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Good Grief

'I just received news this afternoon of the death of another friend to COVID.’

I have lost several colleagues and friends in these last months. They have succumbed to complications resulting from the ravages of COVID. Believe what you may of the virus, it leaves major heartbreak in its wake.

I am currently counselling a friend who is trying to pick up the pieces from marital separation and the subsequent estrangement from children. The pain is palpable.

An elderly widow just down the street from where I live is completely despondent. She had to put her little companion dog to sleep. She now feels all alone and is barely coping. My wife stops to chat and cheer her up occasionally.

A friend spent years meeting every need of his wife who was suffering from a terminal condition. He was a diligent, caring, faithful husband. Finally, she surrendered to the illness. After she passed away he went into a dark depression. His life had been centred on caring for her needs. That purpose was now gone.

A long-time employee of a business first had his hours reduced and ultimately was terminated because of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. He is at a loss to know what to do. He sits and watches mind-numbing television hour-after-hour.

A colleague felt it was time to retire even though he enjoyed the humanitarian work he was doing. He was not prepared to deal with the intense feelings of disconnection and purposelessness that came with the transition. I have been sending him materials on coping with life post-retirement.

All the individuals above are dealing with grief. Even though it has many faces and expressions, grief is always precipitated by ‘loss.’ Part of being human is the inevitability of having to process grief at some point.

There are two possible pathways through grief. The first is destructive and crippling. The second leads ultimately to healing from the pain and even greater strength at the point of the fracture.

Let’s look at the healthy pathway through. If we choose this way, we will avoid the dangers of the other.

A healthy way through grief:

  1. Own It – It is real, it is painful. Never minimize the grief that you are feeling or believe for a moment that you are a weak person because of its intensity. Be honest about your feelings and don’t pretend otherwise.

  2. Allow Yourself to Feel – God created us with emotions. They are like safety valves on a ‘pressure cooker.’ Shock, Anger, Frustration, Sadness and Sorrow are all part of grief and are all acceptable reactions to loss. Your faith is not in jeopardy because you have questions.

  3. Don’t Rush Things – There is no expiry date on grief. Everyone moves through the stages at an individual rate. Don’t accept the idea that you should be over it. One is never past grief – one is only gradually healed from the pain it causes. The sense of loss is permanent, the pain is not.

  4. Tears Are Okay – The ‘stiff upper lip’ idea has trapped many in a permanent vortex of grief. As God created emotions, so He provided tears. Our Lord and Master, King of the Universe cried on at least two occasions in front of the people. If Jesus found release in his tears, so should we.

  5. Alone is Not Good – We were created as social beings to share joys and sorrows with each other and walk each other through. Suffering in secret is far more intense. A public acknowledgment of grief opens the door for healing to begin. It is a solidly based Biblical principle that healing happens best in a community. Seriously consider joining Griefshare or hosting it at your Church.

  6. No Guilt Necessary – Often as believers we assign unwarranted guilt to our reactions. Our anger during the grief journey is frequently directed towards the God we have declared we love. A conjoined twin of that anger is a feeling of guilt. How can we who claim that God is always good and does all things well and direct intense anger in His direction? In this, we must realize that God is bigger than our natural human reactions and understands the depth of pain that is the source of our anger. It is important that we not allow Satan to convince us that our faith is inferior.

  7. Not Every Comment You Hear will Advance Your Healing – Most people are well-intentioned, many are ill-informed. Counsel that minimizes, rationalizes, or spiritualizes grief usually originates with people who have never experienced this depth of grief. Those who have never yet had to process grief often have a ‘pollyanna’ view of this kind of suffering.

  8. There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel – At a time in my life when hope seemed faint and I despaired of my life, there remained deep down in my soul alight, almost obscured, but still there. I call it the God-light, the part of faith where God says, “I will never abandon you. I am with you and in you for the long haul.” Sometimes that light is just a flicker, but it never entirely disappears. Grasp it whenever you recognize it and anchor your hope there.

  9. Centre Yourself in the Word of God – The Psalms are primarily comprised of people in distress who have found ultimate solace in the arms of God. Because the Word of God is inspired, it has a supernatural ability to pour healing into our pain. Eventually, the power of the Word will be greater than the power of your pain.

  10. Reach Out Beyond Your Own Pain – Carl Jung’s chief advice for those stuck in emotional glue was to find someone else in pain and reach out to them. There is personal healing that comes when we dispense healing to others. We do not have to have all of our own questions answered in order to bless others who also have big questions. When Jesus declared it was more blessed to give than to receive it was an all-inclusive statement. Even while there is nothing selfish about receiving hope and healing, the prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi states the other side of the coin: “O divine Master that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Although grief does not have a prescribed end date, it will abate. Time will turn loss into the sweetness of memories, and Jesus will turn the wounds into scars.

So, what about the other, destructive way? It is simple! Ignore the above counsel and you will experience a wizening of your soul and bitterness in your spirit. This will evolve into a cynicism towards God and others. Guard against it at all costs.

And if compelled by life’s circumstances to enter the long, dark tunnel of grief, remember the promise of Jesus, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

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