. Hepburn’s description of living with pain so perfectly reflects my own experience and I think that of many others. Grief also connects us with people across the centuries since grief and love are so intertwined. Even when parents knew the odds of their children surviving were not high, they mourned each child.
The 16th century poet Ben Jonson, outlived all his children but his grief is clear in these two odes written for a daughter and a son. You could tell Jonson that a third of children in his time died before they were seven years of age, but that would not lessen his grief. The pain of grief did not slow his love (“My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy”) and he continued to love so he continued to court grief. And we can connect with Jonson across the centuries through the pain of grief.
The prophet Jeremiah described this pain, saying “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” That image was used again in the Gospel of Matthew to describe the pain left behind after the slaughter of the innocents. And the powerful phrase “refusing to be comforted” means that the pain keeps the connection with the ones we miss. People in grief do not want their pain comforted — they want it acknowledged.
Kings and peasants, rich and poor, white and black — we are born into different circumstances and have different advantages in life. We are united in the pain of grief. Our resources to handle the grief may be different, but nothing takes away the pain no matter what the circumstances. As humans we are drawn to love (and in this way drawn to God) and thus we all experience the pain of grief at sometime. And, as Christians, we share hope.