“THE MEANING OF GRIEF”
Welcome to session 4. If you wish, get yourselves a coffee or tea before you start reading.
Open with prayer:
“Lord, again we ask you to spend this computer session with us. You understand grief and sorrow. Let us understand your willingness to walk with us, sit with us, listen to us us and to show us your way in day-to-day living. Amen.”
In our last session we looked at our deep desire to be in control of our lives, and how LOSS causes us to rethink our love-relationship with a myth. As Christians we realize that God gave us responsibility, accountability and choice (Genesis “Creation story”), but not control.
As we deal with LOSS, we deal with fear. Did you know that the most frequent command in the Bible is “Fear not ”? It appears 365 times, as if to tell us “fear not” for every day of every year of our lives.
Leo Tolstoy ends his short story ‘Three Questions’ by saying, “Remember there is only one time that is important: NOW. It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”
Philip Yancey writes in his book ‘Reaching for the Invisible God’, “The past is unchangeable, the future unpredictable, I can only live in the present.”
In Matthew 6 we find the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. Verse 11 says, ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ Not the leftover of yesterday’s bread or tomorrow’s bread but only today’s bread.
Recovery groups, such as AA, live by the slogan “One day at a time”.
AA’s founder, Bill Wilson, wrote, ‘The most important hurdle for an addicted person is to acknowledge that he or she is not God.’
- We must quit playing God. (… pretending/playing to be ‘in control’.)
- Next we must by faith allow God himself to ‘play God’ in our lives, which involves daily, even moment-to-moment surrender.
This AA principle certainly applies for our LOSS – GRIEF situation.
When you enter into grief, you enter into the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). There is nothing heroic or noble about grief. It is painful. It is work. It is a lingering process. Grief has been labeled everything from intense mental anguish to acute sorrow to deep remorse. There is a multitude of emotions in the grief process – out of control and often in conflict with each other: Bitterness, emptiness, thankfulness, apathy, restlessness, love, anger, happiness, guilt, sadness, self-pity, fear, helplessness.
A young wife said when she found out that the baby they had been planning to adopt was going to be kept by the mother, “I feel as though something has been ripped right out of the inside of me. It hurts so bad. I feel hollow inside.” THAT IS GRIEF.
A divorced father said, “For the past 13 years, when my son has come home for the weekend and I have to take him back to his mother, I hurt all over again. The pain comes back with all its intensity. It still cuts like a knife.” THAT IS GRIEF.
Please, complete each sentence with the first thought that comes to mind. Perhaps you can discuss this with a trusted friend?
- To me grief means . ..
- The most difficult part of grieving is . . .
- The most intense grief I’ve ever experienced is. . .
- When I experience grief I feel . . .
- The hardest emotion of grief is . . .
- What I’ve never fully grieved over is . . .
- The first grief I ever experienced was. . .
- What helps me the most when I am grieving is . . .
Grief . . .
- Grief means a number of changes.
- Grief appears differently at different times and it flits in and out of your life.
- If is a natural, predictable and expected reaction. Grief is not an abnormal response. In fact, the absence of grief is abnormal.
- Grief is your own personal experience. Your loss does not have to be accepted or validated by others for you to experience or express grief.
Here are some Biblical Insights for Understanding Grief. You might find them helpful.
(Matthew 26:36-38) Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Jesus grieved.
- The Father grieves over evil in Noah’s day (Genesis 6:6)
- The Son grieves over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35-38)
- The Spirit grieves over believers’ sin (Ephesians 4:30)
God responds to our grief
- Recording our tears (Psalm 56:8)
- Sympathizing with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16)
- Eventually ending our griefs (Isaiah 65:19; Revelation 21:4)
Grief measures the meaning of our attachments
- Our attachment to friends (John 11:36)
- Our attachment to family (Genesis 50:1)
Grief potentially interrupts life’s routines
- Leaving mourners with little appetite (2 Samuel 12:17)
- Causing mourners to wish for death (2 Samuel 18:33)
- Multiplying mourner’s illness and death (1 Samuel 4:18-22)
Grief potentially persists over an extended period of time
- For 7 days (Genesis 50:10)
- For 30 days (Numbers 20:29)
- For 70 days (Genesis 50:3)
Grief is potentially expressed in a variety of ways
- Before a loss (Matthew 26:37-38)
- By shock, numbness, or denial (Mark 8:31-32)
- In anger (Job 10:9)
- Through bargaining (Isaiah 38:1-22)
- With depression (2 Samuel 12:16-18)
- With acceptance (Phil. 1:12, 21-24; 4:11-13)
Grief is potentially facilitated by various expressions
WHY GRIEF? Why do we have to go through this experience?
The emotion “grief”, like the emotion “joy” for example, is an avenue of expression.
Grief-responses express basically 3 things:
- Through grief you express your feelings about your loss, just as for example through joy you express your feelings about some pleasure.
- Through grief you express your protest at the loss as well as your desire to change what happened and have it not be true.
- Through grief you express the effects you have experienced from the devastating impact of the loss.
What is the PURPOSE OF GRIEF?
If you view grief as an avenue, then the purpose of grief is to take you from ‘A to B’.
Grief takes you from (A) ‘feeling reactions’ to (B) ‘facing your loss’ and working on adapting to it.
Dr. Gerald May, M.D. said, “Grief is neither a problem to be solved nor a problem to be overcome. It is a sacred expression of love.”
There are certain facts to remember about grief:
- The way out of grief is through it.
Psalm 23:4 – I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, . . .
- The worst kind of grief for you is your grief.
- Grief is hard work, it can be exhausting.
- Effective grief work is not done alone.
The purpose of grief is to bring you to the point of making necessary changes so you can
live with the loss in a healthy way.
At a time of loss, you begin with the question, “Why? Why did this happen to me?” And eventually you will move to, “How can I learn to live through this experience and with this experience?”
When the HOW-questions replace the WHY-questions, you have started to live with the reality of the loss.
- ‘WHY?’ questions reflect a search for meaning and purpose in loss.
- ‘HOW?’ questions reflect your searching for ways to adjust to loss.
What do you have to do to get from ‘WHY?’ to ‘HOW?’
There are four steps that can be followed for most types of losses:
- You need to acknowledge the loss, you need to change your relationship with whatever you lost.
If the loss was the death of a person, you eventually need to come to the realization that the person is in fact dead.
In marriage, you are no longer married to this person. (“. . . until death does us part.”)
Recognize the changes, develop new ways of relating to the deceased person. Learn to exist without the person the way you once learned to exist with the person.
If you had a severe illness or accident, realize that your physical condition is now different.
If you had to move to a new town, realize you are in a new community.
Recognize the changes.
Develop new ways of relating to the lost person, lost health, lost stage in your life. If possible talk to a trusted friend about how to accomplish this.
- Develop your own self and life to encompass and reflect the changes that occurred because of your loss. Perhaps talk to a trusted person about how to accomplish this.
This will vary depending upon whether the loss involved a job, an opportunity, a relationship, or the loss of a parent or sibling or spouse. Write notes.
- Discover and take on new ways of existing and functioning without whatever it was that you lost. Talk to a variety of persons about this. Write down worthwhile answers.
Choose to want to learn to exist without the person, without certain body parts, or without your former home and employment, like you once learned to exist with the person or with your former home and with your job. Memories will remain with you.
This involves accepting a new identity, but without totally forgetting.
- Choose to re-direct your emotional investments that you once had in the lost object, lost dream, or person. ‘Fish’ for ideas by talking to different people about this. Brainstorm and write down ideas. Choose to ‘bloom where you are planted’ as best you can.
These steps may sound simple, but they are not. All of grief involves work, effort and pain, and much time. Often one-day-at-a-time. Philip Yancey in “Reaching for the Invisible God” writes of a woman who was left paralyzed by an accident. She could not bear to face living a whole life with this loss of agility, but she could face one day at a time.
Use your imagination. Picture Garfield, the beloved fat cartoon cat.
Garfield, surrounded by mice, is asked by his disgruntled owner,
‘Garfield, what are you going to do about these mice?’ –
‘Get them name tags?’ Garfield smiles.
And, Garfield is right. Name the mice that invaded your life, so-to-speak.
- Name and face your problem(s)
- Name and face your loss(es)
- Name and face your feelings
- Talk about them by name
Acknowledging and understanding any loss is essential to starting the grieving process. Depending on the severity, some losses will soon be just a faint memory. Others, such as the death of a child or spouse, may never be completely settled. But this step does mean integrating the loss into your life.
You must overcome your shock and denial and face the painful reality of what has occurred.
It means saying, “Yes, unfortunately this did happen.”
Facing your loss means:
- You don’t attempt to postpone the emotional pain.
- You don’t deny that it actually happened.
- You don’t minimise your loss.
However, a normal protective response is to admit that you would like to run away from it all!
A common myth regarding grieving is that we should bury our feelings. Expressions like the following ones are damaging and ignorant:
“Don’t feel bad. After all he/she is with the Lord now.” Or “He/she is in a better place.”
“You will be ok, you can handle it.”
People who say such things are either anxious themselves when a loss occurs or have never learned what to say.
To assist the process of facing your pain:
- Make a list of the effects of your loss. Like dropping a rock into a pool of water, a loss causes wide circles in your life.
- Feel and record ALL of your emotions, negative and positive. One author suggests, “Grieving means allowing yourself to feel your feelings, think your thoughts, lament your loss and protest your pain.”
- Tell others about your loss as soon as possible. Call the loss by its name. You may want to keep track of whom you told, the date and their response. Some have found it helpful to tell at least one or two people each day during the first week of their loss.
This is intense emotional suffering.
To sum it up one more time:
Name and face your problem(s).
Name and face your loss(s).
Name and face your feelings.
Talk about them by name.
Depending on the severity of your loss, your first reaction can go from feeling slightly down to incapacitating numbness. After a while, other feelings will surge up like seasons in a year: There is a season of anger, denial, fear, anxiety, rage, depression and many other emotions, eventually calm and hope. And you will cry! Tears are healthy, they are words without sound.
Genesis 42 – 50 tells of Joseph’s reunion with his family in Egypt. Joseph wept and wept, his emotions are recorded 7 times. (Read Scripture)
Emotions don’t follow each other in a progressive way either. They overlap and are jumbled together. When you think you are over one, it comes back. Finally you smile, but the tears return.
You laugh, but a cloud of depression drifts in again. Gradually, ever so gradually, the storm quiets.
Yet months and years later an isolated wave of grief washes against the shore of one’s soul.
This is normal. This is healing.
When a birth happens, when a marriage takes place, we celebrate with much joy although we experience losses at the same time. But death is seen as a closed door to the existence of human joy.
Please note, life is a mixture, see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, . . .
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, . . .
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Death is a part of life, not the end of life. Or as St. Francis puts it,
“. . . and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Pain comes in waves, initially the waves are intense and frequent, eventually the waves slow down.
Most people don’t realize the pattern of peaks and valleys of grief.
See chart below: “Phases of Bereavement”
Care, concern, comfort help, empathy = Support!
For the first 1 – 7 weeks you might experience plenty of support.
But, as the months go by, support begins to dwindle to zero.
Pain and grief actually intensify at 3 months and then gradually subside but not in a steady fashion. They go up and down. Most people don’t need a reminder of the first year anniversary of the loss of a loved one. The grief comes rushing in with an intense pain that rivals your initial feelings of loss. Notice how the amount of support diminishes just at a time when it is needed the most. If anyone attempts to tell you that you should be “over it by now” or “feeling better” – it shows that they lack understanding of the process of grief. Perhaps they have not been thru it themselves.
It is all right to let others know what you need and don’t need at this time in your life. You may have to educate them about grief.
In order to resolve your loss, perhaps tell others:
- they don’t have to avoid bringing up your loss.
- they are welcome to call you and ask you how you are.
- they need to realize that when you are crying you don’t need to be fixed because there is nothing wrong with you!
“What do you think people who are grieving do to postpone or block their grief?”
(Keeping busy? What else?)
FIVE WAYS WE ATTEMPT TO NEGATE OUR LOSS:
1) Denial (“Don’t Even kNow I Am Lying”)
Denial is our first defence.
Denial is used to block out the unthinkable: Rejection, abandonment, loss of love or even a death.
It’s the expression, “It can’t be true.”
In many dysfunctional families this is a way of life.
Question: Can you think of a time when denial was used in your life? If ‘yes‘, write it down.
The following is not in your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”, so please take notes:
To help you face your grief, make up 4 flash cards, deal with one of them each day.
On the back of each card, outline what you think that statement means now/today for your grief experience. Share your insights with different people if you can.
Repeat this exercise after some time.
Card 1) I believe my grief has a purpose and an end. (Grief is an avenue.)
Card 2) I will be responsible for my own grief process. (From why to how)
Card 3) I will not be afraid to ask for help. (Listen to me!)
Card 4) I will not try to rush my recovery. (Peaks + valleys of grief.)
This is our second defense against loss. “It really did not hurt THAT bad.” – “There are better men out there. After all, I only went out with him for two years.” – “That job wasn’t the best anyway.” – “Who needs a BMW?” – “Our neighborhood was changing anyway.” – “Well, she lived a good long life and now she won’t have to suffer anymore.”
We want to lessen the impact of pain. If you live in rationalization too long, you begin to believe it. You ‘protect’ yourself from healing!
Question: Can you think of a time when this was used in your life?
This distorts reality by idealizing what we lost. Any negative characteristics or aspects are overlooked, whether it is the loss of a job, death of a family member, or an unwanted divorce.
Question: Can you think of a time when this was used in your life?
4) Re-action Formation
Do or believe the opposite.
When there is a loss, the person tends to run from her/his pain by overemphasizing the opposite of the pain. “Just look at the bright side of this terrible situation!” – “At least you found this out before the wedding!” – “At least he did not kill anybody.”
Question: Can you think of a time when this was used in your life?
Preferring to stay in or even going back to a miserable situation rather than enduring the pain of perceived loss.
- Often this pattern is seen in the use of alcohol and drug abuse because both of these tend to make reality blurred and deaden pain.
- Young children use this defense by going back to diaper stage and thumb sucking when life gets tough.
- Battered wife syndrome!
Question: Can you think of a time when this was used in your life? Don’t forget to start a grief diary and record your findings, especially if you have nobody to talk to.
You need to confront your loss experience and your grief and eventually you WILL recover. And tears are a healthy expression for any loss. Max Lucado puts it this way,
“Tears. Those tiny drops of humanity. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to deepest despair. The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are most apt.”
Everybody cries. Some cry outwardly. Others are only able to cry within themselves.
Tears are words without sound.
Summary of appropriate Expectations YOU can have for YOURSELF in grief
You can expect:
- Your grief will take longer than most people think.
- Your grief will take more energy than you would have ever imagined.
- Your grief will involve many changes and be continually developing.
- Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life.
- Your grief will depend upon how you perceive the loss.
- You will grieve for many things both symbolic and tangible, not just the death alone.
- You will grieve for what you have lost already and for what you have lost for the future.
- Your grief will entail mourning not only for the actual person you lost but also for all the hopes, dreams, and unfulfilled expectations you held for and with that person, and for the needs that will go unmet because of the death.
- Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions, not solely those that are generally thought of as grief, such as depression and sadness.
- Your loss will resurrect old issues, feelings and unresolved conflicts from the past.
- You may have a combination of anger and depression, irritability, frustration, annoyance or intolerance.
- You will feel some anger and guilt, or at least some manifestation of these emotions.
- You may experience grief spasms, acute upsurges of grief that occur suddenly with no warning.
- You will have trouble thinking (memory, organization and intellectual processing) and making decisions.
- You may feel like you are going crazy.
- You may be obsessed with the death and preoccupied with the deceased.
- You may find yourself acting socially in ways that are different from before.
- You may find yourself having a number of physical reactions.
- Others will have unrealistic expectations about your mourning and may respond inappropriately to you.
- In summary, your grief will bring with it, depending upon the combinations of factors above, an intense amount of emotions that will surprise you and those around you. Most of us are unprepared for the global response we have to a major loss. Our expectations tend to be too unrealistic, and more often than not we receive insufficient assistance from friends and society.
This concludes Session 4. Please, read chapter 3 in your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”.
Let’s close with prayer:
“Have mercy on me, o God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” – Amen