Updated: Oct 5, 2020
When people experience a loss, they are often distressed and find that they are numb, exhausted, confused, or feeling guilty about some aspect of their loss. They may be frightened or shocked at their own behaviour and ask, "How could I, a faithful Christian, be angry and depressed about this?".
Help them see that they are not only people of faith, they are also people with a wide range of God-given human emotions. Jesus knows how they feel because he experienced all human emotions Himself.
He wept with Mary and Martha when their brother (and his friend) Lazarus died (John 11:35)
He was angry when the Pharisees led people away from God (Matthew 23:1-36)
His tender heart compelled him to touch and heal people and to forgive their sins (Matthew 9:1-8)
God isn't shocked or confused by the emotions surrounding grief and loss. God wants bereaved people to bring their emotions to him so that he can comfort and heal their hurting hearts.
Remember That Children Grieve Too
Imagine experiencing the same sadness, fear, anger, and other emotions that grieving adults feel, without having the vocabulary to express those feelings.
Imagine how your limited exposure to life leaves you with little understanding of what is happening to you and you feel that in some way you are to blame.
This is how most children process family losses, so be sure to provide spiritual care and attention to children, especially after a death in the family.
The Grief Journey
Although many people would like a simple road map showing them the journey through grief, no such thing exists. Most of us would prefer to move in a linear, orderly fashion from loss and confusion to hope and recovery within a predictable time frame, yet each person's progression through the stages of grief (see below) is unique.
After a person has passed through one stage and moved to the next, he or she may well revisit an earlier stage – once or several times throughout the grieving process. Completion of the process may seem unachievable.
What's important is the direction – one step forward is a step closer to recovery. Forget about a timetable because grief takes as long as it takes. Instead of trying hard to stop grieving, taking one day at a time and letting time pass can bring relief during the grieving journey.
What does grief look like? Here are some fairly common reactions to experiencing a loss: 1. Shock, Denial, Numbness, and Disbelief
This is God's anaesthesia. People may describe the day they were fired or the day their house burned down by saying, "I was there, yet I really wasn't," or "It was like a dream.". 2. Emotional Outbursts
When the reality of the loss begins to sink in, a person may try to reverse the loss by the force of his or her anger or by dramatically expressing grief. Such strong emotions may be directed toward God for seemingly not caring, toward other people for their supposed negligence or toward oneself for perceived wrongdoing.
3. Fear, Searching, Panic, and Guilt
As the reality of the loss begins to deepen, the bereaved person may continue to try and reverse the event by thinking, "if only I had (or hadn't)," or become obsessed with ideas about what might have prevented the loss.
Dreams about life before the loss or panic attacks that accompany this stage may necessitate visits to a hospital emergency room.
4. Loneliness, Isolation, and Depression
As the irreversible nature of the loss becomes evident to the mourner, he or she becomes deeply saddened, has little interest in social activities and concludes that life will never be the same again.
The overwhelming sadness at this stage is actually the beginning of recovery. When it becomes evident to the mourner that what has been lost will never be recovered, energy previously spent in denying and resisting the loss can now be redirected toward rebuilding his or her life.
5. Re-entry, Rebuilding, and Reconciliation
At this stage, the mourner fully realises that what has been lost can never be recovered and that it is possible to live without the person they have lost. The grieving person also begins to sense that he or she has learned and grown from experiencing a loss. As hope is restored and life reaffirmed, he or she may desire to help others who have experienced a similar loss.
Grief comes to all of us at some point in our lives. It is okay to grief, to mourn, to feel a mix of emotions, to cry out loud or to cry silently. Take a deep breath, take one step at a time and give yourself time to come to terms with your loss. Take heart also in God's promise that those who mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).