The first time that I lost someone I love was when my grandpa died. I remember staring inside the Church, looking around as if I was almost dreaming and time was barely moving. I watched as one by one, my family paid their respects.
When I got up to the casket, I didn’t know what to do or say except my one thought was that I hoped I would see him in heaven once again. As I started to walk back I felt this overwhelming sadness come over me. My knees started to buckle and I didn’t even think I would make it down the rest of the aisle but I somehow managed to.
Grief is one of the most powerful emotions that God gave us. When we lose a loved one its not always as simple to say that, “they just passed away.”
Some people lose a loved one to suicide, some to a cancer that was missed by doctors, others might lose a child due to a miscarriage, and some may lose a loved one to murder. Our broken sinful world doesn’t prepare us for these unexpected cracks in the road.
Often times when we lose someone we care so much about we are left with far more questions than answers. Left to sit in our anguish and pain.
Wherever you are today, whether you recently lost someone you love or are just curious to find out more information about grief, I hope this article will help you.
According to the Mayo Clinic,
Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Its a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received.
Grief is a strong emotion typically associated with the loss of a loved one. However, grief often comes packaged with other strong emotions such as loneliness, sadness, guilt, and anger.
What does the Bible say about grief?
There are numerous people in the Bible who experienced grief, including Jesus. David in Psalm 31:9-10 describes how he is stricken with grief.
John 11:35 is the shortest verse in the Bible but it plainly shows that even Jesus experienced grief saying, “Jesus wept.” Another important story in the Bible that highlights Jesus’s understanding of grief is when Lazarus was sick and eventually died.
Even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus still wept with Mary and Martha during the loss of their brother Lazarus.
There are also several Bible verses that show how God understands and empathizes with our pain when we lose someone we love.
Here are just a few:
1 Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”
Matthew 5:4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Psalm 56:8 – “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.”
Isaiah 53:4 – “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
Its clear that God not only understands our pain, our grief, and our suffering but He also invites us to let Him into our lives when we experience grief.
What is the most common model used to describe grief?
The most common and widely accepted description of grief is based on the Kuber-Ross Model. Its named after a Swiss-American Psychiatrist that adapted Bowlby and Parkes original stage theory of grief. According to this model, there are five universal stages of grief.
Keep in mind, despite the wide support for this model of grief, there is little empirical evidence to support this theory (Maciejewskie, Zhang, Block, & Prigerson, 2007).
I included this because its still helpful in understanding some aspects of grief.
1. Denial and Isolation.
The first reaction we do when we learn that someone we love is dying or has passed away is to deny. This reaction has its roots in evolutionary biology as a way we cope with sudden, traumatic, and often stressful situations.
Once denial and isolation begin to wear, we use anger as a natural defense mechanism to protect our core self. Anger is an intense emotion which can be directed towards family and friends, strangers, and even the person who we lost or is suffering.
A natural reaction when we can’t control a loved one’s fate is to try and reach out and bargain with God in an attempt to regain control. We might say something like, “God, please don’t take my mom, I’ll try and spend more time with her.” or “God, if this is punishment for something I did or my family member did, I will do anything…please just help them.”
In this stage, its common for some to ruminate over things they think they could have done to change the outcome.
As the reality sets, its common for people to experience the symptoms of depression such as persistent sadness or loneliness, low energy, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
In this stage, we eventually come to terms with our emotions, thoughts, and reality of the situation. This stage isn’t marked by happiness but more about a period of realization and gratitude for all of the moments that God allowed us to have with that person.
An alternative view on grief.
According to a review from the British Journal of Psychiatry, the Kuber-Ross model may be more accurately described as states instead of stages where grief increases and decreases over time. In a study where participants who experienced a loss were observed (1-23 months) , yearning was found to be the predominant sign, not denial and isolation.
What is yearning?
The Bible describes an example of yearning in Psalm 84:2 where it says, “My soul yearns…my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Yearn means to have tenderness and to have a strong desire for.
Extensive yearning is often labeled as a negative psychological response but in this case, yearning appeared to be a natural part of the grieving process (as opposed to the initial isolation and denial stage theory).
The study also found that less frequent feelings of disbelief, anger, and sadness all peaked at the same time (around six months). What this means is that grief is may be more accurately described as a combination of these feelings instead of separate, distinct, stages which were originally thought of.
These findings change the way that we look at grief. Grief was also found to decrease as acceptance increased, suggesting that they are polar opposites of one another. Enhancing ways of acceptance may therefore improve and help a person suffering with grief.
Furthermore, George Bonnano a Professor of Psychology from Columbia University found in a 2002 study that grief is more like a pendulum where a person may cry one moment and laugh another. Each time though, the swings get longer and the pain begins to dissipate.
Two different types of acceptance.
Since acceptance may be an important factor in reducing our grief when we lose someone we love, its important to understand the two types of acceptance.
1. Cognitive Acceptance.
This form of acceptance is where a person understands and recognizes that a person has a terminal illness. A factor that appears to be associated with cognitive acceptance is discussing treatment plans with a Physician suggesting that clinicians may be able to help with acceptance.
2. Emotional Acceptance.
In this form of acceptance, a person feels less terrified about the impending passing of a loved one and is associated with feelings of being more supported.
The key takeaway here is that people who were able to cognitively and emotionally accept the situation (referred to as peaceful acceptance) were more likely to engage in advanced care planning, had better physical and mental health, and had improved quality of life for surviving relatives six months after the death of a loved one (Prigerson & Maciejewski, 2008).
When does grief become depression?
According to Psychology Today, the one key difference that separates people experiencing grief versus people suffering from depression is their connectedness. People who are grieving may be isolated to some extent but will still be open and willing to accept support and be in fellowship with others.
People experiencing depression are more likely to be isolated for prolonged periods of time and may actually shun support and help from others.
What steps can you take to heal from grief?
1. Grieve as the Psalmists did.
According to gotquestions.org, most of the Psalms (See Psalm 13, 23:4, Psalm 30:11-12, Psalm 56) start with an expression of grief but always ends with a praise. Perhaps this is an example of how we should grieve as well?
Take a moment to just imagine God crying with you during your pain, holding you in His arms as you cry out. Give yourself an opportunity to pray and grieve with God, eventually turning that grief into praise. It will help you tremendously in the grieving process and will eventually help you move on in your life.
2. Focus on this question, “What Matters Most In My Life?”
The answer to this question may seem relatively straightforward, “Your relationship with God, your children, your family, your husband or wife, etc.” but the relevance of this question is important because constantly reminding yourself of these will help you stay focused on your core values according to research by Camille Wortman, a Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University.
Focusing on your core values can elicit positive emotions which will help you in your grieving process.
3. Try to eventually move on but don’t guilt yourself if you are taking longer.
After about six months, most negative grief indicators are in decline for most people. This doesn’t mean that something is terribly wrong with you if you don’t feel any different. Remember, its very likely that our subjective interpretation of where we are in the grieving process is likely to be skewed anyways.
What’s important is that you take the necessary time to grieve and grieve in your own way. Remember, everyone grieves differently, for some the process may take a lifetime and for others it may be brief without any tears. With grief, its not so much how you do it or how long you do it but more importantly that you as Nike says, “Just do it.”
I want to end with this beautiful quote I read from Dean Koontz who so eloquently describs grief,
“Grief can destroy you-or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by the gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.
How have you handled grief in your life?