Grief is a multifaceted response to loss or trauma. Waves of grief can hit unexpectedly and rarely follow a concrete, linear path. Professional counselors and scientific researchers use “stages” to describe the different components of grief, but these are more like guides to assist those navigating through the tangled emotions and experiences brought on by grief.
Studies can provide mourners with new insight that is based on the experience of others, but it’s important to not fall into the trap of comparing your grieving process with everyone else. The grieving process for each person doesn’t need to happen in some specified order. The times, length and phases of grief can vary widely from person to person.
However, by walking through the so-called stages, the hope is to better equip each other to cope with life and loss.
Grief and Loneliness
Grief can often isolate us from the world because it is deeply painful and overwhelmingly personal. There’s no one who can fully understand your feelings and the intensity of your personal grief. You might discover someone with a similar story in whom you find comfort by sharing, but it’s still your grief to own and process.
In 2 Corinthians 1:14 we are told, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
A supportive friend can’t answer your questions, solve your problems or pretend to know precisely what you are feeling, but that friend can offer you a hug, spend time praying with you or just be with you in your moments of sorrow.
Grief and Hope
We have someone who is our hope in a world full of despair and heartache. He knows us, never leaves us and listens to our cries. Psalm 34:18 reminds us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
God has given us the capacity for mourning and expressing our emotions. We are even encouraged in Lamentations 2:19 to “pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord.” He longs to hear from us and to be the one we cling to.
There’s a particular scene in the scriptures where Jesus arrives after the death of his friend Lazarus. Although he knew he would miraculously raise him from the dead, Jesus still wept. He experienced the pain of those around him on a deep level.
He didn’t minimize their pain or ignore it. He welcomed the opportunity to share the overwhelming burden of bereavement. He validated the poignancy of grief by participating in it during his time on earth. We, like Lazarus, also have hope after death. Jesus made known the Christian’s great hope of victory over death that we have in Christ.
Grief as the Journey of a Lifetime
It’s impossible to rush grief or force its hand. This demonstrates one major flaw in dividing grief into stages, giving a false notion that when you reach a certain stage you can leave grief behind.
Good counselors make use of techniques that help the mourner to accept the reality of the loss and to move forward in a healthy way. Even when progress is made, wounds are healed, and sadness slowly fades away, the process of grieving may never be 100% complete in this life. Although the pain can be intense, grief is should not be thought of as a disease that needs a cure.
Rather, it is a process that requires a lifetime of healing. Indeed, the effects of the loss are often felt for the rest of one’s life. There are no shortcuts to bypass this process. A good counselor will help you alleviate the pressure you might feel to “get over” the grief and help you live with it as you continue to walk through life.
Causes of Grief
Up until this point, the cause for grief has mainly been linked to the loss of a loved one. But grief occurs after many different life events and is not confined to the death of a loved one. For example, grief can also come as the result of:
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a job
- Loss of physical or mental abilities
- Separation from a loved one
- End of a friendship or relationship
- Serious illness of a loved one
- Leaving home
Loss is a painful inevitability in life, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. The personal effects of the tragic circumstances listed above often share similar attributes, which is why we can refer to all of them as sources of grieving. Now that we have established that there is no set formula for grieving, let’s look at some of the popular models to help understand grief more thoroughly.
The Five Stages of Grief
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote what has become perhaps the most well-known study of death. In her book On Death and Dying (1969) she details five stages of grief. She has been praised for managing to enact a paradigm shift in thinking about death. Because of her work, it has become more acceptable to be open about and seek support after a loss.
The five stages of grief, as adapted from Kübler-Ross’s book are as follows:
This stage of denial is often trivialized but is the common reaction to the shock that happens immediately after witnessing a loss or hearing news of a loss. It’s a way to of coping with the immediate pain.
Some people experience a numbness during the grieving process, which makes it more difficult to identify emotions and process through the grief. Feeling anger can be a useful gateway to identifying and uncovering other thoughts and emotions.
The anger can be directed at many different things or people, but underneath always lies pain. Intense anger just shows how intense the love was for the person or thing that was lost.
Before a loss, it’s often natural to attempt to bargain with yourself or God. During bargaining, a person may want to go back in time. If only we went to the doctor sooner or didn’t drive on the icy roads. It may appear unreasonable to bargain about something that is permanent, but the state of grief is not fundamentally reasonable.
The depression that is experienced often feels like it will last forever and that you will never move past this state. Grief does not reach a deeper level than this as you focus on your present emotions.
Depression can feel hopeless, but it’s a normal stage when going through healing. When the reality sinks in that your loved one is not returning, a completely normal and appropriate form of depression begins to settle in.
Acceptance is when you finally face the fact that the loss is real, and you begin to learn what existing in a world without your loved one looks like. This step is critical since it enables us to remember and retain the lost one’s legacy. This does not mean you forget your loved one, in fact, it’s healthy to cherish and celebrate the memories.
If you, or someone you know, is facing grief, a Christian counselor in San Diego can provide compassionate support, comfort, and empathy during this delicate time. Counseling provides a safe place to process your grief in your own way without fear of judgment. A good counselor will honor your grief and respect the level of love it represents. With a counselor, you can pour out your pain to a listening ear.
“Grief”, Courtesy of Claudia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Grieving Woman”, Courtesy of Free Photos, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Autumn Tree Farm and Road,” by Charles Knowles, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Hold On,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, cdn.magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License