Grief: What to Expect (the unexpected).


One of the beautifully mysterious, confounding, and yet comforting things about life is that everyone is different. And yet, how often we forget this. We marvel at snowflakes and ignore other people as though they weren’t walking miracles themselves. We inspect and catalog plant species, marveling at their differences while flattening out humanity into cardboard caricatures.

Though “Grief is the natural response to loss or change” and “the price we pay for love,” and everyone grieves, not everyone grieves the same. And grief is more than a simple emotional response to loss. It is a physiological reaction that may differ from person to person. Some people may want to sleep all the time while others won’t be able to sleep. Some will lose their appetites while others will find comfort in food. Some people will need silence and time alone to process while others will find it more helpful to be in crowds and around people. Some people will have guilt or anger while others have only sorrow. None of these is “right” or “wrong,” they are just the different ways people move through grief.

We need to stop trying to prescribe how everyone will do everything. For a religion that claims to be for people who don’t have it all together, Christians often try to pretend that we have it all together. And that we can tell everyone else how to do things. We hold financial seminars telling people how to deal with their money, we have conferences about parenting and marriage. But the truth of the matter is that cultural statistics, bankruptcies, divorces, etc. are not all that different for those who claim to be Christian and those who do not. I’m not saying God’s Word does not have helpful things to say about all of these topics, including grieving, but I am saying that we need to stop telling people how long or how they should grieve.

One of the questions I am most often asked is: How long will my grief last?

I don’t know. How long did you love that person? You will never forget them, so in a sense, grief never ends. I know most people don’t want to hear that; that grief never ends. But it does change. It will not always feel like we’re gasping for air in the belly of the best. But grieving is the process of admitting and accepting our loss and finding the “new normal.” Things go on. Even without the ones we love. There are still bills to pay, mouths to feed, yards, to mow, dishes to do. Only now, we must face them alone.

If grief truly is the price we pay for love, then grief is also the process of discovering life after loss. There will be tears, there will be sorrow, there will be loneliness, anger but there is also the simple process of being changed by our loss. Grief is the redefinition of who we are in relation to what we’ve lost.

If I’m saying anything at all (and believe me, there is much more that I want to say beyond this post), it’s that I would love to see the Church make more space for lament. I would love to see Christians move beyond prescribed 1,2,3 step programs for everything and I would love to see Christians move beyond trite-isms and embrace the grieving process as an essential part of life.

As with yesterday’s post, I very much would like discussion. What has your experience with grief been? How has it shaped you? What was helpful? What was not? What would you like others to know?