Experiencing Grief Paperback – July 1, 2004
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Grief is like a giant wave that breaks over us. The more we stand and fight against it, the more futile it is. The more we accept it, the more we recover. There is nothing heroic or noble about grief. It is painful. It is work. It is a lingering process. You may experience bitterness, emptiness, apathy, love, anger, guilt, sadness, fear, self-pity, and helplessness.
CHAPTER 2: PAIN and DENIAL
You wonder how life can continue around you. People laugh while your heart is broken. As grief continues, the more you think that things will never get better. But they will. Oh, they will. Remember the words of Christ, "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy" (John 16:20).
CHAPTER 3: GRIEF IS SO DISRUPTIVE
Grief is disorderly and disruptive. Intense pain can lessen one day and return the next.
You might experience short-term memory loss.
You may experience quite vividly your last interaction with the person who died. Some say the experience is so real it's as though you are actually there talking with them again.
You might become easily distracted and disoriented.
You seldom think of others and think mostly of yourself. Your own intense feelings are all you can bear right now, so for a brief time you may shut out the world. This is normal, for a brief time.
CHAPTER 4: THE NATURE OF GRIEF
Grief is slow. Don't let others try to rush you through it. You heal slowly from the death of a loved one. Time seems to stand still, especially at night. Don't compare your loss to others and think theirs is more painful than yours. The worse loss is the one you are currently experiencing. With certain types of deaths, you will not receive the same kind of support from family and friends. They will support the loss of your parent, spouse or child more than they will when you lose a dear friend. Everyone grieves differently. Some want to be around people, some prefer to be alone. Some prefer activity, others want to be quiet and still.
CHAPTER 5: WHY GRIEF?
A "grief spasm" is an intense upsurge of grief that happens suddenly when we least expect it. When it happens, stop what you are doing and identify your feelings until some level of calm is restored. God designed us to grieve so we would celebrate our loved one, and protest their loss. In John chapter 11, just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, "When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled" (11:33), or "troubled Himself" a phrase meaning strong anger. But it doesn't state what He was anger about. It could well be that Jesus was angry at death because it had taken away Lazarus away from his sisters and loved ones.
CHAPTER 6: WHAT GRIEF DOES
Grief is consuming. You may not eat or sleep well. In trying to fall asleep, your mind and emotions are locked onto your loss. Food doesn't taste the same. Your favorite smells are diminished. You may have a tightness in your throat or chest. You don't see yourself as the same person you were before your loss. You have a hole in you that your loved one used to fill. You might think you see your loved one after their death, or heard their voice or smelled their perfume. This could last up to eighteen months.
CHAPTER 7: HOLES IN YOUR LIFE
You see empty spaces where your loved one sat -- at your dinner table, at church, in your car. You grieve the loss of what you had and what you will never have with you loved one. Some relationships with people whom you were tied to only by the loved one may change, or end. Your grief is overwhelming, like Jeremiah grieving over the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, "Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me" (Jeremiah 4:19). Where do all your feelings come from in grief? Grief comes from your thoughts about your loved one -- everything good you experienced about that person, and everything you didn't get to experience with that person. Numbness may occur if their death was sudden and unexpected. You are in shock, which is horribly uncomfortable, but is actually God's protection (see below).
CHAPTER 8: THE QUESTIONS OF GRIEF
After the numbness wears off, the pain of separation comes in. There is an intense longing for the return of the person you lost. You may ask God "Why" did your loved one die? "Why" is not just a question, it's a heart-wrenching cry of protest. Job asked God "why" sixteen times, and God answered him with silence (until the last 5 of the 42 chapters). On the cross, Christ cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). God might seem very far away. "Why, O Lord, do You stand far off? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
Even if God answered our heart-wrenching cry of "Why, God, did you allow this to happen?" would it lessen our great pain. No, not one bit. We worship a God who does not need to explain Himself to us.
CHAPTER 9: THE EXPRESSION OF TEARS
Tears are an appropriate response to sorrow. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. "So the Jews were saying, 'See how He loved him!'" (John 11:35,36) Pour out your grief to a trusted friend. Pour out your grief to God. When your loss first occurs, you may cry as though the heavens opened up with a forty-day flood. During your darkest hour, hold on to these words, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him" (Psalms 126:5,6). Your mind might be flooded by images you can't stop, as though your mind won't stop talking to the person. Is there something triggering these thoughts? In time they will diminish. This process of rumination is part of your healing and recovery. Let others know what you need -- a hug, to be listened to,
One day there will be no more tears. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4).
CHAPTER 10: NEW UNINVITED GUESTS
Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation will set in. After three months, people around you will think you are doing better or "should be" doing better. You will feel lonely, but you are not alone. "He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5).
CHAPTER 11: THE INVASION OF FEAR AND ANXIETY
Fear and anxiety set in. Fear of the unknown, of being alone, of the future, of being abandoned. "How can I face the future without my loved one?" "How can I handle this pain?" Grief makes you think you've lost control of your life. How am I supposed to grieve? We are not taught how to grieve. The Bible helps us grieve. "I cried out to the Lord in my suffering, and he heard me. He set me from all my fears" (Psalms 34:6). "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul" (Psalms 94:19).
CHAPTER 12: WHAT DO I DO WITH MY GUILT?
Unfinished business with your loved one can lead to guilt and shame. How should I handle regrets? I didn't spend enough time with my ____. I didn't say "I love you" enough. You will feel guilty about things you did and didn't do. You will over-focus on all the good things the deceased did. You will feel guilty about not recovering from your grief quickly enough. We imagine if we had done something different we could have prevented the death: If only I had called the doctor sooner, understood their illness better, taken better care of them, expressed my love more frequently. Maybe you said things you shouldn't have said. But self-reproach and self-deprecation will only add to your burden of grief.
CHAPTER 13: I'M ANGRY
It's important to identify your anger -- at your departed loved one, at doctors, at other family members, at people who have never experienced your loss, at God for not healing your loved one. The best person to tell about your anger is God. Expressing anger to God is part of the Jewish tradition. The Psalms of lament contain anger at God. While grieving, your anger directed at God is not a lack of faith. It is your response to loss. "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?" (Psalm 13:1,2). In time, give up your anger. In spite of all of David's angry questions, he concluded, "But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me" (Psalm 13:5,6).
CHAPTER 14: WILL THE SADNESS EVER GO AWAY?
You will experience sadness, depression, and despair. It seems like you will never get better. Jeremiah said, "Desperate is my wound. My grief is great. My sickness is incurable, but I must bear it" (10:19). You feel helpless, apathetic, and isolated. God seems far away.
"Lord be kind to me because I am weak. Heal me, Lord, because my bones ache. I am very upset. Lord, how long will it be? Lord, return and save me. Save me because of your kindness...I am tired of crying to You. Every night my bed is wet with tears. My bed is soaked from my crying. My eyes are weak from so much crying" (Psalm 6:2-7).
As a Christian, you feel guilty about experiencing only depression instead of peace and joy. But the night before Jesus died, He took Peter, James, and John with Him to pray in the garden of Gethsemane, and He "began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then He said to them, 'My soul is very sad and deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow'" (Matthew 26: 36-38).
More than half the Psalms are laments. They wrestle with God's apparent absence.
"You are God my stronghold, why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? (Psalm 43:2)
"Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion? (Psalm 77:8,9)
"You have put me in the lowest pit. in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves" (Psalm 88:6,7)
Grief is a long, exhausting trek through a barren land. But in the midst of emotional despair, you can experience the living God. You are not alone in your sadness. Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Christ understands our grief. He doesn't try to rush us through our sadness. He is sad with us.
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence" (Psalm 42:5). God is present, even though we can't feel His presence. Psalm 34:18 "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
Jesus said, "...your grief will turn to joy" (John 16:20).
CHAPTER 15: WHAT DO I DO WITH MY FEELINGS?
When we lose a loved one, we feel that God has abandoned us. He hasn't. We feel that if nothing matters, but it does matter. We might think life is not worth living, but it is worth living. Following God means being faithful to Him even when we don't feel like it. Putting your feelings and thoughts into words does help. It helps people to know how to help you. If you're depressed, tell them. If you can't function, describe it. Getting time alone to weep is good.
CHAPTER 16: THE FEELING NO ONE TALKS ABOUT
Grievers might experience "relief" when a person dies who was highly critical or negative or threatening, abusive, a chronic alcoholic, disabled, or slowly lingered with a terminal illness. A caregiver might feel relieved that their loved one is no longer suffering. Relief is not the same thing as being glad the person is dead. Relief is experiencing a burden has been lifted. If a bad person dies, you will grieve over the good things you did not have in that relationship.
CHAPTER 17: COMPLICATED DEATHS
Some people die suddenly without warning. What if you did not have time to say goodbye to that person? What if their death could have been prevented? What if someone is to blame? What if your loved one was a victim of violence? What if they took their own life? The way our loved one dies shapes our grief. We say "if only ___" statements to cry out that our grief could have been prevented.
CHAPTER 18: HANDLING SPECIAL OCCASIONS
Grief is worse during holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. There is a vacant spot your loved one used to fill. It is helpful to say, "What I miss most about my loved one is ____." Decide how much of the holiday you can celebrate, or not. Don't be concerned with what people will think whether you attend or not. Discuss with your family any adjustments you would like to make. Consider what you will do on the anniversary date of your loved one's death.
CHAPTER 19: CAPTURING THE MEMORIES
Grievers worry when their memories of their loved one begin to fade. The more time that goes by, the more this will occur. A man who had lost his wife after 35 years of marriage decided to write down every good memory he had of her until he had accumulated one-thousand of them. After your loved dies, you become their historian to others. You decide what you want others to know about them.
CHAPTER 20: RECOVERY -- IT WILL HAPPEN
Everyone asks, "How long will my grief last?" The Psalmist asks the same thing, "How long, O Lord, shall I have sorrow in my heart all the day?" (Psalm 13:2).
The third month after the death is often difficult. The shock and numbness have worn off, and by now it's difficult to deny your loss. Many times it feels just like the first twenty-four hours following the actual loss.
After six to nine months, you need to consider the state of your emotional and physical health. Your body's immune system is weakened from grieving.
The first year anniversary is a difficult time. The intensity of grief and pain seems to return to the level it was following the death. You wonder, What is wrong with me? Am I losing my mind? Won't I ever get over this? It's a normal response. Knowing ahead of time that this will happen will help.
By the eighteenth month, you may be having more good days than bad. But one day you wake up, the sadness might be overwhelming. All you think about that day is your loved one. What should you do? Tell yourself that this is an indication of progress. It is normal to hit an occasional grief bump or detour.
Others will say to you, "You need to let go and move on." You might bristle at someone else telling you this, thinking they are insensitive to you. But what if you asked yourself, "Is it time for me to heal, to pick up the pieces of my life and get on with my life?" If so, what piece would you pick up first? What can you do today to begin healing?
At some point, "letting go" will be a step in healing from your grief. We resist it because we think we are caring less for our loved one or blocking out the memory of them. But we are not caring less for them.
CHAPTER 21: UNFINISHED ISSUES
Many have said, "If only I could have said, 'I love you' or 'good-bye' one more time." Or maybe there was an argument or harsh words prior to the death. You replay the scene over and over. Maybe you wanted to ask for forgiveness but you never did. Maybe you can't forget the hurts and the offenses caused by the person who died. Forgiving this person will release you from resentment.
CHAPTER 22: SAYING GOOD-BYE
It takes two years to grieve a natural death. It takes three years to grieve an accidental death. Commit yourself to grieve for a certain time period. Then give yourself permission to stop grieving. During your grief period, you are saying "good-bye" (or, "until we meet again") to your loved one. After this period is over, you then say good-bye to your grief. I do not grieve ___ anymore. I just miss ___ dearly. The word "good-bye" originally meant "God be with you" or "Go with God." It was a recognition that God was a significant part of the going. In our grieving, it is easy to forget that the Giver of life is there with you, to protect you and console you. If you and your loved one know Jesus as Savior, you are just saying a temporary good-bye. Imagine your loved one in the presence of Christ experiencing great joy.
CHAPTER 23: HOW YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE
You wonder how life without your loved one can ever be positive again. It's all right to question this. At first you feel diminished, but in time life becomes fuller again. You become more sensitive to the loved ones you still have. You may find a new depth in your relationship to God.
Recovery will NOT mean forgetting your loved one. Your memory will always be triggered by sights, sounds, and songs. Your memories will become rich histories rather than painful memories.
CHAPTER 24: SAYING GOOD-BYE TO GRIEF
You will notice several changes when you begin healing from your grief.
1) You will think less often about your loved one, and more about your daily responsibilities.
One woman said, "My sorrow now feels less like an oppressive weight and more like a treasured possession."
2) Your energy will return. Your fatigue lifts and you begin renewing your activities.
3) You begin to make better judgments. You have better concentration and focus when making decisions.
4) Your eating and sleeping return to normal.
Other specific indicators:
1. You accept the death of your loved one.
2. You can recall pleasant and unpleasant memories.
3. You can actually spending time alone.
4. You can go somewhere without crying all the time.
5. You begin looking forward to holidays.
6. You begin helping others with their grief.
7. You can listen to music that reminds you of you loved one without pain.
8. You can sit through a worship service without crying.
9. You can laugh again.
10. Your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits are returning.
11. You can concentrate while reading.
12. You are no longer tired.
13. You notice things are thankful for.
14. You begin to build new relationships.
15. You are patient with yourself when you experience a "grief spasm" again.
16. You begin to see spiritual growth from your grief.
CHAPTER 25: TRAUMA -- THE DEEPEST WOUND
It takes about two years to recover from a natural death. It will take longer to recover if the death was premature, caused by violence, whether you were there or not, how you heard about it, if there was unfinished business, or if there was trauma.
Trauma leads to silence. You don't know how to describe it. Trauma leads to isolation. No one seems to understand what you went through. Trauma makes you feel hopeless. You can't stop going over and over what happened. You have nightmares or flashbacks. They seem real enough when you can see, hear, and even smell details about the trauma as you relive it. During a flashback, you might even behave as though the trauma is really happening now, rather than it is just a horrible memory you are having at the moment. You might shake, shout, or thrash about during the nightmare. Emotions can be repressed because of trauma. You can then become angry, or numb, or hyper-alert (overly anxious) because of these emotions.
Talking with someone about the trauma, and drawing correct conclusions about what happened, will help to identify these emotions. They will no longer be repressed to have power over you.
For the Christian, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, hope WILL replace despair. He is the "God of all comfort", not the "God of perpetual sadness" (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).
Top international reviews
of losing a sibling! Great that the book has highlighted this because still miss my brother so much even after 8 years.