The first major loss I can remember suffering in my life was the death of my paternal grandfather, Hugh Wyndham Fraser, a World War II veteran. He passed away when I was five years old in 1973. Though I did not attend the funeral, I vividly remember walking around by myself on the front lawn of our home in South Africa, while my parents were away at the service, and how sad I felt inside. I understood, as much as a small child could, that I would never see my Grandpa Fraser again on this earth until I saw him someday in heaven. My little heart ached inside.
No matter our age, the death of a loved one is very difficult to get through. We’re often caught off-guard emotionally and unprepared for the loss. Grief is the built-in, natural process we enter in order to get ourselves back—to fill that massive void that has been left in our souls.
Grief can be so unpredictable and it doesn’t proceed in an orderly fashion. Just when we think we’re all right again and have our feet on a solid footing beneath us, mighty waves of emotion crash over us once more and we’re instantly tossed about and turned upside-down in the torrents we we’re swept out into a black ocean of grief.
At times we might try to resist in vain the onslaught of grief. We attempt to fight off the unbridled raw feelings, afraid of losing control of ourselves in public or drowning in our own tears. And Western culture doesn’t help matters any. Our society expects us to pick ourselves up off the ocean bottom and move with our lives quickly. People around us often don’t know how to respond to our grief and pain. It makes them feel uncomfortable, so shortly after the funeral, they avoid the topic. But we find ourselves still stuck in our grief and unspeakable sorrow. However, the grieving process is necessary in our winding psycho-spiritual journey towards healing and recovery.
The Bible says quite a bit about human suffering as it relates to loss and grief. Numerous biblical examples exist of people of faith who experienced unimaginable losses and sadness in their lives. The pages of Scripture normalize our disquieting experiences of grief and provide spiritual comfort, consolation, and eternal hope.
The Psalmist writes in Psalm 56:8 (ESV), “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” God is keenly aware of our brokenness.
The messianic prophecy regarding our Lord Jesus Christ, in Isaiah 53:3-4 (ESV) states, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Upon the death of his good friend named Lazarus, and the grief-stricken environment that ensued, particularly in seeing the weeping of his sister, Mary, John 11:35 poignantly says, “Jesus wept.” It’s a deeply profound and powerful statement.
The experience of loss is integral to the human condition, and grief is a necessary and natural, albeit painful, part of the healing process. And losses come in many different shapes and sizes: major losses, less obvious losses, sudden losses, and predictable losses. Grief possesses the inherent power to remind us of our finitude (mortality), resign us to our weakness as humans, and refine us in our faith and spiritual priorities. It is able to shapes us and grow us in significant ways that it alone can accomplish.
The process of grief itself is not linear but cyclical. Rather than moving through predictable stages, we might view it more from a dynamic perspective where sometimes we move forwards and sometimes backwards. One helpful analogy is that of climbing a spiral staircase where things may look and feel like we’re just going in circles, yet we’re actually making gradual progress. It is all-too-common to hear from bereaved clients that they feel like they’re going crazy; are unable to concentrate or focus; are sometimes angry at the deceased or God; feel anxious or fearful; have the urge to escape; feel much guilt, regret, or remorse; or perhaps feel ambivalent and numb. If you’re experiencing these types of symptoms, it’s relatively normal. With time things will improve as you discover a new normal in your life, without the deceased by your side.
Grief allows us to grasp the immensity of our loss, while enabling us to, piece-by-piece, put back together a sense of balance and emotional wholeness. In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy (2008), William Worden suggests Four Tasks of Grieving: (1) To accept the reality of the loss; (2) To work through the pain and grief; (3) To adjust to a new environment; and (4) To find an enduring connection with the deceased while moving forward with life.
If your find yourself grieving today, my advice is to give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling, seek support from friends, and be realistic about what you should or shouldn’t expect from yourself right now. You’re job right now is to survive and to get through your grief in the best way you know how. Avoid making any major life decisions financially or relationally. And, please, cut yourself some slack and extend some grace to yourself!
In the Beatitudes, the Lord promised, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4, ESV). God will give you the strength you need for the difficult journey ahead. Continue to trust in Him!