Four short years ago on December 14, a gunman went into an elementary school and killed 20 young children, six adults and then himself.
Forty three years ago on December 14, my husband’s sister, her husband and their youngest child died in a house fire.
Just this morning, 25 miles from here, 80 people are without any home because of a fire in the apartment building in which they lived.
Grief is not an option in our lives, it is a matter of when. No one is exempt from grief, grief and grieving is a guarantee in our life. Sorry if this sounds hopeless, sad or morbid, it is just being realistic.
For many people, the holidays bring out sad memories and hard times. For them, the holiday is not an event to be happily anticipated. Many do not enter the holiday season joy-filled for any number of reasons: This may be the first holiday without a loved one, a loss of a job may have curtailed travel and the normal present giving, a move away from family can change plans, unexpected illness, and more.
But there is hope! Stay with me.
Grief, a response to loss or tragedy, hides in many forms, many more than could be listed here:
- loss of a child/miscarriage
- loss of job/financial security
- loss of home
- loss of pet
- loss of your Dream
- loss of a friendship
- Death of a loved one
- Your pastor falls into sin
- Loss of security after tragedy/theft/physical harm
- Loss of physical objects
- Loss of/or never gaining, a relationship with God
Grief doesn’t have to be a huge catastrophic event in your life, it can also be hidden in the everyday life you live.
- A Favorite teacher goes on extended leave
- Your favorite jeans are discontinued
- A church fails to pay its mortgage
- A neighborhood school is closed due to lack of funds
Grief varies in intensity with each loss. Much depends on how close you were to the person or the situation. Close family members will experience grief at different intensities. Depending on the loss, there may be a sense of numbness in the beginning and then intense, unexpected feelings may happen at odd times. Intensity isn’t determined by the amount of days since the loss. Grief is personal to you and you will have your own way of coping. Much depends on your personal history, your personality, your feelings, the suddenness or expectation of your loss.
I am not a professional, a doctor, or trained in counseling for grief victims. But I know how my history reads:
…the loss of important people, my sweet childhood as I became victim to a much older predator, our family home and businesses. I have lost friends over the years either by death or moves. Our financial security was ripped away, lost many family pets over the years. From the year 2000 to 2010, my husband and I loss nine family members. Since 2010, we have lost our businesses and our family home.
And crazy as it may sound, both my husband and I find ourselves in a strange place of grief once more during this holiday season. As we have willfully chosen, happily, joyfully, expectantly, exuberantly, become Carpenter missionaries, serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we find ourselves in a strange sort of grieving at loss of Christmas traditions. While it is almost embarrassing to admit this, to even call if grief, we grieve nonetheless, for the past and the way things were. While this cannot be compared to any loss of family members or friends or jobs or finances, we recognize it as a grief.
Grief cannot nor should not be ignored.
I speak from past mistakes, trial and error on the road to healing after loss of any kind. I have experienced six different stages of grief, including:
- Denial: “No! This could not be happening!” or “No! Not them!”
- Anger: “No, no, no, not another!”
- Guilt: “Why God? Why? Why them and not me?”
- Bargaining: “I promise, if you would….then I would….!” or “If only you will……then I promise to never……”
- Depression: Sadness, overwhelming sadness, loss of appetite, overeating, crying, uncontrolled crying, apathy, yelling at the wrong person, explosive anger, sleep or no sleep.
- Acceptance: “How will I live without them? I don’t know, but we will learn to keep them in our heart, if not in our arms.” or “I thought I would die if I lost my home, so now it’s happened and I only have to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
There are steps to the healing, the hope of grief. Including:
First, recognize the myths we are told about grieving:
- Myth: grieving should only take a year. The TRUTH: grieving is different for everyone. There is no time table to fit every person in every situation.
- Myth: acting strong will get me past the grief and I won’t need to hurt. the TRUTH: Acting strong doesn’t make me strong nor does it erase what happened. Grief will be there until it is dealt with.
- Myth: If you don’t cry means you don’t feel. The TRUTH: All of us cry at different times, sometimes alone and sometimes with others. Crying is good for the physical body but crying, less or more, doesn’t mean you loved less or more, nor does it mean your felt the loss more or less. Crying is your emotional outlet and may be a personal expression of your grief.
- Myth: Ignore the grief and it will be as if it didn’t happen. The TRUTH: You can’t change the past.
Second, find support in your grieving process.
- Support groups serve a specific purpose, to help you with the grieving process, finding comfort and support. Find a specific group through your local hospital, church, county health department, or local paper. A grief support group can be an outlet to help you express yourself with people who know much of what you are going through.
- Counselor or therapists may help you work through the grief process also. There is no weakness is seeking help. By speaking with someone outside of your close circle, this person will listen and help you through the grieving process.
- Turn to God and allow Him to soothe the pain. Jesus knew grief as He walked this earth. His own friend, Lazaruz died and He wept. He came upon a funeral of an only child of a woman and in His compassion stopped to help her. Jesus is always willing to help if you would call to Him.
- Friends or family may be experiencing the same grief you are. Often, the same loss is affecting them. Turn to each other, rely on each other. Allow yourself and each of them to experience the different stages of grief in a way personal to each.
Third, do not neglect your own health during the grieving process or for the sake of others.
- It is too easy to skip meals when you are depressed or lonely or hurting. You may need to force yourself to eat, but do not neglect the needs of your physical body.
- Bathing often becomes neglected for a number of reasons, apathy, depression, believing no one could ever love you again. Force yourself to bathe, even put on your make up and do your hair, if that was your normal routine before the loss occurred.
- Walk, exercise. Movement causes blood to circulate and helps the endorphins in your brain to produce good feelings.
Fourth, admit your feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Feelings are an expression of what is happening in us and around us. We all feel something.
- Feelings may seem ugly, you may have been taught to never be angry, but understand feelings are an expression of your emotional state. Feelings do not determine self-worth or incriminate you.
- God knows our feelings whether we express them or not. Be honest, God already knows. If necessary, speak out loud to God and tell Him what you are feeling. He promises to make our burden light if we join with Him. He promises to never give us more than we can handle, if we are His and will put our trust in Him.
Fifth, find the triggers and learn to deal with these.
- An anniversary or birthday may be a trigger for more grief. Don’t fight it. Realize grief is not a process you get over but one you will learn to handle over time.
- Hearing someone’s name may trigger grief. If your grief involves a wrong done to you, just hearing the name of the person can send you into a tailspin, back to the grief. Learn what to do when you hear the name.
- Certain odors may trigger grief. Smoke, perfumes/colognes, alcohol, etc., may all trigger grief. Again, this is a learning process. Learn to process these odors in a positive way.
- Holidays are triggers for some people. If the person you lost played an especially important role in your holiday celebration, prepare beforehand, a way to celebrate that includes their memory.
During my grieving process, I turned to God in my hurt and distress. I didn’t know what to do with the powerful emotions, my feelings seemed to have overwhelmed every area of my life. I cried out to Jesus and He gave me my relief. Did the situation change? NO. I still experienced the loss. Yet, I was free from the horrible, emotional state in which it seemed I was forever caught. I found my answers in Jesus’ life as He lived here on earth.
- Denial: I had to be honest with myself. Jesus never denied His weakened state after being in the desert 40 days. He was able to withstand the enemy yet was able to accept His help when it came. (Matthew 4: 1-11). The grieving process, for me, quite often feels as if I have been neglected and abandoned. I must be honest with myself about what is going on in my life as the enemy of depression, sadness, loneliness and more, seek to destroy me. It is in my honestly about the hurt and pain that I can accept His help to get me through.
- Anger: I was angry! Each time I felt a loss, I became angry. When Jesus entered the temple and saw His house of prayer being used as a scheme for making money, He also became angry. (John 2:14) Because Jesus felt anger, I knew it was okay for me to feel anger. The difference between Jesus’ anger and mine was how we handled it. Learning from Jesus, I saw a positive outlet for my anger didn’t deny the anger, just allowed me to accept it and move on. I was angry at the circumstance which led to my loss, but I didn’t need to allow it to cause more damage. Often, our anger leads us to say things or lash out at those closest to us. I did not do that when I realized anger was a natural emotion with grief.
- Guilt: I struggled with guilt for each loss. I struggled with thoughts of “my fault it happened” or “why them?” or “why not me?” But Jesus helped me see my guilt I was carrying was actually a burden. He told me (Matt 11:28, 29) to give Him my burden and He would help me carry it. I no longer needed to live under the burden of guilt.
- Bargain: I tried bargaining with God. I made promises about my behavior but each time I tried to bargain, I followed it with the words, “If you would change what happened!” I knew the past couldn’t be changed but I was desperate for the pain of grief to leave me. Jesus accepted His pain and He knew it was coming. In the garden, the night of His arrest, He asked His Father to let the cup of sorrow pass Him, but He also knew it was God’s will and accepted the fact He would be crucified. (Luke 22:41) Jesus knew, His crucifixion was the answer for the world and He accepted His past and His future. If Jesus did this, I knew I would be able to move on without needing to make a bargain with God. God would take care of my future.
- Depression: Depression takes may forms. For me, I overate, I under-slept, I withdrew from people, I built a wall around my heart and believed if I didn’t love, I wouldn’t hurt. My personality began to change. I quit laughing. Depression caused me to change my life for the hurting to stop. Yet it never did. I hurt, the new coping skills were not helping, just prolonging the inevitable: I needed to heal from the pain! It was during the dark time of depression when I read Jesus’ words in Luke 10:14, “Let the children come to Me.” It was also during this time of depression when I wanted be a little kid to avoid the heartache adulthood brings. For me, the verse told me to “Come to Jesus.”
- Acceptance: Trust is hard after suffering a loss. Eventually, though, my trust returned as I turned to Jesus. I realized His life was not pain free, He suffered as I suffered, He even willingly suffered for me. A love of this type is trustworthy. I would trust again because Jesus was Trustworthy. You must understand, some of the grief in my life, I brought on myself. It was in reading about the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11), the woman who was accused by men yet Jesus lovingly restored and did not condemn, it was here I learned to trust again. I could trust Jesus, I could trust my future in Him.
THE END OF GRIEF: There is none! But there is HOPE!
There is hope. Yes, I said there is HOPE in the grieving process. My memories of my loved ones will always be with me. The hurt of loss dims as the good memories brighten. I have experienced this after each grieving period.
But for me, I believe there is a purpose in my grief and yours if you choose. I believe God wants us to experience His love and the power of His healing. I believe He wants us to trust Him and Him alone for our healing. He is Good, He is Powerful and He is Trustworthy.
Humans were given the freedom of choice. We can choose to reach to Him for relief of the grief or continue in your personal way to search for relief in the grieving process through whatever paths you choose.
For me, the choice was made when I understood Ecclesiastes 3: 1 and 4. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to cry and time to laugh, a time to grieve and time to dance.
FOR SOME, THE HOLIDAYS ARE TOO PAINFUL
AND BELIEVE THE TAKING OF THEIR LIFE MAY BE THE ANSWER, IT ISN’T.
If you know anyone or if you are thinking of taking your own life to escape the pain of grief, here is a phone number or website to visit:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
1-800-273-8255 OR https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/