“I can’t seem to get past it.”
“No one really knows how to help, I feel so alone.”
supposed to ‘be’.”
In my practice, I often encounter individuals who have suffered a (sometimes unimaginable) loss. Loss is a universal an inevitable human experience. We lose people, jobs, homes, relationships, dreams. Certainly some losses are more severe or bear greater consequences than others. We would never think of comparing the death of a child to an empty nest when the youngest leaves for college. Or the end of a job to the end of a marriage through death or divorce. Although the experience of loss may differ, our response to it, in varying degrees, is the same: grief.
Grief is the emotional response to a loss. Mourning is the outward expression of that emotion. Our culture and personality affects what the latter looks like. Our belief system alters how we experience the former.
In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross presented the five stages of grief that has become the accepted “norm” for how all types of grief are viewed and processed. While more advanced interpretations of her theory acknowledge that a person does not necessarily experience all the stages or in their presented order, most secular counselors would agree that grieving individuals experience at least two of the five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Failure to progress in some way through these stages to eventual acceptance is considered complicated grief, and can even leave a person stuck in unresolved grief. Achieving “acceptance” of the loss and “moving on” is considered successful resolution of the loss.
While there is some common truth in Kubler-Ross’s model of grief, I believe it is incomplete, and fails to give us a biblical roadmap for healing. Bob Kelleman, pastor, professor, author, and Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, describes an eight-stage model in his book “God’s Healing for Life’s Losses” that interprets the typical experience of grief in light of biblical reality. Compare the stages to Kubler-Ross’s model:
STAGE TYPICAL GRIEF RESPONSE BIBLICAL GRIEF RESPONSE
One Denial/Isolation Candor: Honesty with Myself
Two Anger/Resentment Complaint: Honesty with God
Three Bargaining/Works Cry: Asking God for Help
Four Depression/Alienation Comfort: Receiving God’s Help
STAGE TYPICAL ACCEPTANCE RESPONSE BIBLICAL GROWTH RESPONSE
Five Regrouping Waiting: Trusting with Faith
Six Deadening Wailing: Groaning with Hope
Seven Despairing/Doubting Weaving: Perceiving
Eight Digging Cisterns (Self-Preservation) Worshipping: Engaging with Love
Although it’s impossible to explore all the details of each these stages here, my goal is to show you that there is another way to process your grief – one that recognizes your pain but also points you to hope and healing. This can take time, and no doubt you will have “good days” and “bad days”. So it is important to remember some things while you are in this season of grief:
Breathe. Maybe you are feeling the “just-got-the-wind-knocked-out-of-me” type of shock and disorientation of a sudden and tragic loss. Maybe you are physically exhausted and emotionally depleted from a long, agonizing ordeal. Or maybe you are the “pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-keeping-going” kind of person. Either way, you need to give yourself time to recognize and absorb the loss. Take a moment. Or two. Whatever you feel now, the reality is that your loss won’t destroy you.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God….fear not, for I am with you.” Isaiah 42:2-3, 5(ESV)
Balance. You will need people and you will need to be alone. You will need structure and activity and you will need rest and time to reflect. You will need to cry and you will need to laugh. Be aware of drifting too far toward any extreme, but don’t try to suppress genuine emotions. God can take it. Grief is universal, but intensely personal. God knows that and is there in all seasons.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? …If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me…If I say,” Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Psalm 139:7, 9, 11-12(ESV)
Bathe. No, I really don’t mean take a bath. I mean immerse yourself in the comforting, restoring, life-giving word of God. You may not be able to read the Bible right now. Listen to it: in audio versions of the Bible, in music, and in Christian blogs, messages or sermons on loss, grief and suffering. If friends ask what they can do, have them read God’s word to you. There is power in the spoken word and you will need to be reminded often of the goodness and faithfulness of God.
“My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” Psalm 119:28(ESV)
There are many resources that can help you cope with loss. Bob Kelleman’s book is an excellent one. You can order it here: www.rpmministries.org. Another valuable resource is www.griefshare.org. If you find yourself in a prolonged season of grief, it may be helpful to talk to a trained counselor. There is light after the dark, and strength to cope with loss. There is hope.
“…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”1 Thessalonians 4:13(ESV)