Thursday, June 20, 2013

Coping with Grief 02


We can be so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death of a loved one and the funeral that the full intensity of our grief is held at bay. It is often when the funeral is over and there’s nothing more to do, that we become overwhelmed with loneliness and pain. 

We deal with this in different ways. There are those who contact a friend (or maybe their priest) so as to have someone there with them. Others just want to be left alone. Whichever way we deal with our grief, we should open our wounded and broken hearts to God. 

During a time of great turmoil, the Bible tells us that God said to his people:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) 

Many people have experienced his presence in that stillness as he lovingly calms the otherwise raging tides of emotion in our hearts and minds.
There is another passage in the Bible that people  find helpful. It was written over 2,500 years ago by a man for whom death and destruction were on every side. His whole world had collapsed around him. Because his lament begins with cries of desperation it is often used as a meditation by those in deep grief:

“My soul is bereft of peace, 
  I have forgotten what happiness is;  
  so I say, ‘Gone is my glory, 
  and my expectation from the Lord.’
“Remember my affliction and my bitterness, 
  the wormwood and the gall!  
  My soul continually thinks of it 
  and is bowed down within me. 
  But this I call to mind, 
  and therefore I have hope:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, 
  his mercies never come to an end;  
  they are new every morning; 
  great is thy faithfulness.
“‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, 
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
  “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, 
  to the soul that seeks him.  
  It is good that one should wait quietly 
  for the salvation of the Lord.”
(Lamentations 3:17-26)

What an amazing reading - one of the many examples of the Bible’s breathtaking honesty when dealing with the turmoil as well as the blessings of human life. It begins where so many of us are when we grieve - look at the gut-wrenching cry at the start of the passage! - , but it finishes with confidence in the wholeness and peace that come from the Lord. 

Actually, soaking ourselves in Scripture as a whole (and not only our favourite “cuddly” bits) is a good way of preparing, not just spiritually, but also emotionally and psychologically, for all that life throws at us. 


A lot has been written over the last few decades about the process of grieving, with the result that some people speak of the various “stages” of grief, as if they are exactly the same for everyone. We know that’s not true. We experience grief in different ways. We also deal with it in our own way and at our own pace.

Nevertheless, it is possible to recognise a range of emotions that are frequently experienced by grieving people. These include:

Regret and Guilt
Every human relationship is imperfect. There are no exceptions. There are things we meant to say - kind and appreciative things – that we didn’t get around to saying.

There are also words and actions we meant to undo, take back, or at least make up for, and we didn’t get around to that, either. Death comes along and we have to admit that, for all our good intentions, we failed to do what we knew was right. That’s painful. So is the realisation that we will never be able to change the way death left our relationship.

Sometimes those who grieve are very angry. Anger is a natural response to pain. It is natural to be hurt by the death of a loved one, and it is natural to want to strike out.

We can be angry with the person who has died (“Look at all the problems you have left me to deal with on my own!”)

We can transfer our anger onto those around us, snapping at our family and friends, and being cruel and sarcastic to them.

We can even turn on God, desperately, crying from within, “Why did you do this to me?”

We might feel ashamed of our anger, but we should remember that it is one of the most common emotions experienced during the initial months of bereavement.

It is possible to experience a sense of relief when a loved one dies, especially if they suffered a debilitating illness. This is perfectly understandable.

But we sometimes then feel guilty for experiencing that relief. We forget that we have every right to be grateful for the release from suffering that death can bring.

Two fears are often present when a loved one dies.

The first is fear of our mortality. The death of a loved one reminds us that one day it will be our turn. Most of the time we ignore this reality, but when someone close to us dies we are brought face to face with the fact that a time not of our choosing and under conditions over which we have no control, we, too, will die.

The second is fear of the future, especially when it is a spouse who has died. In marriage two people become “one flesh.” We don’t appreciate how real that union is until half of it dies. Death is like radical surgery. We are left emotionally and physically weaker, only half what we were before.  Widowed, wounded and alone, we gaze down the days and years ahead. They look empty, dark, and frightening.

Click HERE to go to Part 3


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