Grief: God's Way of Healing the Heart

by James White

Am I the Only One Who Feels This Way?

I have no energy. I feel as if there is a weight laying upon my chest, holding me back, making it difficult to get up in the morning, or do anything all day long. I can't concentrate. Tasks that used to be easy for me are now difficult. The future looks so black and bleak. There's just too much to handle. I don't know how I can go on.

Ever since I lost my loved one, my life has been a shambles. Oh, I managed to make it through the funeral all right. Many commented on how "strong" I was. Little did they know what was going on inside me. But once the relatives left and the friends stopped calling, it all began to collapse in upon me. The loneliness. The feelings I never expected and still don't understand. I weep at the slightest provocation: I can't even see it coming. I find myself standing in the aisle at the grocery store crying at the sight of a "favorite" food that brings back such a poignant memory. I do double-takes while driving, thinking, for a moment, that I've seen my loved one walking on the sidewalk, and then I feel so stupid for doing the same thing over and over again. I'm on an emotional roller-coaster, and I don't know if I will ever be able to get off.

I can't control my emotions-any of them. I get angry so much more easily than I used to. I'm sick and tired of people telling me they understand, when I know they don't understand at all! How could they? I've been offended many times, and I know in my heart that person really meant no harm. I'm afraid some of my relationships may have been forever damaged by things said since the death.

If those words sound familiar to you, you are not alone. They describe just some of the common experiences of people in grief. As long as you are old enough to love someone, you are old enough to grieve. And when you've lost a loved one, you will grieve. You will either work through the grief to your benefit, or, by some mechanism or another, you'll put off elements of it until later, and that to your detriment. But grieve you will. God made us that way.

One of the most important things I've learned in grief counseling is this: you need to realize that the feelings you are having, the troubles you are experiencing, are not abnormal or unusual. That is, feelings of loneliness, fear, confusion, dread of the future, and even anger, are not unique to you. You are not the first person to feel these things, even if you did not expect to feel them when, in those sober moments, you considered the possibility of what life would be like without that special person.

Our culture has done everything in its power to rid itself of having to think of death and its consequences. As a result, we don't talk about it, think about it, or do a very good job preparing ourselves for its certain arrival. As a result, we enter into the grieving process unprepared for what lies ahead. We don't realize the range of emotions we are going to face, and we often don't even know how to reach out to those around us for their help and comfort. What's even worse is that many feel uneasy giving comfort, because it isn't "the thing to do" in our society. We are all supposed to be able to "handle things on our own." Well, grief is not handled well alone. God made us social beings, and when we lose a loved one, we desire, and need, the help and assistance of others.

Give yourself time!

The first thing to realize about the grieving process is that you can't sit down and chart out how long it is going to take you to "get through it." In fact, in some very important senses, you will never get "through it." That is, you will always be a bereaved person. That relationship that was yours with husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, grandchild, or simply close friend, will never be "there" again in this life. It is an unalterable fact that will change the course of the rest of your life. So in some senses, you will always be "in the process." You may well shed a tear twenty years from now on an anniversary or birthday, and there isn't anything wrong with that, either. One does not seek to escape grief, but to embrace it, work through it, allow it to heal the hurt, so that we can move on with our lives in full light and recognition of what has happened and how God has changed our lives as a result.

But there are other ways of viewing the process as something that we do, eventually, work through and complete. And as with any process of life, it takes time. You simply cannot compare yourself to someone else and say, "Well, Aunt Charlene was back on her feet and seemed just fine about two months after Uncle Dave died, so I guess I should be through with this by then, too." You were not married to Uncle Dave. You did not have the relationship that Charlene had with him, and hence cannot even begin to really know what issues Charlene had to face in her grief. What is more, any grief counselor will tell you that two months is a very short period of time. Most people do not feel the full force of their loss, and the emotional toll it will exact, for a good four to six months after the loss. Many report that the fifth, sixth, and seventh months are the darkest and most difficult. Of course, in our society, you are expected to be "over it" in about two weeks and back to work, ready to put it all behind you. Our society really doesn't handle this topic very well.

In counseling with those who have suffered a loss I have often had to point out that the greatest pressure being exerted upon them was not coming from friends, relatives, or even employers. It was coming from themselves! You may not be able to do anything about the employer who won't give you the time you need, but you can surely do something about yourself!

You need to decide, right now, to allow the natural grieving process to take the time it needs to take. Not more time than it needs, not less time than it needs, but just what it needs to bring you to the position where you can live in full light of your loss and yet do so with the joy and fulfillment that God intends His children to have.

How long will that be for you? No one knows. One thing is for certain: it can't be shortened. Your make-up, the relationship you have lost, the factors that went into the loss, all come together to determine how long the process will last. For example, if you have lost your husband or wife of many years, the grieving process will "look" much different than if you have lost a newborn infant. Why? Well, one major reason is that you have formed "habits of life" with that husband or wife that, in many ways, define who you are as a person. The newborn infant's loss does not involve long-lasting habits. The pain is just as severe, but the process of grieving that loss will differ in many respects from the loss of one's husband or wife.

There are all sorts of "complicating factors" that enter into how long it will take for grief to take its course. The nature of the relationship you had, how close you were, whether there were unresolved issues between you, the way in which death came (suddenly, in an accident or heart attack, or over a long period of time, due to something like cancer)-all these things have their voice in determining how much work you will have to do (and it is work, mind you!) to complete the course. That is why no two people are identical in their grief, and no one can "chart out" what is going to happen to anyone else as they mourn their loss.

So grieving is natural, it takes time, and it is individual. Yet, it follows a pattern as well. We can't put that pattern into black-and-white terms, but the pattern is there all the same. The pattern exists because we are all creatures, created in the image of God. That unity that is ours in our creatureliness gives rise to the patterns we can observe in grief. Let's take a look at some of the commonalities that we discover in the lives of those who experience grief.

Read the next chapter.

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