Sometimes grief overwhelms us. Sometimes it lays quietly dormant until a small bit escapes the hidden parts of the heart. Sometimes it is a constant numbing in our minds. Whether it is grief over death, over a shattered dream, or over something that used to be a pleasing presence in our lives, grief is a part of all of us. And no matter what anyone says, grief doesn’t pass with time. Instead, grief changes with time. It becomes less frequent, perhaps. Or less intense. But it never leaves us.
As a counselor, I can tell you that this is perfectly normal. People often believe that there is some sort of “grief timetable.” That if they aren’t completely over their grief in a certain amount of time then they must not be healing. This is simply not true. If you are taking steps to move forward in your grief, then you are healing, no matter how long it takes.
For those who are grieving, know that I am with you. I get it. And it is okay. It is okay to cry. It is okay to ask why. It is okay to take your time. What is not okay is to get stuck. Sometimes we get stuck feeling sorry for ourselves and choose to live in that, wallowing in self-pity. Or we get stuck in refusing to process our grief. We think, "Yeah that happened, and it really stinks, but life goes on," and we shove it all down inside and pretend it doesn’t hurt. Getting stuck is the opposite of healing, and if you find yourself in that place, I would encourage you to talk to someone about that.
Think of grief as a deep wound. If you refuse to acknowledge that you are wounded, your wound will never heal. It will fester and become infected and could be life-threatening. We need to acknowledge our grief and process it. If you are wondering how to do that, I’m not going into it here today, but I would love to talk to you about it. You can contact me using my info at the bottom of this post.
For those who are not currently grieving but care about someone who is, you can help. I'm going to tell you how to do that with some very simple do’s and don’ts.
Don’t offer a cliche saying. “Everything has a purpose,” or “God has a plan,” are completely true phrases, but are completely unhelpful when someone is in the middle of deep hurt and may not even feel like they trust God’s plan at the moment.
Don’t say nothing. That sounds weird. What I mean is, don’t leave the person hurting wondering if there is anyone who cares. While I ask that you don’t offer cliche platitudes, I would ask instead that you speak from the heart. It is 100% okay to say something like, “I don’t understand what you are going through, but I’m here for you if you need to talk,” or, “I care about you and I am so sorry you are going through this.” But only say it if you mean it.
Be there. Sometimes all a person in grief needs is for someone to say, “I’m here,” and then to actually be there. Show up. Show up at their house with a meal – without being asked to do so! Sit with them at a doctors appointment, whatever they may be needing. Most people in grief will not ask you to be there for them, but being there for them is exactly what they need. (Side note: many, many, kind people will say, “I’m here for you if you need something.” And that is such a huge gesture. However, a grieving person will often feel like a nuisance and will never actually ask you to be there or do something for them. So be there without being asked. It will go a long way.)
Remember them. When someone dies, people are always quick to be at the side of the grieving family. As time passes, life goes on…for everyone else. For the grieving, life does go on, but it also stands still for quite a while in so many ways. One month anniversaries, one year anniversaries, birthdays, Christmases, etc., without their loved ones are hard. Give them a call or send a note letting them know that you haven’t forgotten their pain and are still there if they need you. The same goes for illnesses. An initial diagnosis is recognized, but with time, people forget. That’s just life. And it’s understandable. But you can minister to those who are grieving by taking a minute to remember that they haven’t forgotten.
Treat them like a person. Often when something “bad” happens to someone, we tiptoe around them. When someone dies, we don’t know when to start acting “normal” again. My advice? Do it as soon as possible. Ask them how they are doing (and listen), but also invite them to go out to a movie, ask them how their job is going, what their vacation plans are, etc. On the opposite end, we sometimes can’t seem to talk to them about anything other than their grief. They are still people. People with cancer are still people. They don’t want to talk about cancer constantly. They want to live their life and for you to acknowledge that they have a life outside of cancer. Don’t ignore what is happening, but don’t focus so much on it that you forget that what has happened is not their identity.
Listen. Sometimes people just need to talk. And they don’t need you to say anything. They just need to get it out. And you never know when that may happen. It may be 2 years later, and something brings up the grief in them, and they need to talk about it. Just listen.
- Point them to God. Be careful not to offer the cliches I talked about in point one, and yet remind them that the ultimate counselor is the Lord. Psalm 34 or 147 are great passages to point them to as a reminder that God hears the broken-hearted. Encourage them to find a passage of Scripture that encourages them in this time and to memorize it so that when grief and doubt well up, they can remind themselves of truth.
For those grieving and those walking with the grieving, remember Colossians 3, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Knowing we are loved changes us.
Stephanie Davis is a graduate student in Counseling at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She’s been a member of our faith family and served on staff as the Data and Membership Associate for five years. Reflecting on the last 3 weeks of the Processing Grief Through a Biblical Lens Workshop, we look to a recent blog post by Stephanie, the main speaker of our workshop.
If you have questions about grief, how to get help for the grieving process, how to help someone in grief, or just need someone to talk to, please feel free to contact Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out to Women's Minister Dawn Stephens at email@example.com.
Additional resources can be found at griefshare.org. All curriculum from Grief Workshop can be found at this link: https://www.ccef.org/resources/curriculum/loss-curriculum.