Understanding the Grieving Process
Los Angeles Christian Counseling
You have most likely experienced some form of grief in your lifetime. Whether it be from the death of a loved one, a broken relationship or marriage, a loss of a job, or a betrayal. The grieving process comes in all shapes and sizes and can manifest itself differently in each person.
Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them. – Leo Tolstoy
Grief is defined as deep sorrow, misery, pain, torment, suffering, or heartache. The word “grief” itself is derived from the old French word grever meaning “to burden.” And for anyone who has experienced the profound pain of grief knows that it most definitely feels like the heaviest burden to bear.
If you find yourself experiencing the substantial burden of grief in this season of life, take heart, you are not alone. In this article, we are going to investigate the grieving process by looking at the grief cycle, the different types of grief, what God’s Word says about grief, and different avenues of coping and healing.
The Grieving Process
Grief looks different for everyone and can express itself in a variety of ways. When going through grief, it’s helpful to identify and name what element of the grieving process you are experiencing.
William Shakespeare, in his famously known play, Macbeth, says it best, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” So, as you seek bravely to give your sorrow words, let’s unpack together five common elements of the grieving process.
“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” – Earl Grollman
Five Elements of Grief
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that these elements of grief are not always linear. Grief is a journey, and you may find yourself experiencing one element one day, only to wake up the next morning and be expressing a different one, and by that very same afternoon find yourself with still a different one.
Be patient with yourself and be sure to give yourself lots of grace as you trek your way through different parts.
Denial is characterized by feelings of emotional numbness, disbelief, or utter shock regarding the loss that you’ve just incurred. It’s normal for this to be an immediate response to grief as your body and mind try to process what has happened. Denial is your mind’s way of trying to protect itself from the overwhelming feelings of loss and heartache.
Life may begin to feel overwhelming or even meaningless point, and rest assured, that is normal.
As the denial wears off, one of the first emotions you may feel is anger. Maybe you feel angry at the loss itself, or the reason for the loss. You may also find yourself irritable or frustrated for no apparent reason other than your grief.
If you have ever found yourself looking back on a loss, whatever it may be, and repeatedly rehearsing the different “what ifs” or “should haves” of the situation, then you have experienced what is called bargaining. Perhaps before the loss occurred, you found yourself bargaining with God, saying things such as “God I promise to be better if you would just cure my spouse.”
In extreme cases, once the loss has set in, you may wrongly come to believe that to regain God’s favor and avoid any future losses, you must exhibit perfect behavior. These are all scenarios of different types of bargaining.
Depression is likely to set in after a period of bargaining, but it can hit at any time at any point in the grieving process. During this period, life can feel meaningless, and it can feel like your depression will last forever. Although it may recede with time and healing, the deep sorrow may hit you in waves for many years after the loss, depending on different triggers or memories.
After time passes and healing begins, you may begin to accept the reality of your loss. This will not mean that you are ok with what has happened – you are allowed to still feel grief – but you’ve accepted what has happened and decided to move forward with your life.
God and the Grieving Process
Grief can feel all-consuming and very lonely. It can be difficult as believers to remember that God not only is with us in our pain but relates to us in our pain. John 3:16 tells us that God gave up His one and only Son to die a brutal death on a cross so that we could be free. God, in His goodness and grace, sacrificed His Son and watched Him suffer immeasurably.
God intimately understands what it’s like to experience painful loss and heartache. God’s Word tells us that the Lord is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18) and “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
The Lord doesn’t just sit on His throne, looking down from heaven bored and dismissive while your heart breaks. He desires to comfort you. Although Jesus’ last words to His disciples in John 16:33 tell us that we will have trouble in this world, He gives hope in the form of Himself, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.”God has already overcome the pain and heartache you face, and instead of running from it and running from Him, He invites you to run to Him. He invites your messy emotions, your anger, sadness, confusion, and questions. He is equipped better than anyone to bear it all.
As followers of God, we are promised His love. And not only that but all who serve God are promised that His love will be a great comfort, “May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant” (Psalm 119:76).
The best thing we can do in our grief is to turn to God in the midst of it.
Moving Forward in Healing
Healing from loss and grief is always possible with Jesus, time, and the right resources. Below is a list of things you could do to move forward in healing from grief:
- Join a grief support group in your area
- Keep a journal and write in it each day how you honestly feel
- Set a regular sleep schedule to make sure your body gets adequate rest
- Find a form of exercise that fits your lifestyle
- Plan for special outings so you have something to look forward to
- Pray regularly
- Engage in Christian meditation
- Be sure to give yourself plenty of grace
Another wonderful way to seek healing amid grief is to talk to a trusted friend, a pastor, or even a Christian counselor. It can be helpful to talk aloud about your feelings and process them in a safe space. If you are looking for someone who can provide Biblical resources and perspective regarding your grief, then please feel free to reach out to me or another one of the counselors in the online directory.
Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing. – Jennifer Brown
“Sitting on the Dock”, Courtesy of Sasint, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Praying at Dawn”, Courtesy of 李磊瑜伽, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sunset”, corutesy of Jplenio, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of VicTor, Nappy.co, Public Domain