Coping With Bereavement – Part 2
About the grief process and learning from grief.
The Grief Process and Learning From Grief
If you’ve missed it, you can read Part 1, what the bible says about grief, here: https://tidings.org/magazine/coping-with-bereavement/
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her book “On Death and Dying,” where she discussed her theory of the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is not always appreciated that she identified these stages in the experiences of people dying from a terminal disease.
She made it clear that these steps do not necessarily come in the order noted above, nor are all steps experienced by all patients, though she stated a person will always experience at least two. In fact, people will often experience several stages in a “roller coaster” effect—switching between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through it.
The Grief Process
The grief process for bereavement may not, therefore, be the same as Kübler-Ross described. The grief process is a very individual experience and often lonely. So much depends on your own personality and your relationship with the one who has died. Therefore, you cannot compare one person’s grief with that of another.
The grief process is a very individual experience and often lonely.
The grief process is an inescapable journey we must endure. It is an unchartered trip—a zigzag or a circle, not straight-forward. Therefore, the first year of grieving is a series of firsts—the first birthday and annual family gatherings without them, the anniversary of the death, etc. Grief counselors, therefore, may caution against making significant decisions in this first year.
There is no timetable for grieving, therefore, take one day at a time (Matt 6:34). It can take one to three years to become stable again, that is, if grief is resolved or uncomplicated. It took me 18 months after our daughter died. Grief resolution is when the bereaved can, in time, move on. This result requires an acceptance that life will never be the same again. It does not mean you “get over it”—because you are forever changed.
Time alone does not heal you. You choose to heal. It takes effort. It is possible to feel you cannot move on, that the pain of your loss is simply too great. These thoughts may lead to living in a state of grief for many years, perhaps even for the rest of one’s life. This situation is a kind of living death, and in the case of ending one’s life to stop the pain, a real death. But in either case, we cannot honor the dead by “dying” with them. Furthermore, our family and loved ones will experience both their own grief and the loss of the withdrawn one.
“Moving on” involves letting your emotions out and letting them run their course. Don’t fight them, and don’t feel embarrassed by showing them in front of others. Not letting them out hinders the healing process. It leads to bitterness if unresolved.
you cannot compare one person’s grief with that of another
The sharp pain eases in time, but emotions easily rise, whether prompted by a memory or for no reason at all. The memory of the loss of a loved one is always sad. Some things that can help the grieving process are:
- Seek solace in our community.
- Read and learn about death-related grief responses.
- Attend a support group.
- Seek therapy with a trained counselor or psychologist.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings.
- Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest.
- Grieving mends the spirit and heals the heart. We overcome it when we stop focusing exclusively on our own hurt.
Our Western culture can often inhibit us from showing our true feelings or even discussing them. Scripture mentions numerous occasions when the faithful in grief cried:
- Gen 23:2—Abraham for Sarah.
- Gen 37:35—Jacob for lost Joseph.
- Gen 50:1—Joseph for Jacob.
- Deut 34:8—Israel for Moses.
- 2 Sam 1:12—David and his men for Saul and Jonathan.
- 2 Sam 3:32—David for Abner.
- 2 Sam 12:21—David for Bathsheba’s son.
- 2 Sam 13:36—David and his men for Amnon.
- 2 Sam 18:33—David for Absalom.
- Matt 2: 18—women for children.
- Acts 9:39—women for Dorcas.
Growing through Grief
My wife and I attended a presentation for our ecclesia by a professional grief counselor. He said that in time the one grieving will experience joy and sadness at the same time. I challenged this statement, and he asked how long it had been since our daughter’s death. I said it was ten months. He replied that it was too soon but that it would come. And he was right—it did! And this is precisely what the Apostle Paul declared:
- “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor 6:10).1All Scriptural citations are taken from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
- “I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Cor 7:4).
- “In a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy… abounded.” (2 Cor 8:2).
He also explained how this is possible. Joy is our inner state, knowing that we are God’s children and that it is our, “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32). Sadness, on the other hand, is our response to external events—whether of death or some other form of loss.
It may seem that the Apostle Paul said that we should not grieve when a loved one dies:
Does this mean that sorrowing is wrong? Given the numerous examples of the faithful sorrowing (e.g., John 11:31, 33, 35; Phil 2:27), clearly, it is not. So, what did Paul mean?
- His words are to comfort us (1 Thess 4:18).
- Extreme grieving suggests to others that we do not have a hope.
- We know that the dead are asleep and will wake up (1 Thess 4:14-15). The word cemetery means a sleeping place.
Grief is, therefore, not inconsistent with faith.
However, knowledge of the resurrection at the return of Christ may not help us immediately. We know the verses well, but they don’t seem to ease the pain. Martha felt this way when Jesus affirmed the resurrection on the Last Day (John 11:23-24). Looking forward to the resurrection does not mean we are happy that our loved one has died. Even though Martha and Mary believed in the resurrection, both expressed their deep sense of loss for their brother Lazarus and their disappointment that Jesus had not come sooner to heal him (John 11:21, 32).
Learning from Grief
Without minimizing the impact of bereavement, there are important lessons to learn from the experiences of grief. Indeed, this is true of all experiences—we should be “trained” by them (Heb 12:11). I have learned a lot through my experiences of death and grief. I just wished there was another way to learn them! I have grouped my thoughts under six headings:
Job, in the extremity of his tragedy, could say, “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21), and “shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Indeed, the Apostle Paul says that “the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also… groan within ourselves.” (Rom 8:22-23).
We must not, therefore, expect to be an exception. Rather we should expect unexpected, unsettling, irritating, and confusing experiences. God doesn’t owe us anything. There is no promise in the Bible of a life free from pain and disappointment.
2. God Cares
In times of crisis, anxiety, confusion, or disappointment, we must remember God is totally in control and that He is never disinterested in our situation.
There are many references in the Psalms to the need to remember God’s wonderful works in the past (e.g., Psalm 78:4, 7, 11, 12, 32, 43; 107:15, 21, 22, 24, 31). Perhaps this seems a bit academic, but consider His wonderful works in your life.
Baptism demonstrates the miracle of forgiveness, the blessing of God’s love shown to us through our families and brothers and sisters in Christ, and the gift of God’s only begotten Son as our Savior. You may be able to add many more to this list.
The Apostle Peter encourages us to cast “all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7). Even as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death, we are assured that God is with us. (Psa 23:4).
3. Trial of Faith
We know how important faith is to our Father in heaven: “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Heb 11:6). Furthermore, “faith without works is dead.” (Jas 2:17, 26). It is evident then that God will never do anything to undermine our faith, to destroy the need for faith. Giving us a pain-free life would leave us no opportunity to show our faith.
Our faith will not be unchallenged for long.
Our faith will be tested (Jas 1:3), and that by fire. (1 Pet 1:7) Our faith will not be unchallenged for long. Our God, therefore, permits difficulties to occur. There are many opportunities for faith to grow in our lives, so we should use these experiences to grow in faith. In difficult times faith is our life raft—we have nothing else.
There are many examples in Scripture when God permits His children to experience struggles:
- Joseph was promised great things but was sold as a slave and imprisoned.
- David was anointed as King but hunted in the wilderness.
- The disciples were left to row for hours in a storm when Jesus could have rescued them much earlier.
All our trials have a purpose. This reality does not mean we must interpret them as punishment for our sins. Job’s trials came upon him, but they were without a cause (Job 2:3). Even when we are “chastened” by our Lord, which is painful, we are being “trained” by such experiences (Heb 12:10-11).
We will cope much better with our trials when we remember those times in our past when we have proved that our faith is valid: “And I said, ‘This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the works of the LORD; Surely will I remember Your wonders of old.” (Psa 77:10-11).
All our trials have a purpose
Unfortunately, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” (1 Cor 10:13) is often quoted to assure us that our trials will never be too great to bear.
But this verse must be understood in its context, like all Scripture. The chapter is all about the temptation to worship idols or demons (vv. 7, 14, 19-21, 28). It is not about the trials of our faith.
The rest of verses 13-14 also show this: “But with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” In contrast, there is no escape from the trials of our faith, from trouble.
Indeed, life can be too much to bear, as Moses found (Num 11:14-15; Deut 1:9, 12). Being unable to cope is not, therefore, a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Telling someone who is not coping well that they should be makes them feel even worse.
4. God’s Sovereignty
One of the most challenging facts of life is the awareness that some of God’s children have a more difficult life than others, and conversely, some seem to have it easier than others. This inequality is even more stark when we consider our brothers and sisters in developing countries.
In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul addresses this issue by drawing our attention to God’s selection of Isaac and Jacob (vv. 7, 10). Consequently, he asks, “Is there unrighteousness with God?” (v. 14). Or we might ask, “Is God unfair?” Paul’s response to this question is: “O man, who are you to reply against God?” (v. 20) and follows this by referring to God as the potter.
When we consider God’s awesome power and unfathomable wisdom, we are indeed just clay in His hands. Job’s questions were answered similarly when Elihu and Almighty God pointed to His power in creation (chapters 32-41). There is no theology of a helpless God.
We must accept Him as the unchanging God who never makes mistakes. As confusing as life may seem at times, we may, years later, begin to understand how God was working in our lives. And if not, we will understand when transformed into immortality.
We are now in training, both for the rest of our mortal lives and for the Kingdom. This life is simply a preparation for a much greater role as kings and priests to restore a ruined earth and a shattered population after Armageddon and the great earthquake.
Difficulties are to be worked through, not to be avoided. So much of Scripture shows us the lives of faithful people who, if not immediately, later understood how the hand of God was guiding them. They understood God had a purpose for them, often to save others.
Difficulties are to be worked through, not to be avoided.
There is great value in studying the subject of Providence. We need to have a worldview that has God in every part.
Hardships in this life leave their mark on us. We are forever changed. We are different people. We will never be the same person as we were. These scars never disappear. Our loss is always there, and private cries of grief continue.
However, bereavement brings the resurrection into sharper focus. It becomes more significant in our minds. As important as the coming Kingdom is, the desire for the resurrection becomes dominant, that day when we shall see our loved ones again. We are more “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:23).
In that day, God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev 7:17). Furthermore, then “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4).
God has not promised
skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways
all our lives through;
God has not promised
sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
peace without pain.
But God has promised
strength for the day,
Rest for the labour,
light for the way,
Grace for the trials,
help from above,
(Annie Johnson Flint)
Hyde Park Ecclesia, SA
EDITORS NOTE: We thank Bro. Stephen for sharing this emotional message with us but doing so with the sound consultation from Scripture. If you would like to read more about Bereavement, may we suggest you download a terrific booklet from the Christadelphian Support Network in the UK? This helpful booklet provides multiple accounts of brothers and sisters going through bereavement and valuable resources. You can download this free booklet at https://tinyurl.com/yf8997sd