Grieving with God’s Help
In one way or another, grief comes to all of us. Whether you are six or sixty, eighteen or eighty, experiencing sorrow is an eventuality that everyone will experience in their lives.
On her way home from college for the holidays, your daughter is badly injured in a car accident and your whole life radically changes as your family tries to adjust. Perhaps you lose a pregnancy, or find out that it will never be possible for you to have children as you had hoped. Maybe you have been laid off at a crucial point in your career and have a family to support.
Suddenly, you are face-to-face with grief. How will you cope with your loss?
After years of working on a hospital Supportive Care Team as a nurse, I have learned a lot about grief. To begin with, grief can be caused by many situations besides the death of a loved one. Also, no matter what has caused your loss, it is important to grieve. No, you shouldn’t just put your chin up, suppress your feelings, ignore your pain, and move on. Sorrow is the proper reaction to a loss, and it needs to be released. The bigger the loss, the harder you will need to grieve, and the longer it will take. Grieving is a process; it is a period of time in which you seek to come to terms emotionally with a loss.
Grief is probably the most painful emotion you will ever experience, and the only way out of it is to go through it. However, you do not have to go through this difficult time alone. There is Someone who understands your sorrow completely and wants to comfort you. The Bible assures us, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart” (Psalm 34:18). Your Creator is the only One who knows all about you, every circumstance that led to this moment, and the pain you are feeling. He can provide the best source of support. Cling to the Lord and the promises in His Word, and He will bring you through.
One such promise was written thousands of years ago by King David, who suffered terrible losses, including the deaths of three sons. Drawing from experience, he gave this timeless encouragement: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Hold on to this promise and others like it, knowing that the “morning” will eventually come.
While the timing of recovery from loss is individual, the process is generally universal. On the way to recovery, each person will go through the common stages of grief and eventually learn how to live with the loss. This process will be easier if you know what to expect and rely on the Lord to help you each step of the way.
The stages of grief
Acute grief affects not only our emotions, but also our bodies, minds, and spirits. You may have trouble sleeping, experience an empty feeling in your stomach, or find yourself crying at unexpected times. Don’t berate yourself if you feel numb, are restless, lack energy, or find it difficult to concentrate. All of these are associated with the following stages of grief that most people go through as they heal.
Denial/shock. One of the early stages of grief is denial, or a feeling of unreality. This is a defense mechanism that engages when something is so painful that it threatens the mind. It acts as protection from the full impact of the loss and allows a person to continue to function.
You may also experience shock—a sudden and violent disturbance of the mind or emotions. Any reaction during this time, from hysterics to icy calm, is normal and acceptable, so be gentle with yourself. Let reactions happen and lean fully on the Lord. The Bible tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Turn to Him, and He will carry you through.
Anger/guilt. Many find themselves haunted by feelings of anger or guilt. Anger is a basic emotion of extreme displeasure or exasperation. It is characterized by irritability, bitterness, and an impulse to lash out. Guilt is an emotion based on a combination of sadness, regret, and anxiety. When these feelings come, a natural tendency for many is to keep them bottled up inside or take them out on others. A better way is to take our burdens to God in prayer. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Confide in Him your feelings of frustration and guilt. Only He has the power to resolve anger, remove guilt through reassurance or forgiveness, and give rest.
Bargaining. Bargaining is generally the briefest stage of grief. It is an attempt to gain time through making promises. Sometimes these promises are made to oneself such as, “If I survive this, I will take better care of myself.” Other times, they are made to God, as in, “If You let my dad live, I will serve You for the rest of my life.” This stage is a time when people think about any unfinished business and complete or come to terms with it. Though you may feel compelled to bargain with God, it is never necessary, because He wants what is best for you. We are told in Luke 12:32, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Simply surrendering to God will bring about the best outcome.
Depression/despair. Depression is a normal part of the grief-growth process. It is characterized by a lack of interest in activities that you once looked forward to and the absence of emotional, physical, or mental energy. At times, physical energy may be so low that you have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.
Despair is a feeling of hopelessness. When a person despairs, the future seems pointless, without meaning, and dark. Certain losses, such as a spouse dying or when children leave home, can cause one to feel that he or she has no more purpose in life. Regardless of the phase of life you are in and the responsibilities it brings, your greatest purpose is to serve and glorify God. As you seek His direction, He will give your life meaning and your hope for the future will be restored.
Acceptance. Acceptance is the final phase of the grief cycle. It is when you are able to accept the loss, and not merely be resigned to it. With acceptance comes a sense of peace and the ability to move on to a new phase of life. Once again, you will be able to enjoy life and look forward to the future.
Advice for the grieving process
It is likely you had no control over the circumstances that brought your grief, but you can decide how you will handle it. Here are some practical suggestions for how to continue moving through the stages of grief, with God’s help, to a place of healing.
Make it real. When death occurs, society follows certain rituals like holding a funeral or memorial service. It is important not to skip these events because they bring closure and help the one grieving to accept the reality of their loss. Where there is no accompanying ritual, in situations such as losing possessions in a housefire, you will find it more difficult to come to terms with your loss. It will be easier to ignore your pain, which could result in carrying that sorrow within you for years. One way to avoid this is to plan some type of occasion, however brief, to recognize and let go of your loss.
Feel the pain. Sorrow is a painful longing over a significant loss. It may be characterized by sharp emotional pain, weeping, sobbing, and moaning. To process your grief, you must feel the pain, which may include such physical manifestations as shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness in your chest, or fatigue. In addition, you may experience an inability to sleep even though you are tired. During this time, remember that you are not alone. Turn to God in prayer, “casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Take care of your physical needs. Nutrition, physical activity, and sleep are vital components of grief recovery. It is important that you eat on a regular schedule, whether you want to or not, and include nutrient-rich foods. Good eating habits will help balance your mood, energy level, and weight. Physical activity is also important because it improves general attitude and health. Working through grief is tiring; adequate rest will enable you to get daily tasks accomplished as well as do the things you enjoy.
Express what you are feeling. In addition to talking to the Lord about our sorrows, many who are grieving find comfort in talking to others. If you have trouble verbalizing your feelings, you could also try expressing your grief through a non-verbal activity such as writing. Journaling is a good outlet because it allows you to be honest with yourself. Also, describing your feelings can bring clarity to what seems confusing, making it easier to process what is happening.
Have a plan for difficult dates. For some types of losses, holidays and anniversaries will be difficult. In some cases, you may choose to lessen the pain by simply avoiding situations that you know will be difficult. If you have lost a loved one, you may want to find a way to acknowledge him or her on certain dates. This could be anything from displaying a photo to visiting a special place to reminiscing with someone who also knew your loved one. You may find encouragement by spending these times with someone else who has suffered a major loss.
Ask for help. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it, particularly from those who have offered their support. If you need a shoulder to cry on, someone to accompany you to the cemetery, or if you just want to go to lunch, say so. If there is no person who can meet your needs, remember to bring every concern to God.
Plan activities that will bring you joy. We read in Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Activities that bring you joy are just as important to your mental and physical well-being as work, so be sure to make time for enjoyable activities. Since you may not feel like doing something fun, it is a good idea to schedule it or invite someone to join you. These activities will help shift your perspective and increase your desire to live.
At the same time, you can still expect to experience waves of sadness triggered by reminders of your loss. Allow your feelings to surface—cry when you need to and laugh when you want to. Both laughing and crying provide a release from the tension you may be experiencing.
Adjust to the loss. As you begin to feel a sense of peace regarding your loss, you will be able to look to the future with new hope. Though you will continue to experience occasional waves of emotional pain and sadness, the frequency and intensity will wane. Do not let yourself become preoccupied with the past, but instead embrace the new future that is before you. Yes, the loss may have altered your life forever, but you can move forward in a new way, finding new meaning in life.
Drawing closer to God through grief
In Isaiah 61:3, God promised “beauty for ashes,” and that phrase is far more than just a casually offered platitude with no real significance. For each adversity in life, there is an accompanying spiritual dimension—an opportunity to discover deeper meaning in your life, and to affirm that God is your Source of strength.
If you are walking through the valley of grief today, you can gain from this hard time. Allow God to teach you and help you through your struggle, and the spiritual purpose can and will be found. Every experience of sorrow prepares us for dealing with the more challenging areas of life that are inevitable. God perfects us through suffering and brings us into a closer relationship with Himself. That is reason enough for you to hang on.