Healing Grief: The Long Journey Back
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Facing The Emptiness of Losing a Loved One
This article is devoted to a personal examination of the grieving process, and to showing how grief is a journey vital to healing the hurt and pain of losing a loved one.
Few things in life will try you as much as the death of someone you love. But as the scripture above says, being informed is the way to discover the hope you need to go on.
Although there are many forms of grief, the kind that comes with the loss of a loved one is perhaps the hardest to bear. When someone you love and are close to dies, you experience a type of emptiness that nothing can seem to fill.
If you’ve experienced this kind of loss, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t yet experienced it, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say here that can prepare you for it.
Be Encouraged ... There is Hope for Healing
It is my hope that this article will encourage anyone who is grieving and hurting from losing someone they love. I want to assure you that there is hope; that there will be a day when grief’s lonesome and torturous journey will subside. Because I've been through it, I know that the grieving process really is a journey. It has a beginning and a midpoint, and it is leading to a destination.
At the start of the journey—the time of loss, darkness seems to be never ending. There seems to be no hope that things will ever be the same. But because I’ve traveled grief’s dark journey many times, I am here to tell you there will be light in your life, once again. There will brighter days filled with hope and joy, and just as happiness might seem foreign to you now, one day the emptiness you're feeling now will seem foreign. Your life will feel good and "full" again. And, although you will never stop missing your loved one, you will be able to face life with them being gone from it, and you'll still feel them near when you need to. And, if you learn to allow the light of God's word to shine in, it will fill your life with compassionate love and understanding about the circle of life, and it will gift you with never-ending hope.
Ways to Invite Healing . . .
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” John 16:16
Grief is a journey that actually helps us endure loss. And even though it doesn’t feel like it when you’re going through it, grief is actually a healing process. Because it is a process, it should not be pushed away or hurried through. It has its own timetable, and when it is allowed to run its course, the end result is healing. Following are some suggestions that can help, if you invite them into your life:
- Don't beat yourself up thinking you should have or could have done something more than you did prior to losing your loved one.
God is in control, and He gives us the knowledge we need to have when He wants us to have it. It is not a good thing to question whether or not God meant for death to be the outcome of a given person’s life. It’s good to remember that God is not the reason that people die, and it is wrong and useless to blame Him for our loss. Mankind's original sin is the reason that people die, and it all started in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. It is part of what was unleashed through the first act of sin against God (Genesis 3).
- Seek support.
If you find yourself having a particularly hard time getting back into your life, see if your church sponsors any kind of group or program to help those suffering through grief.
The point is to seek counsel or therapy to help you cope, if you're not able to find peace within. You can also look for books on the topic of grief. It can be very helpful to read about how other people have picked up the pieces of their lives and moved on.
- Stay close to other family members and close friends.
There is no substitute for family who want to offer positive, uplifting support. Don't push them away, and don’t be afraid to express to them what you’re feeling. Sometimes, just talking about sad feelings can help to get them out of your system.
- Stay active and involved in your life.
Even though there may be times when you don’t feel like being around other people, invite others in, anyway. And, when you really need solitude, take it. Spend some quiet time with your thoughts as often as you need to, but don't spend too much time alone. Make an effort to be involved in life. It is healthy and promotes healing to go on. Staying active and involved will actually help you to work through your grief.
Remember, "Jesus Wept."
Even Jesus grieved. He grieved for his friend Lazarus, whom He later raised from the dead. But before Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, He wept because He felt the sorrow and pain of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. John 11:33-34 tells us: “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.”
Sometimes your loved ones might not know what to say to you. If they haven't endured the kind of pain and hurt you're feeling, although they may want to help, they might not know what to say. Job went through something similar, as we're told in Job 2:13, where it is written: “So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.”
As you grieve, remember that Jesus grieved too, and that He understands, has compassion for you, and is always there, ready to listen. He offers words of comfort through the Bible, and is always there to be your strength in all times of need. Remember to turn toward God, not away from Him, during your time of grief.
Allow The Hurt to Heal
Grief can be compared to a deep cut. At first, you might feel nothing, but as the numbness wears off, the pain comes.
Grief is like that. Right after the loss of a close loved-one occurs, you feel a deep "disconnect" in your world that makes your body and mind feel numb; your life seems still and frozen, and the only thing you can do is to wait for the numbness to wear off. Then, once it does, the vastness of the loss hits you, and you feel like you've been struck hard, unmercifully, by the iron fist of a gigantic hand. That's when pain overtakes you, and so does darkness. The loss sets in and you feel as though your soul is bleeding. You know you’ve lost some of yourself—that something you need for life is gone never to return again. You feel empty and alone.
But, just as you would take care of a deep, potentially life-threatening cut, you have to take care of yourself while you're journeying through grief. You have to make sure you eat, bathe, comb your hair, and breathe. And, if you’re blessed to have loved ones who care about you, you should allow them to help you take care of yourself. Count it as a blessing having someone to talk to who might be grieving the same loss, who truly understands and cares about how you feel. It can't take away your pain or replace what you've lost, but it can help, tremendously, in grief’s healing process.
You Will Emerge, Stronger
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." John 14:27
Although people grieve differently, I believe anyone can benefit from knowing how others made it through the process, stronger. I say “stronger,” because every period of suffering, every trial that we live through, has the power to make us stronger. There are lessons in suffering and in trial. When we allow the light of Jesus to guide us through our lives, it illuminates the lessons you need to learn, when you need to learn them.
There is wisdom to be gained from going through the grieving process. There is something comforting in knowing it’s possible to emerge from grief stronger. My mother taught me how to grieve. She lost her father when I was 10 years old, and her mother when I was a young teenager. She lost her husband, my father, when I was 14, and she lost her youngest child, my brother, when I was 29 (he had just turned 28).
I learned from observing how my mother grieved and from how she endured. Through the pain and hurt of unthinkable loss, she was strong. She found comfort in her children and her siblings, and she found joy in sharing with us her memories of our departed loved ones. Whenever we lost someone we loved dearly, who was a big part of our lives, they still “lived” in us through her, and through the sharing of all our memories. Our loved ones were never far away, because our memories kept them near us. It brightened our hearts and our spirits to think about and to remember them, together.
Because of what my mother taught me, I know how important it is to believe that—no matter what, your loved one fulfilled his/her mission on earth, and is now at peace. My mother demonstrated, based on how she believed and on how she lived, that it is empowering to know and to acknowledge that you are better today, as a person, because your loved one lived. Because my mother lived, I know how to glorify God with my own life. Because of what she taught me, I know that remembering to thank God every day for having known your loved one brings comfort to you in your time of grief while acknowledging the indescribable value of the life of your loved one. Staying prayerful throughout your time of grief validates the gravity of your loss. You know that even though your loved one is no longer with you in the physical world, that you've been forever blessed with the spiritual bond you shared with them. Most importantly, you know—without a doubt, that as long as you believe you will one day see them again, then that bond you have with them is something that will never be broken.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD