Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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A Right to Grief

June 20, 2023

Gianna Soderstrom

Spring comes every year. For our family, it comes twice. Halfway through May, we move from our house in the city near the mountains to our house at summer camp, in the mountains. My husband and I move up before anybody else, eager both to be in the mountains, and to avoid moving three days later. Wednesday is when camp truly begins, but if I waited I’d be left to do the work myself. Being the first ones up to camp is lonely. And it’s cold, being abruptly thrust back into the snowy remains of spring when we had been so close to summer. The flowers which bloomed a month ago at 6,000 feet of elevation will not bloom for another two weeks at 9,000 feet of elevation. 

As hard as those weeks are, the weeks before we move are a struggle too. I don’t like to call it a goodbye; it feels so melodramatic. By mid-April camp is looming quick and close; I begin to feel the tuggings of grief so I look hopefully, forcefully, stubbornly ahead to the settled, beachy mid-summer. I yank at joy, as if I can flip past the calendar pages straight to July; to sunny, sandy mornings with my little people swimming, a beach that smells like lake water and sunscreen. I take joy’s face in my hands and turn it roughly towards the goodness I know is coming. Ignore this, I say, look at that

Joy is the truest way of seeing the world. Not because grief is untrue, but because redemption and restoration are also true. Grief is not a surrender to brokenness but a hope of healing. We can grieve more deeply because joy is our spiritual birthright, our end. But to reach for joy without accepting grief is to live half a life. 

I spend weeks, a month, my fists stubbornly balled up at my sides: Remember, you love camp. Remember, summer is coming. I try not to feel the struggle, the pain of leaving the community I love down in the city an hour’s drive and a million miles away. I shove grief away, she’s not needed here, as if this is what will make room for joy. But this is not how joy works. 

Last spring brought the hardest shift to camp I had been through yet. It was cold and damp at the staff housing lodge: two feet of snow fell, and kept falling, for four days. My son felt the change as much as I did and, being four years old, took it out on me. After two weeks of chill and loneliness and non-stop parenting, my Mother-in-law took both children for a night so I could rest. 

At the close of a Tolkien-themed storytelling night, two women stood up and sang Into the West to the soft, clear accompaniment of a harp. Soprano and alto mingled in a spellbound room, charged the air with palpable hope. 

Grief spoke.

I finally wept. 

A song of parting and healing and hoping opened the door to let grief and joy come in together. It was hope—real, gentle hope—that finally softened my clenched hands enough to accept that closing the door on grief will also shut out joy. 

Keeping my eyes screwed shut towards the goodbyes, towards the ache and pierce of leaving my community meant that I could never really grab hold of the comfort in July, summer sun and hot sand and grinning babes. Grief can only run and rage and rend without breaking us if hope is present, because hope shows us beauty waiting on the other side. With no grief, what beauty is there waiting? And with no beauty waiting, how can we face grief? 

Last year, I wept all through the mingled, clear tones of that one gentle song, perceiving without fully understanding the certainty of hardness and hope, of grief and joy together. And this year, I cry as I begin to pack for camp. Grief is the forerunner. I let my tears stake my claim to joy. Only when there is weeping for a night can I remember that July, sunshine, reunion, joy comes with the morning.

The featured image, “Kirkstone Pass Down,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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  1. Terri Moon says:

    I love the way you tell your story with vulnerability and grace. Yes, let’s let our tears stake a claim to joy! I will also be praying for your summer at camp, that God might surprise you with many unexpected joys and tender memories.

  2. Megan Prahl says:

    Oh wow, friend! This was beautiful and special to read . . . especially after catching a glimpse of your camp world this year. Remembering that magical evening a year ago—thank you for sharing that facet as well.

  3. Carolyn B says:

    Gianna, I was primed to read your article after just finishing K.B. Hoyle’s wonderful Gateway Chronicles series, set in the geography of a beautiful camp in Upper Michigan she spent summers at as a girl… What an honest, vulnerable description you’ve offered us of allowing grief to be the pathway into joy, and not rushing through the discomfort of that process. Thank you for your leadership here, I will be savoring your words.

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