In Honor of Grievers

Losing someone you love is both unnatural and traumatic because we weren’t created to die. Unfortunately, this side of heaven we must struggle with the loss and absence of those we love. Losing a child, a spouse, a parent or a sibling is horrific.

There are Biblical reasons for the intense loss of a spouse. Scripture indicates that when we wed in Christ, we become ONE Flesh. In a strong and loving marriage, the surviving spouse feels the strong severing of that spiritual One Flesh. They must find a new identity without that person after living day in and day out with them, knowing them intimately, accustomed to waking every morning to their constant presence. The morning coffee on the back porch, the TV programs you watched together, the restaurants you frequented as a couple, can often become places and things you now avoid. How do you carry on? You have to find new places, new hobbies to orient yourself to new meaning and a new place in a lonely world. Often widows and widowers are marginalized in society. People say, “There are many church programs for widows,” but that is largely untrue. Very few of such programs exist, though the Bible clearly instructs believers to “plead for the widow and the orphan.”

The loss of a child, too, is overwhelmingly traumatic because, in my perception, the umbilical cord is not just physical. It is also spiritual, connecting us to our children long after their birth. It is also out of order for parents to bury their child; it does not follow the natural cycle of life.

Losing a beloved parent is equally as hard. A loving parent is one who helped you feel safe in the world, who guided you, taught you values and principles…. Losing a parent at any age is difficult but in the crucial years it can be overwhelming and debilitating – in the teen years and for young adults launching into adulthood with all its uncertainties.

Every type of loss needs to be fully grieved and validated by others.

Norm Wright calls the loss of a sibling “Disenfranchised grief” because people naturally tend to comfort parents or spouses; however, the sibling is often overlooked and left on the sidelines. People tend to view sibling grief as less extreme than other forms of loss, but it can be just as debilitating for some, depending on the closeness of the relationship prior to death or guilt over the lack of one.

It’s unfair to rate or compartmentalize grief or to imply the necessity of an end date for the griever. Comments like, “it’s time to move on”, or “you’ve grieved long enough” are shallow, nebulous words. Such callous, unsolicited remarks from others are unfortunately common in loss. It’s best to surround yourself with those who have also suffered deep loss and understand the ebb and flow of grief as well as the grief ambushes that seemingly come out of nowhere and momentarily cripple us.

The grief community is the most precious segment of the population. They see life on a deeper, stripped-bare level; they are vulnerable, yet strong. If you are grieving loss, reach out to those who have grieved. They get it.

Watch for signs of suicide in a griever: isolating, withdrawing from people and regular activities, fear of leaving the house or lack of desire to leave home, lack of motivation, unable to experience pleasure (anhedonia), etc. It is important to monitor these signs in a griever, to notify and mobilize their support system, and to suicide-proof their environment. Take the individual to the nearest hospital emergency room if symptoms persist and become extreme or contact emergency authorities if necessary.

Please take every measure to protect and care for the grievers you come into contact with. Grief is trauma.

My own grief counseling practices focus on newer models of grief counseling (such as Robert E. Neimeyer’s). Such newer models assist the griever in finding a new identity and a new meaning without the deceased. Newer models also emphasize maintaining a relationship with the deceased, in spirit, though “absent in the body.” Grief is not linear; Therefore, I do not use medical models such as Kubler Ross’ older theory that suggests we move through stages–anger, acceptance etc– in a clearly defined manner.

The truth is we cycle back and forth many times through the emotions of grief. Grief never ends because “love never ends.” 1 Corinthian 13:8 (ESV) Grief is messy and in no way linear, but we can learn to navigate and manage it through Christ’s Word, an understanding support system, and if necessary, a skilled mental health clinician.

“Two pillars of Christian belief support this: One is the blessed hope that we will see Jesus again (Titus 2:13); The other assurance is that our present bodies will be raised from the dead immortal (1 Corinthians 15: 12-57) These two pillars provide a basis for believing we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. After all, if we can recognize the Lord Jesus, possessing the perfectly restored and glorified bodies to do so, it follows that we will recognize other believers, including our loved ones.” (Daniel R. Lockwood, Christianity Today, 2007)

I would be happy to help you through this difficult and unsettling process; I will work with you to find new meaning and establish a ‘new normal’ so you can embark on a fresh and peaceful beginning.