God works in ways that astound me. Last month when I looked at the calendar for Defying Shadows and chose some subjects to write about, I had no idea that when I chose then to write about grief today, how appropriate it would be. Last week I lost someone who’d been a close friend since childhood. I am grieving her loss. Even more than I, her parents and sister are immersed in grief.
When we read or hear the word “grief” we typically think of death. But you can grieve the loss of a job, a lifestyle or a relationship. Anything that was incredibly important to us that we lose, we grieve. Naturally, the most profound losses are people. People matter most.
There are standard stages of grief most people go through:
- Denial and shock.
As you may have guessed, there are no absolutes to the grieving process. No two people grieve exactly alike. It is a deeply personal process and there is no schedule by which a person must grieve. Someone may grieve in the expected order of the stages or go back and forth between stages, skipping some and repeating others.
I was 26 years old when my mom passed away. This was the first major loss I’d experienced and I was blindsided by her sudden death. She was outwardly healthy, engaging in regular exercise and healthy eating, but inside she had a blood clot that only revealed itself when she collapsed and was gone in an instant. Upon arrival to the hospital, I expected to find my mom alive but critical. I screamed when I learned she was gone. But I couldn’t process this information so I, almost in an instant like the flip of a switch, went into caregiver mode and comforted my dad. This protective stance allowed me to get through the following days of “taking care of business.” (Denial). I had private moments where I learned what the phrase “cried myself half blind” meant. I railed at the sky, asking God “why??” (Anger) I entered into the bargaining phase, telling God I’d give up all that I owned if He’d just let Mom come back. Then I got even more desperate, begging Him to take my arms and legs (which I decided would be less painful than what I was feeling at the time) for just one more hour with my mom. Down the road, much later, I decided as much as I wanted her back, it was selfish to wish Mom back to a broken world once she’d lived in Glory (Acceptance).
When the activities of arrangements were done and family and friends moved back into their normalcy, we were all faced with reality, especially my dad who found himself alone for the first time in 40 years. My heart broke twice, once for myself and once for him. I watched him grieve and take on unnecessary guilt.
Guilt is an ugly thing and we often take it on when we lose someone. There are a lot of “should haves” and “why didn’t I?” This is a good time to try to give yourself a break and realize you’re human and in our humanity, we aren’t perfect in any way, even relationships. Because you didn’t do exactly everything the way you think maybe you should have, doesn’t mean you failed.
When a person is grieving a loss, it’s natural for them to talk about it often. Let them. It’s a way of processing the situation and can help with healing.
Remembering a loved one should be done however one decides to. One thing that was particularly hurtful to me was being told it was weird or unhealthy to remember and honor my mom and eventually my dad after he passed away eight years later, on the anniversaries of their deaths. I countered with this: If a nation can semi shut down for an entire day in honor of presidents no one currently alive has ever met, then it’s okay for me to take flowers to my parents’ grave site and pray and cry.
I cannot stress this enough: seek solid biblical counseling. I don’t know what that looks like for everyone. It may be a trusted and wise friend whose advice and listening ear are comforting and enlightening. It might be a pastor. Or it could be a professional therapist. Finding someone who will offer wisdom, insight, validation, and Godly counsel will be key in healing and making as much sense as possible about the loss. I speak from experience how helpful and valuable this can be.
One thing I learned about grief is that it can sneak up on a person. A song or even a smell can evoke a memory of the person you lost and bring you to tears. This happened to me several times and it taught me this:
- Cry when you feel like crying during private moments. Don’t try to fight it and let it come naturally. This can help prevent the well of uncontrollable tears from spilling out at less opportune times when you’d rather they didn’t.
- Allow yourself to feel. There’s no weakness in tears and remembering.
Healing will come but I don’t believe you’re ever “over it.” The person is still gone and therefore, they are still missed. It’s important to allow others to give help when they offer and to ask for help even when they don’t. A grieving heart is tender and vulnerable and precious. It should be nurtured and well cared for and comforted.
We don’t always find the answers we seek when someone leaves us. Sometimes your faith may be shaken. God has not left you. He has promised never to. Take His hand and let Him hold you up.