As much as we try to avoid it, in this world we have grief. It is a necessary process by which we mend and heal. If we avoid the pain of grief it will fester causing us to become stuck. The truth teaches us that we are going to grieve losses. To not face the pain is to be out of touch with reality and avoiding the truth.
Grief is an intense emotional suffering caused by loss. It weighs heavy on us and pushes down on life.
Causes of Grief
There are many causes of grief the most obvious is the grief endured at the loss of a loved one. It is magnified even more if it is a sudden and tragic loss.
The second most significant impact of loss is chronic illness and the aging process. In chronic illness the losses can pile up one on the other year after year.
The third place of loss is the loss of position or status as in the loss of home, church, community, or job.
The fourth most common loss that causes significant grief is the loss of relationship due to divorce, loss of a loved one into drug addiction, or mental illness. This is where the person you once knew is gone.
The fifth cause of loss is in the experience of abuse, rape, or assault where there is the absence of security, sense of self, and life as we knew it.
Lastly there is the sudden tragic loss due to a natural disaster or war. Safety, security, and all that is predictable is gone.
Effects of Grief
Grieving a loss is always a very personal journey. We will feel numb, thinking at first, that the whole thing can’t be true. Denial is not always bad because it helps us accept the loss a bit at a time so that we can handle it.
Grieving will affect our physical being causing us to feel sick and unable to sleep well or feel like eating. Anger can settle in as we start to acknowledge and feel the pain. It is a response to the pain and often directed at God and others. As the anger passes depression can come in like a fog. We will feel sad and without hope. We feel like there is nothing we can do as we surrender to the pain of loss.
Slowly we begin to realize we are still living, there has been a death, but it is not ours. We start to engage and reenter life. We realize God has been with us the entire journey not allowing death to swallow us up. Walter Wangerin in his book, Mourning into Dancing, says, “…grief has one overarching task, learning to let go, learning to live without what once was, and learning to wear something that feels like it doesn’t fit.”
As grief is resolved we learn to admit the loss happened and that it is final. It will take time to accept.
It is important to experience the thoughts and emotions and give voice to the pain. This can include looking at old photos, revisiting places, talking about memories, and journaling about what you remember or feel. “I have cried until the tears no longer come. My heart is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened…” (Jeremiah 2:11).
Our imaginations can envision all kinds of outcomes, bargaining with God, as we refuse to accept the finality of the loss. The edges soften over time as we alter our routines and surroundings. In the process we start to move our emotional energy toward new relationships, new endeavors, and find ways to let go and say goodbye.
Mistaken grief is thinking that it is an enemy. It is a process that occurs in response to death and leads to new life. Grieving takes time and every person experiences it in their own unique way.
We can think if we keep busy that we will be fine, grief is hard, exhausting, and necessary work. Keeping busy is avoiding the hard work and prolonging the pain. We can think that if our faith were only stronger we wouldn’t be in so much pain. The Bible does not say this. The Bible tells us to weep with those we weep (Romans 12:15).
We can also think that the anger that comes with grieving is wrong. It is not wrong to be deeply angered at the wrongness of death. We can think that if we tell someone to count their blessings, they will feel better. It does not make them feel better.
Be a Comforter
When we know the various aspects of grief, we can help someone to know what they are going through is normal. Expect them to be angry, don’t be surprised by how intense it is. It is not about us. As they connect with us, even if it is around anger is a way for them to connect with life. It is a privilege to be present with them.
Walk compassionately and patiently with the mourner, hold out life and the God of hope to bridge them back to life. We must remember and not be like Job’s friends in the book for Job. We are comforters, but we are not explainers. We do not have answers to the questions that arise, nor do we even try. We do not know God’s purposes, nor do we know the answers to the ‘why’ questions.
A person can get so lost in the grief that they can forget to take care of themselves, giving them gentle reminders can be very useful.
Teach them how to lament; to cry out to God and tell Him their feelings, doubts, and questions. It is talking to God. Their faith is being demonstrated as they bring their pain and questions to God.
The Lord Jesus is our comforter. He wants us to bring our troubled hearts to Him. He understands because He Himself bore the sorrows of all of our souls. Grieve, honor those who are grieving, but help them to grieve with hope. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Jesus hears our grief and leads the way in the path of sorrow. He promises “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5).
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).