Reflections on Grief & The Return of Joy

Anyone who has struggled with grief knows it isn’t convenient.  It can come bright and early on a -meant-to-be-productive Monday morning, it can sweep in unannounced on a perfect autumn Saturday, it can creep into in the middle of a hot date, or surprise you in the midst of an already stressful season.

To be concise, whenever grief comes to us, it is completely unwelcome and inconvenient.  Unfortunately, it is also a fairly regularly part of life, something everyone faces from time to time in varying degrees.

Here are a few common reasons individuals and families struggle with grief;

  • When a parent dies.
  • When a job is lost and/or finances are in shambles.
  • When an individual or spouse becomes ill, especially in the case of long-term disability, cancer, or another major illness.
  • When a child is lost, has special needs, is very sick, or dies.
  • When an individual or family is being sued.
  • When an individual or couple is going through bankruptcy.
  • When a couple has experienced infidelity.
  • When a spouse has had a traumatic experience.

Whatever your occurrence with grief, you should know that the experience of grief comes in many forms.  For instance, you may think you are managing the grief okay, but out of nowhere you feel anxious about the rest of life.  Grief has a strange way of making people feel differently about themselves in many ways, so its important to remember that grief is actually made up of several stages, which often fall into loose order.

First, when you experience grief, there is often shock over the occurrence and then denial of its impact soon afterwards.  There is usually anger over the things that happened to us, where we feel that life has treated us unfairly.  Soon afterwards, we may realize that we are imperfect, and try to reason through why something happened, often trying to bargain with God (or another person) to change things around, offering to change if only we could go back to life as it was.  When someone one realizes the situation is real, the next stage, depression, hits.  The pain is real, it is not going away anytime soon, and the sinking sadness  takes over.  Anxiety may creep in as well,  Finally, when it feels like the other stages may swim around forever, comes acceptance of the situation and a sense of peace despite lingering sadness and change.  This acceptance can only occur for those who have allowed themselves the time and space to visit the other stages, which are natural.

Those who deny the occurrence of grief by trying to pretend nothing ever happened are at risk for severe mental or physical health issues, since stress must be managed, not avoided, especially when major events occur.  Those who understand that things are difficult and try to manage as well as they can, who allow the pain to sink in and be dealt with, will thrive once again, though for a season which may last anywhere from six months to two years, may have frequent struggles.   Even after the two years are over, when the loss is severe, there may be pangs of deep grief when the circumstance is recollected.

For instance, a man I know had a tragic motorcycle accident affect his daughter, and she became very handicapped and dependent on him.  Though she somehow survived the accident, he still grieves the loss of who she could have been, and remembers it when he sees her immobilized.  It doesn’t mean he experiences each stage or has a huge depressive issue, but the reminder is ever before him, and sometimes momentarily, he revisits the pain of the event.  He processed his grief well, but allows the natural grief process to recur when necessary, all the while  loving his daughter and celebrating the miracle child she is to have survived the tragedy at all.

So, when grief hits, just how can you manage your pain, when life still carries on around you, and at least to some degree, demands that you do the same?  Here are some tips for giving yourself permission to go through the grief stages without letting them destroy you or complicate life even further.  In fact, you will come out a stronger person or family after having gone through grief in a healthy manner, so be encouraged, life goes on and joy returns, if you patiently wait and do your part to facilitate the healing process.

Read through the following tips and select any that you will try if you or your family member are in a season of grief.

  1. Keep a journal, or read through letters from a lost loved one.
  2. If the loss was largely your spouse’s, bring it up from time to time, especially soon after the loss, and check in to see if they need some extra loving during this time!
  3. Be a good listener.
  4. Grief can take a good six months or longer, so for those first six months, which are often the most difficult, try to make sure you are getting good self-care.
  5. Eat foods that will help you to thrive, now more than ever since you will be tempted to eat junk, or to avoid eating, and you will need all of your best strength now.  Indulge in a treat sometimes, but not in a self-loathing or pity party way that will actually be self-sabotaging.
  6. Make a video, slideshow, or scrapbook for yourself or your spouse.
  7. Cry as needed, or hug the one who is crying.
  8. Seek a counselor, a grief group, or a pastor who cares.  This step is vital when the grief is just too overwhelming you.
  9. Spend time with a friend who cares about you and isn’t afraid of your pain.  If you’re able, try to be there for them in their stories of pain also, as that can help distract you and help you to see others who are also dealing with loss.
  10. Ask your church or neighborhood for support.
  11. Talk with someone ahead of you with a similar loss, such as a co-worker who lost his or her job, a parent who lost a child, another parent with a special-needs child who can offer hope, or a person who has lost a parent or sibling.
  12. Ask for external family support, such as help with children, or even ask for some space if your extended family or extracurricular leadership position is draining you.  Do not, however, isolate, as that will only make it worse, just take some time away from extracurricular responsibilities.
  13. Have silly and fun times with kids you know as much as you can, as kids can be such a soothing comfort.
  14. Reading the Bible, especially the Psalms, can be helpful, since there are many laments from those saints who, who while they walked this earth, dealt with trials of every kind.  God is also very encouraging to those walking through grief, and compassionate towards those enduring trials.
  15. Exercising can help you with your sad mood, even if it is just going through the motions.
  16. Remember ways in which some trials may help you or others in the long run, such as by seeing someone’s care, or growing closer to a friend.  Maybe you will find a better job, if it is work related.
  17. Make a list of daily things to do, just to keep yourself going, and to love your spouse through the trials you face together.  You may even need to make a list to take out the trash, eat, and to thank your spouse, since during a trial, everything except the pain, for a while anyway, becomes cloudy.
  18. Keep your life moving forward even while you mourn the past.
  19. If the loss was job related, and you need to find work quickly, continue to set small goals for each day, such as showering, eating well, working on resumes, making phone calls, even though you feel upset.  Ask your spouse for help in your job search, and while you are waiting for calls, use the time to learn a new skill in your trade to make you more marketable, or if you think it’s time for a new job, in a field that interests you and is within your new capacity for work.
  20. Commit to leaving a lasting legacy to those you love during your precious years here! (Add any ideas you’ve thought of below)!

Something else that can bring true joy like no other grief support method is knowing that if you are a Christian, you have hope for the times of grief in your life.   1st Thessalonians 13-14 & 17-18 say, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

For further grief support, call us at 941-301-8420 to set up an appointment with a grief counselor in Sarasota or Bradenton.

For more grief resources, check out Gerald Sittsers’, A Grace Disguised, a story of the enormous loss of theology professor Gerald Sittser’s wife, mother, and daughter all at once, or C.S. Lewis’, A Grief Observed, on death and the loss of a spouse, or another article from the excellent ministry, Focus on the Family


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