We deal with different kinds of loss in our lives: the loss of a loved one through death, the loss of a relationship through divorce or separation, the loss of a career or ministry position. It could even be the loss of an idea, possibly the idea of how we thought our lives would turn out. The pain of loss is very real, no matter the cause.
We should give ourselves permission to grieve over our losses. Oftentimes we tell ourselves that we need to “suck it up” or “put on our big girl/big boy pants” and move on. While it is true we do need to go on with life, we still need to allow ourselves time and space to grieve over loss, or we can easily get stuck in the pain of loss.
There are healthy ways to grieve. We have all heard or read that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, we need to be careful not to sabotage our thinking. It is very unlikely that you will walk through a set of steps and then be done with grief. There are certain emotions that we face when dealing with grief, but there is no set game plan or rules concerning those emotions. In reality, we may experience all five of these steps/emotions in the same hour or the same day. Do not expect to walk through one stage and then proceed to the next.
Some things to expect when grieving a loss:
Each person grieves differently. Accept that your grief is your grief. You may not experience the same emotions or meet the same “markers” as your friend or relative did when they experienced a similar loss.
There is no set time for grief. The length of your grief is not an indication of your love for the object of your grief. Some folks errantly deduct that if someone processes grief quickly it means they did not love the person as much as someone who grieves longer. There is no timeframe for grief!
Comforters don’t know what to say. Generally, people care and they have good intentions, but they simply do not know what to say to someone who is grieving. Sometimes it is better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. As you walk through grief you learn what not to say to someone who is grieving. Simply being present can be a comfort. Sometimes no words are needed; a simple touch on the shoulder can mean a lot. A smile can bring comfort.
You may experience anger toward God or the object of your grief. For Christians it can be disconcerting to think that they could be angry with God. Anger is a very real part of grief. You may vacillate between anger toward yourself, your loved one, and God. You may question why God chose to “take” your loved one away. You may be angry at your loved one for leaving. And you may feel angry at yourself for feeling angry at your loved one or God. Recognize that this normal. You have not lost your mind. The important thing is to not stay angry. Even God tells us it is not a sin to be angry. He tells us not to sin when we are angry. God understands. He knows your pain, He knows your anger, and He knows you.
Things to avoid when walking through a loss:
Do not put a timeframe on your grief. If you plan to stop grieving at a certain time and you do not reach that goal, you add disappointment to your grief. Take all the time you need.
Do not get offended. As noted above, generally people have good intentions. They do not mean to hurt you or offend you in your grief. As an example, I have heard people say “you will get over this.” When a person is in the throes of grief, it feels endless at the time. They do not want to “get over” the object of their grief. While it is true it will get easier to bear, they will never “get over” the loss. They will learn to adjust and make transition in their life. The sting of that loss will always be a part of them. For the first few months or year, the pain of the loss is the most prevalent emotion they are dealing with at that time. Later, the pain of that loss is still there but it is no longer the most prevalent emotion in their life. They will still experience the pain of that loss at times. A song they hear on the radio, a certain item on the shelf at the grocery store, passing by a familiar place, or seeing a photograph may trigger the pain. At other times, those same simple occurrences can bring great comfort.
Do not add guilt to your grief. A person may feel guilt during the loss of a loved one. It has been called “survivor guilt.” You may feel guilt when you experience joy after your loss. You may question, “Why should I be able to go on with my life when they cannot?” You may ask, “How can I be happy again without this person or position”? You may even feel that you traded your loved one for money if there was an insurance policy or settlement. If you were able to choose, you would choose the person over the policy every time. But we do not get to choose, so we must come to terms with our thoughts. Your loved one would not wish you to mourn them for the rest of your life. He or she would want you to be able to experience joy and happiness. It is ok to give yourself permission to be happy.
Be transparent in your grief. Tell your family or friends what you are experiencing. If you are not sure how you feel about something, tell them you are unsure. Express your needs. If you need some alone time, ask for it. If you feel that you should not or do not wish to be alone, communicate it to them. They will be more patient with you if you are transparent in your grief. If you cannot express it verbally, you can write them a letter or a note. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. The pain you are experiencing is normal. Other emotions will eventually float to the surface and the pain will be subdued.
A person’s grief is just as unique to them as their fingerprints. No one can predict it. No one can define it perfectly. All anyone can do is to give it time.
This article is intended as general advice and should not be viewed as medical advice.
About the author: Terry Hayes, a data entry specialist at Advent Christian Village, has a bachelor’s degree in Christian Counseling from Suncoast Institute for Biblical Study (Paraclete Bible College and Seminary). Previous to dealing with her own loss after losing her first husband in 2010, Terry counseled individuals on a variety of issues and regularly helps friends deal with their individual losses.