“Why me?”; “I can’t believe it! It will never be the same!”; “I cannot endure to live without them.”; “I’ll never be who I once was...”; “How can I ever feel differently or be happy again?”; “What did I do to deserve this?”; “What’s the point?”
Sound familiar? These are all statements and questions that many have thought in certain periods of life, especially when facing loss and grief.
“Grief is a heart response to hurt, a painful emotion of sorrow caused by the loss or impending loss of someone or something that has deep meaning to us.” - June Hunt [i]
When thinking about loss, many tend to minimize or fail to notice that grieving may not just come from the most obvious cases, such as the death of loved ones or the breaking of relationships. In fact, there are a wide variety of losses one can suffer, including the loss of health, functional living, a job, finances, and even the loss of a vision or dream for the future - all with the potential for leading into a season of grief and mourning.
Usually, the intensity of the emotions suffered will tend to match the importance and meaning given to the loss. In other words, the greater the value given, the greater will be the pain of no longer having it. This will also vary from person to person, as no one feels and thinks as another, and what might be a tolerable loss for one may be excruciating for another.
Though in past research it was believed that people went through 5 stages of grief (namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), more recent findings suggest that not everyone goes through all stages and not necessarily in the order presented [ii]. It is important, though, to allow time for the processing of difficult thoughts and emotions, keeping a realistic expectation as to what may follow.
So, in a high time of deadly viruses, natural disasters, interpersonal conflicts, and poor financial security, can anything be done when loss knocks at our door, or are we doomed to be helpless victims of the inevitable?
Strategies for Grieving Well
Take care of yourself: Since our minds and bodies are known to be very well connected, it is of no surprise that what you do with your body will influence your brain functioning (thoughts, emotions, self-control, etc). Treat yourself with kindness and respect by getting a good night of rest, eating nourishing foods, walking out in nature and establishing a good morning routine. And in case you need to hear this: avoid alcohol like the plague (or any other mind-altering substances for that matter)! It might feel good to have some in the moment, but it will leave you more depressed than when you started.
Get professional help: If grief is unresolved for a long period of time, you might have chronic grief, which comes with the inability to experience it properly. Your pain may be buried so deep that it might take some vulnerability and willingness to face the loss.
If you see that you’re having a hard time keeping up with daily basic activities, becoming more apathetic towards wanting to live, had changes in your sleep and appetite, or getting more irritated more often, it means that depression might be creeping in. Fortunately, there are plenty of skilled professionals that can tailor an individualized treatment plan that will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel! Therapists (clinical counselors, psychologists, social workers) will guide you through processing difficult emotions and provide a type of support that family and friends would not necessarily be able to offer.
Move toward acceptance: recognize that “yes, this is happening.” As simple as those four words may sound, it might be one of the most complicated pills to swallow. Remember though, that accepting and surrendering into the reality of the situation does not necessarily mean you are okay with what happened, but rather it is a recognition of change. It is only by being in the present and giving up control of the past that one can start to move forward. Unfortunately, in many cases, you cannot expect to ever gain what you’ve lost, so holding on will also keep you from freeing space for what is still there!
Be grateful: recognize what is still there, with thankfulness and appreciation. This is not a replacement for being sad about the loss, but an addition. Many might find feelings of guilt creeping in, and lack of permission for enjoyment, but the full truth includes negatives and positives. Each day, adding a list of things you’re grateful for will help shift your focus and keep you from falling into a common cognitive distortion called Negative Mental Filter.
Ride the wave and talk about it! Don’t be alone in your grief. Tell others how they can help you. When the wave of memories and mixed emotions hit, it’s easier to let it take you to the shore, where it will weaken and dissipate, instead of fighting against the current. Be honest about how you think and feel (especially with yourself and those whom you trust), and dare to feel it. Go ahead and cry, share a memory and let yourself be comforted with a hug.
Create new memories: Does that restaurant remind you of a partner that broke up with you? Take all your friends there and enjoy their company; Laugh where you used to cry; Assign new meaning to sentimental objects (or throw them away if it helps); Rebuild the old pathways, but this time with the foundation on what can be gained and learned.
Use creativity: Working on externalizing or expressing hope for a better future through art, music and other creative outlets can be refreshing and empowering.
Think it through, and take in a dose of truth: Here is my unpopular opinion-you need friends (family, therapist, cats, dogs) that will listen to you, understand, empathize with your pain... and give you a loving reality check when needed! Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about positive toxicity and dismissal of emotions (i.e. “Just get over it, you’ll be fine), but being around those who will inadvertently support your denial might work against your healing process. See, our emotions tend to follow our thoughts, speech and behaviors. The more you give ears to hopelessness, doubts, self-pity, should’ve-could’ve-would’ves and what-ifs, the deeper the pit will seem. This in turn may lead to a cycle of depression, self-destructive and addictive behaviors, anxiety and more “hole-diggin’.” Keeping those honest friends close by might come in handy, as they will be able to ask the hard questions and give a fair perspective.
Don’t let your pain go to waste: Yes, you read that right. Your grief and your pain can be repurposed and used in such a beautiful way! If you grieve a loved one, it means you had a precious gift. Celebrate and honor that person by imparting the blessings you received from them, and be involved in helping others as well. “Those who have borne the greatest sorrows are frequently the ones who carry the greatest comfort to others, bringing sunshine wherever they go. Such ones have been chastened and sweetened by their afflictions; they did not lose confidence in God when trouble assailed them, but clung closer to His protecting love.” [iii]
Take it to God in prayer: If there is anyone who understands exactly how you feel, it’s Jesus. And that means that if you take your burdens to Him, He will gladly take them away. Let your hearts be encouraged by the assurance of His faithfulness and by believing that grief and suffering will end. Jesus has walked in the valleys and shadows of grief and despair, as we see in Isaiah 53:3-5. He is a ready shoulder to cry on and to talk to, because He not only knows sorrow, but also has promised healing and wholeness when He comes again.
Ultimately, who do you want to become?
There comes a point in which the ones on the side of the living, since they are indeed alive, need to decide whether they will live cultivating the seeds of bitterness, anger, resentment and unforgiveness, or live watering the seeds of hope, peace, contentment and gratitude. It is only by the cultivation of the latter, even while accepting the harsh realities of loss, that one can (and may I add, with the help, comfort, and power of The One) start to fill in the missing pieces and truly find not only closure, but complete healing.
More resources on grief:
The Brain People: Powerful Tools for Healthy Grieving
Healing Griever Blog — Comfort For The Day
Psychology Today: Handling Grief
Psychology Today: Grief
[i] Hunt, J. (2008). Counseling through your Bible Handbook: Providing biblical hope and practical help for 50 everyday problems. Eugene: Harvest House.
[ii] Grief. Psychology Today. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/grief.
[iii] White, EG. Selected Messages 2:274.