Healing from Grief

  It may be said that one never fully  recovers from grief.   Thirty years after losing a son in a car-train collision, one mother confided. "Whenever I hear a train whistle, that day comes back vividly in my mind."
    A  wife who lost her husband  became very ill.  She was hospitalized,  tests were run over a five day period, and  when the results were in, the verdict of two doctors was:  "There is nothing wrong with you, but grief.  You are killing yourself with grief."  It was at this point that she forced a change in her life.

    Job described his loss: "My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow." (17:7) One of the Psalms confesses:  "...my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief.  My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak." (31:9-10)

    There is no one set way of grieving.  People  grieve in different ways.   There is no one set way  of healing either. Some people are helped in one way, but that may not help another person. There are similarities in ways of grieving:  shock and denial,  anger, bargaining, resignation and acceptance are some of the responses to grief.  Not everyone experiences all of these reactions  with the same intensity nor for the same length of time. That is what makes it different for everyone.

    One recent study by a psychologist,   George Bonanno  of Catholic University,  suggests that laughter  helps in processing grief.  This is contrary to the usual ideas about grieving,  but for many it is a big help.  One may  not really feel like laughing, but natural--not forced-- laughter is possible.  A friend of mine who  went through much grief commented about laughter:  "I've found it essential  to healing."  I have attended  several  memorial services for  people in which  people volunteered  stories and memories about the deceased.  Invariably, these stories  were humorous  and  everyone laughed  in celebration of the memory of the person. The stories often  combine tears and laughter and they both are therapeutic.

    Much bereavement literature  regards  laughter as a form of denial.  This is mistaken. Laughter is a form of celebration of the life of the person and focuses on their good qualities and influences on friends. In a different reaction,  one widow  remarked:  "When I really feel down,  I start to think of the most terrible thing  he ever did to me, and then I don't miss him so much."

    The loss of a loved one leaves us lonely.   If you can reach out to friends  there is the possibility of laughter  and  this bonds people together.      Grief-stricken people  also find help in  faith in Jesus Christ.   One women remarked that she misses her husband  dearly, but it is a comfort to know that he is in the presence of the Lord.  She would not bring him back,  but she herself  looks forward to a reunion in the presence of the Lord.   This hope keeps her going.  While she is alone  she  has focused her life on  things she can do to help others.

            For those who  want to help people in grief,  there must be a willingness to listen.  This may mean listening to repetition of stories they have heard before,  but  talk therapy is  part of healing.  It is hard to listen to the same stories over and over and we just want them to be out of their pain.  But  that IS a way out!

           Give grief its time.  The mind  has to  process  until it is ready to let go.  It is recommended that  widows and widowers  not make major life changes for the first year.

         One of man's greatest needs is for purpose in life. Often our sense of purpose is found in our relation with family and friends.  When  death takes them from us our sense of purpose is gone.  We need to find new reasons for living.   After grief has done its work,  one must not sit at home alone.   There needs to be  challenging experiences.   Consider the case of Margaret Burks who lost her husband in 1985.  At 76 years of age she enrolled in seminary and became the school's oldest graduate.  At  80 she went to Israel for an archaeological dig.  Now she is in Tanzania teaching in a seminary  at the age of 84.    This may be an unusual character study, but  the bereaved have much to offer to others.

        Think of some possibilities:    big brother/big sister programs,   teaching English to a foreign student, teaching  reading to  someone who has never learned to read,   "adopting"  a college student from another country,  volunteering at the local hospital,  teaching a Sunday School class,  taking a course in computers,  taking a course in anything that piques your interest,   volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, organizing a block party for people to get to know one another,  baking a cake for newcomers to the community,  join a support group for the grieving,  volunteer to fold the bulletins at church,  help with meals on wheels,  or anything that makes you feel fulfilled.   (See Healing From Emptiness on this web site)

        The disciples of Jesus were filled with grief when he told them he would be crucified and on the third day rise from death.   He assured them that they would grieve  but their grief would be turned to joy. (John 16:20)    For the  Christ-follower  there is companionship  and comfort even in the midst of grief. He told  his disciples  "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." (16:22)

      The words of the Bible describe God as the ultimate source of comfort.  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)   Comfort comes from God as well as  other people who are his friends.

        If you are in need of learning to know God, check out  "How To Get To Heaven From Wherever You  Are..." on this web site.

                                                         Copyright 1999

                                                         The Healing Site

For further reading:

    Susan Zorinebelt-Smeenge and Robert C. DeVries,  "Getting to the other side of grief,"  (Baker)
    Granger Westberg,  "Good  Grief, "  ( Fortress)

    Zig Ziglar,  "Confessions of a Grieving Christian,"  ( Nelson)