Grief is how we honor what we have lost. The most common example of grief is mourning the death of someone we loved, but we also grieve the loss of other things such as a marriage or significant relationship, a job or opportunity, a pet, our health, or a dream. We are all familiar with the stages of grief, commonly referred to as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Ross & Kessler). If you have a funeral to attend it could be time to learn how to write a eulogy. Ok, we know what we are feeling, but what do we DO about it?
Researchers out of Harvard university determined that there are “tasks” of grief – but reader beware, grief is not a “to do” list. You can’t stop or deny your feelings. Even Jesus was brought to tears when he encountered Mary and Marth’s mourning at the loss of their brother. You can count on fluidity and unpredictability on how you feel and when it hits you. You cannot count on speed. Unfortunately, there is no “Fast Pass” to the mourning process.
The first task of grief is accepting the reality of the loss. This means no longer “seeking” what we have lost, or holding on to false hope. We may still hope in God’s promise to restore all things, but in order to heal we must accept for now, in this time and place, “it” is over.
The next task is to process our pain, because once we accept the reality of the loss, it’s going to hurt. Processing pain takes many forms, such as sharing it with others, praying about it, physically moving, or crying or yelling or whatever healthy expression of feelings works for you. Attempts to stop the pain will only show up later as repressed feelings. Let it out, without judging yourself. It’s ok to be as upset as you need to be over this loss. It’s a sign you lost someone or something significant.
Then, our task becomes to adjust to our new world, a life without the person, relationship, or opportunity we lost. This can mean new living or work situations and daily routines, or it may run deeper such as adjusting to life with an altered sense of self or identity. Our assumptions about God and how His universe works might be shattered. We may “know” all the answers scripture tells us about God’s goodness, sovereignty, and protection, but we are experiencing pain that is beyond our own understanding. Allow yourself to bring your questions, your doubt, and even your anger to God. He can handle it. He wants to use it to help you to grow.
And finally, the last task becomes finding connection and meaning in letting go. It’s the end that started it all. Accepting the reality of the loss doesn’t mean forgetting or replacing. Finding meaning means you can tell your story, and this loss is now part of it. It has formed who you have become. Your sadness is not as overwhelming. The fear is smaller. The tasks of grief have brought you to a place of acceptance, metabolized pain, adjustment, and reconnection to a new sense of self, hope, and purpose. As Matthew 5:4 reminds us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Worden, J. (2009) Greif Counseling and Grief Therapy (4th ED). NY: Springer.