ARTICLE: Loss, Grief and the Christian Response | Leslie Verghese, Dallas
The past eighteen plus months rewrote our concepts and perception of death and our response. Even the often-said quote, “human love and relationship ends with the grave and a drop of tear on the casket”, changed distinctly as physical proximity as well as traditional burial gave way to innovation, and inevitability amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Was the Lord teaching us or even taunting us about some of our so-called ‘norms’ and testing us if we would continue to ‘live and die’ for our convictions or make necessary compromises as the times require us to? Time or eternity will provide us with the answer. However, how do we deal with our present crisis? How do we help others who are grappling for an answer?
In one of the greatest paradoxes on earth, joy and sorrow aren’t opposites. In fact, grief is the road that leads to renewed hope — if we let it. At the same time, we can’t make the mistake of thinking that we should get through grief quickly. Grief is ongoing; those who cling to God in grief say without hesitation, “I am not done grieving. This is part of my new normal. I will walk this path until the day that I see Jesus and my [loved one] again.”
Consider Job’s life. In unimaginable loss and suffering, he asked God ‘Why’ 16 times — and he never got an answer. It’s not just a question. It’s a cry of protest. And eventually that cry of protest turns from ‘Why’ to ‘What can I learn through this’, ‘How can I grow through this’, and ‘How can God be glorified through this’. No tragedy is ever wasted in God’s economy. It’s okay to cry out to God. God doesn’t tell us not to grieve. Instead, He tells us to grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). That’s when we go through our grief and tears, we say, “I can trust God with this.”
Grief is very personal, and it looks different for everyone. You’ll hear people say, “There’s no wrong way to grieve.” And that’s true as long as you commit to grieving in healthy ways. Never deny the five stages of Grief.
1. Denial – Shock. Disbelief. How could something so catastrophic have happened when other people’s lives go on as normal?
2. Anger – This is a common outcome of the anxiety and loss of control you may feel when your loved one has died.
3. Bargaining – You might revisit the circumstances of your loved one’s death over and over, wishing you could have done something differently
4. Depression – As you realize how this loss has affected your life, you might experience crying, changes in sleep and appetite, and trouble concentrating.
5. Acceptance – You may still feel sad, but you can move forward.
When we go through this, Dr. William Worden identifies Four tasks of mourning:
1. Accept the reality of loss
2. Experience the pain of grief
3. Adjust to an environment where your loved one is missing
4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased while reinvesting energy in life.
Dr. Therese Rando’s Six R’s of mourning also go hand in hand with the above
1. Recognize the loss
2. React – Let yourself feel your emotions and pain
3. Recollect and re-experience
4. Relinquish – Accept what has changed and that there’s no turning back.
5. Readjust – Return to daily life
6. Reinvest – Form new commitments and possibly new relationships
If we can adopt the following Strategies to help us and our loved ones manage and work through loss, we will successfully overcome as Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians
• Affective (emotional) – Make time to vent your emotions. Let yourself cry, and connect with others emotionally.
• Cognitive (mental) – Logically break down your experience so you can understand, accept, and better manage it. Be aware of situations that could set you back and avoid them (for example, too much exposure to current news).
• Behavioral (actions) – Exercise. Eat healthy meals. Take a nap. Find ways to direct your energy without turning to addictive or harmful actions (such as substance abuse or inappropriate sexual behaviors).
• Spiritual – (Spiritual strategies for working through loss obviously weave throughout the other three strategies.) Spend time praying and reading your Bible every day. Be honest with God about your feelings and ask Him to help you find new meaning and purpose. Ask Him to help you believe in His love.
So, as Christians, we need (now more than ever), a clear redemption narrative – Affirm without reservation that through Christ’s death and resurrection, sin and death have been definitively conquered (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Also affirm Christ will one day return to consummate His Kingdom (Revelation 19:7-8) and redeem all of creation (Romans 8:19-25), where He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where death shall be no more, and where there will be no mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4).
As Christians, we cannot bypass all the other stages of grief and skip straight to meaning making. This is similar to the journey of Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. There was no shortcut to the Celestial City. The only way for Christians to reach that final destination was through the Slough of Despond, past the Iron Cage of Despair, into the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4).
As Christians, let’s reach out and accompany each other in our journey of grief. Above all, let’s not forget to seek out and receive Christ’s accompaniment in our journey of grief. Let’s not forget the foundation of our Christian faith is built upon a trauma—the trauma of the cross of Christ. And so, we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted (and has suffered) in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15-16).