Unexpected Grief
By Anthony Casperson

The highlighting of grief took only a couple of minutes, but it seemed well handled to me. In the first episode of the Disney+ series, Hawkeye, this brief moment near the beginning of the story surprised me.

Clint Barton sat with his children in the audience of a Broadway musical theater production during Christmastime. The musical was about the events of the first Avengers movie (even though there were heroes as characters in it who had yet to step up to the position by that point in the MCU’s history). It was cheesy. And ridiculous. And far too happy, given the subject of the musical.

We see Clint’s daughter ask him a question about the show that he doesn’t hear because it seems that all the heroics had cost him his hearing. Human limitations can only take so much abuse.

But just after that interaction, the camera pauses on the actress playing Black Widow in the musical. Clint’s grief at the loss of his dear friend showcases itself as he shrinks uncomfortably in his seat. Even though her sacrifice was so that he could be the dad that he was in that exact moment, his feelings of loss struck a raw nerve.

It was too much. He had to leave. But he didn’t want to disrupt his children’s fun, so he quietly dismissed himself. Outside, in the cold, Clint took slow and deliberate breaths as he’s sat, crouched on his heels. An attempt to deal with the unexpected emotion at an inopportune time.

His daughter exits the building behind him and asks if he’s alright. He smiles, trying to put on a brave face, because he’s supposed to be the caregiver in this particular relationship. But the pain is obvious.

About to head back in with the girl, his two sons (the youngest of whom was named Nate in honor of Natasha) come out the door. Clint tries to corral them back in, but they play down the fun of the musical and suggest leaving. They’re not missing anything important anyway. And there’s a whole lot more fun to still be had elsewhere.

On the screen, no one said a word about grief during that whole time. No one forced Clint to talk about his feelings. They let him have the moment he needed. And then suggested something else to do, without telling him that the brave face for them was unnecessary.

There’s something we can learn from that interaction, especially during these next few weeks. As we go about various holiday activities, if unexpected emotions pop up, it’s okay to need a minute. Or more. Even up to and including needing to leave to do something else.

Guilt at feeling the absence of a loved one, or a relational break, or a personal loss, or a disease, or anything else is unnecessary.

I’m not saying that we need to absolutely be a shut-in or anything like that. But in our lives unexpected emotions will arrive at the most inopportune moments. And there’s nothing wrong with feeling them. We should face them. Deal with them when we can. But we’re not broken just because we need to step out into the cold night air for a deliberate breath.

However, that also means that if we see another person needing their own breather, we should be willing to let them have it too. Even if it means that we need to suggest an alternate activity.

Romans 12:15 tells us to weep with those who weep. And we can do that very thing without feeling like a person needs to emotionally vomit all over us. Sometimes, just letting the person breathe for a minute and showing up ready to care is enough. And maybe, being willing to leave even if you really were having fun while they weren’t. (Without ever bringing up that fact in a guilt trip.)

So, whether you’re the one who’s struck with an unexpected emotion, or the one who mourns alongside the grief-stricken during this season, keep these things in mind. The feeling is valid, but should be dealt with as best as we can. A brave face may make us feel like less of a burden, but those who care will see right through it. And retreating from the moment to regroup is not a defeat.

It’s a good tactic to deal with the unexpected.