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My grandfather’s favorite holiday was Halloween. I still don’t know how to square that with his faith, but my mother says he would join Halloween parades and win prizes for his costumes.

Dealing with Grief and Loss from a Christian PerspectiveSo, when I showed up at the hospital in a Raggedy Andy costume, my mother said he would have had a big grin and a twinkle in his eye. He was transitioning from here to glory, so I don’t know if he was conscious of my presence or appearance. I wrote a poem about that time, which reads in part:

He would drift off
And his body struggled
The way you could imagine Houdini
Struggling to escape from a strait jacket.
When his eyes focused again, I thought
He would tell stories about yanking an arm
Free from the sleeve of the jacket
Instead, he spoke of climbing a hill
And looking into a lush valley.

When he turned again to the push and pull
Of escape, I wanted to help by making room
For the arm to slip free from the sleeve
And tug the jacket over his head.
I am a helper.

My mother asked him about the bright colors
in the valley. He left us while describing that
valley. “That bright land to which I go.”
She began to sing, “There will be peace
in the Valley for me.”
“Mom, I wanted to help him out of the pain.”
“That was your pain,” she said.
“He knows the way home. I am
A helper.”

Dealing with Grief and Loss from a Christian Perspective 1At the time, I was at the beginning of my career as a professional “helper,” and my mother gave me a graduate course in helping. She showed me how to help my grandfather on his way.

Losing a loved one is one of the most distressing and, unfortunately, common experiences people face. Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement have a period of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Gradually these feelings ease, and it’s possible to accept the loss and move forward.

For some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes. This is known as complicated grief, sometimes called persistent complex bereavement disorder. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long-lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your life.

Different people follow different paths through the grieving experience. The order and timing of these phases may vary from person to person:

  • Accepting the reality of your loss
  • Allowing yourself to experience the pain of your loss
  • Adjusting to a new reality in which the deceased is no longer present
  • Having other relationships

These differences are normal. But if you’re unable to move through these stages more than a year after the death of a loved one, you may have complicated grief. If so, seek treatment. It can help you come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.

When Job was at his lowest point in life, his friends came to comfort him. They were a ministry of presence. And when they spoke, they were no longer helping him on his way. We have our ways through grief and loss and there are huge differences across cultures and personalities. Some researchers say there are five stages of grief, and some say seven. The problem is that any stages come in waves, and they don’t come in order.

Dealing with Grief and Loss from a Christian Perspective 2King David grieved in sackcloth and ashes until word came that his child had died. He then rose and cleaned himself up and put on perfume and ate a good meal. We could say he was in the last stage of grief, which is acceptance. But shouldn’t he be in the first stage – denial or shock – having just heard of his child’s death?

When my wife passed after a long descent into oblivion by way of Alzheimer’s disease, I too, rose out of the ashes of grief. I had lost the person of “wife” years earlier as she lost the ability to speak. Some of my friends asked me if I had “closure,” regarding my wife’s passing. I told them I didn’t want closure.

I thought of Saint Paul, writing to the Philippians: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” I cherish every memory. So, I am not anxious for closure. I still have tears of joy and thankfulness each time the memory of our last moment together visits.

On the other hand, when my best friend Brian lost his mother, he spiraled into a physical depression. He called me to say he didn’t think it was a normal response. He felt heavy, “like someone poured lead into my bones.” He had no energy, and everything seemed too hard.

That might be an example of complicated grief. There are times when we need help because the grief seems bigger than the loss. We will all experience loss and enter a time of grief. And thanks to the researchers we can recognize the similarities we share in the process: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

My best friend Brian seemed to experience physical depression. That was the loudest or strongest response he had. We talked of his burden and the heavy load he was carrying. I suggested he see a therapist for help. He later thanked me and told me he and his therapist explored his burden and heavy load.

He explained that the other stages of grief appeared to be within normal range, but for the depression he needed help. Asking for help took a load off his shoulders and helped him unload other burdens that did not belong to him. I told him he could thank my mom for teaching me to help others in the same way.

Dealing with Grief and Loss from a Christian Perspective 3A few years back a man called me for help after he lost his daughter. No parent should ever have to bury their child. Freddy (not his real name) was a huge man with a frame you might expect on a professional wrestler in a WWE event. He had seen a therapist previously. The work focused on the wound to his inner child, something that had happened early in his life.

That didn’t seem to be his “way” through. He and I met for a few sessions as I learned how his daughter had died and how he was overcome by it all. Near the end of the session, he said, “I just wish someone would hug me and tell me it’ll be OK.”

I had a step stool in the office that was about eight inches high. I stepped on it and opened my arms. Standing on that stool, I was much taller than him. He walked into my arms and wept for several minutes. I prayed for the Lord’s comfort to descend upon him. Then he asked me an odd question. Would it be OK if he got a tattoo of his daughter? This was before the popularity and artistry of today. I had to mount that stool before he could find his way through

A few weeks later he shared some thoughts he had written down. I turned them into a poem. Here it is in part:

Lost in Loss

I’m not grief-stricken all day every day
There are times
When my tears have not grown fat like raindrops
On a window that tries to hold back then fall.
I don’t always feel like my bones are made of lead.

Freddy needed someone to bless his “way.” He said he needed permission to follow his thoughts and feelings during this most severe time in his life. I would say, we need to respect our unique ways through. We will experience grief and loss at some point in our lives. I have spent a lot of time showing that we have unique experiences, but there is a time to call for help. Today there is therapy available to help. I am one called to walk alongside those who are hurting.

Photos:
“Yellow Flower Field”, Courtesy of Silvestri Matteo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rocky Shore”, Courtesy of Mark Patterson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Footsteps in the Sand”, Courtesy of Bruno Luz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunset”, Courtesy of Julia Verea, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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