Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years, and Sarah died at Kiriath-arba. Abraham said to the Hittites, “I am a stranger residing among you; give me property for a price so that I may bury my dead. Entreat Ephron for me, so that he might give me the cave of Machpelah at the end of his field.” Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham, “I give you the field and the cave that is in it. Bury your dead.” – Genesis 23:1-11 (abridged)
The emotion of grief needs physical space, I’ve learned. It’s why cemeteries are ideal for finding solace: those wide-open spaces where the sky can bear witness to pain, the quiet enshrined places where shadows provide comfort for tears, the unmarked favorite spaces where memories paint the landscape with love.
It’s why Abraham desired space to bury Sarah, even in a land where he and his family lived as foreigners. With the purchase of a field and a cave, Abraham guaranteed a spatial touchstone for generations to come—where Sarah could be remembered, where family stories could be retold, where those stories could be wrestled with and lamented, where the frailty of human experience could find perspective alongside ageless stone and seasonal harvest.
Grief needs space that has touchstones, so its chasms do not swallow all of life.
Grief needs space where it can go for peace, so its tensions can be stretched and uncoiled from the body.
Grief needs space that is rich in love, so its heart does not become hardened.
This is true not only of grief that follows the death of a loved one, but also of grief that follows change and grief that follows disappointment and grief that follows endings. The spirit needs touchstones. The body needs peace. The heart needs love. With these three, we can grieve well. With these three, we can bury our dead.
God, have mercy: I am too tempted to harden my heart against sorrow. I am too quick to surrender hope in the face of uncertainty. I am too combative to be at peace with grief. Have mercy, O God, through this foreign territory.