We all have to cope with the loss caused by death. How can we deal with our grief and help others who are grieving?
Understanding what the Bible reveals about death and His promise of the resurrection provides great encouragement.
God, in His great love for us, has revealed answers to some of the greatest questions we face: What is life? What is death? What happens after death? We can find great comfort in the knowledge that God has a plan for all of mankind and that death is a temporary separation. We will be reunited with our loved ones through the resurrections God has promised.
Ultimately this understanding can help us better cope with a loss caused by death. Yet we cannot deny or diminish the feeling of loss created by death. We still sorrow and grieve. How can we deal with our grief? And how can we encourage others who are grieving?
Grief is a deeply personal and traumatic experience. In dealing with grief, you may find it helpful to understand the grieving process. Writers on the subject have identified several stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. (For example, see Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model in On Death and Dying, 1969.)
We will briefly examine each stage to help you understand grief and be prepared to deal with death. But bear in mind that a person in mourning may not experience these stages sequentially. No timetable for working one’s way through grief exists. Someone may feel several of the stages described here but not others. Another may experience various stages simultaneously. And having already gone through a certain stage doesn’t mean one can’t return to it. Each person’s experience can be different.
Stages of grief: denial
When one experiences denial, his physical responses might include sweating, faintness, nausea or a racing heart, just as with any other victim of shock. The mind and emotions become overwhelmed. Some simply may not be able to deal with the reality of death.
Some withdraw from the world around them. Others may feel as though they must be having a bad dream and that they’ll soon awaken from it. Perhaps this is God’s way of providing us a protective buffer. It’s during this time that we can begin to sort out and process our feelings at our own pace and comfort level.
Several important principles should be considered at this stage of the grieving process. First, it helps to talk about one’s thoughts and feelings. Those who are grieving have been deeply hurt by their loss. They need the opportunity to heal, to be taken care of. They can enable people around them to be of assistance by letting those who want to help know what they are experiencing. You can help by encouraging them to talk openly about their grief, to talk about the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one.
Encourage them to share the relationship they enjoyed with their loved one, what it was that made that person different, why they loved him or her. To cope with their grief, they should feel free to talk from the heart, to share their feelings regarding the loss they’ve suffered and the loneliness they are enduring.
At distressing times like these, the support of friends and loving family is invaluable. “A friend loves at all times” and “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs:17:17; 18:24). The day will come when they will be happy to do the same for you. No matter how deep their sorrow, let them know that they are not alone, that others will do what they can to help share the load if given the opportunity.
At such a time those who are grieving often lose sight of the need to take care of themselves physically. Caring for their health and well-being is often the last thing on their minds. Help them to realize that they are important, that their lives are valuable.
During times of grief it is easy to grow emotionally and physically depleted. Those who have suffered loss need to watch their diet, avoid fast food and eat well-balanced and nutritious meals.
Exercise, another must, is good for relieving stress buildup and discharging anger and frustration. It helps the appetite and promotes better sleep. Exercise can be as simple as a 30-minute walk several times a week.
Rest is yet another way to take care of one’s body. Grief is exhausting. Going without rest only compounds the difficulty.
Stages of grief: anger
Once denial begins to wear off, our natural tendency is to want to blame somebody—anybody—for our loss and pain. This anger may not be rational. We might find ourselves angry with the deceased, even if the person died through no fault of his or her own, because of what the loss is doing to us. We may be angry because of the timing of the death. When we are grieving, anger might be vented toward authority figures—the doctor, the hospital staff, family members or even God. We may wonder why God did not intervene in the situation to prevent the death. This anger may also lead to feelings of guilt.
Anger is a powerful emotion. It can lead to negative behavior or be harnessed for our own benefit. Remember that God says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (Ephesians:4:26, NASB). We can take the energy our anger generates and channel it into positive action. For example, we can do those odd jobs around the house we’ve been putting off. Taking up a new hobby or perhaps continuing our education by enrolling in some evening classes can help us positively channel our emotions. An outstanding way to displace anger is to be of service to others. Helping others will ease their burdens and lighten our emotional load during our grieving.
Stages of grief: bargaining
In the bargaining stage some want to play let’s make a deal with God. They imagine that if they promise to do this or that, God will return things to the way they used to be. At this point, those grieving often begin their pursuit of understanding the death of their loved one. This is a normal part of the healing process. They come to realize that there is no bargaining with death. It is only through acceptance of the facts that the reality of death can be turned into hope and positive action.
In their pursuit of understanding, those who have suffered loss should not leave out the source of information that has the answers to the questions they ask regarding death—God’s Word, the Bible.
As is emphasized throughout this publication, God has a plan. You and all of your loved ones are very much a part of it. God doesn’t want anyone to be overcome with sorrow and be without hope. With this in mind, remember that the apostle Peter said to submit to God, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter:5:7).
Stages of grief: depression
Reality eventually sets in. We are confronted with the necessity to go on with life without the one we have loved. It is easy to begin to plague ourselves with the thoughts of what should have or could have been.
For many, this can be the most difficult stage to go through. Signs of depression include a feeling of melancholy, unconcern about the outside world or a loss of interest in eating and sleeping. Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are common.
During this stage we should remember the positive aspects of the life we shared with our loved one. Memories are golden. We will forever carry with us times spent and enjoyed with the one we have lost. These are a treasure that nobody can take from us and are part of the legacy our loved one left for us.
Furthermore, it is vital to realize that we need not ever walk alone in our grief. God is still with us, even in times of mourning. “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear’” (Hebrews:13:5-6).
At times like these we must remember to keep the lines of communication open with God. He can help us deal with grief. Ask Him for strength and courage. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews:4:16). He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians:1:3-4).
Stages of grief: acceptance
Eventually, as we deal with our grief, we come to understand and accept that we are beginning a new chapter in life. We come to know a new normal. New realities must be adjusted to because we are in a new situation. Because of the trial we are going through, we become stronger, deeper and better for having faced and endured this great difficulty. Emotional balance returns little by little, like the healing of a physical wound.
The time required for the healing process can be different for each person. Some will still feel emotions such as guilt, depression or anger. This isn’t necessarily negative. It just means that the loved one impacted their lives in a powerful way and is still missed. These feelings are to be expected; they’re normal.
No one can ever take the place of a loved one we have lost. But we will come to the point where we’re ready to move forward and meet new challenges.
Moses was a man beloved by the nation of Israel, but there came a time when God allowed him to die. The nation had to move forward even though the Israelites grieved over losing him: “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: ‘Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel’” (Joshua:1:1-2).
Life went on for Israel without one of its greatest leaders. God further stated: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage” (verses 5-6).
God gives us the same promise today. We just need to look to Him in faith. If we draw near to Him, just as He was near to Moses and Joshua, so He will be with us. He is there to help us enter a new phase of our life with new challenges. God will provide the same strength and support He gave His faithful followers back then.
This, too, shall pass away
Time is a great healer. This is especially true in the case of the loss of a loved one.
In a speech before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in 1859, Abraham Lincoln commented: “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate at all times and situations. They presented him with the words, ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses. How chastening in the hour of pride. How consoling in the depths of affliction.”
As bleak as life seems after the death of one we love, we must remember that this, too, shall pass away. The joy of life can return. With the help of God, with the understanding of His great purpose for life, with the hope of the future, we can find the strength to overcome grief.
Especially we hold tightly to the promise of that wonderful day when we will be joyfully reunited with our lost loved ones—and ultimately of the time when death and all suffering will pass away forever (Revelation:21:4).
Until then, as Solomon wrote, “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: . . . a time to die; . . . and a time to heal; . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes:3:1-4). Emotional healing will come. A time to sing, a time to laugh and a time to dance will return.