In the past month or so, we’ve been focused on conversations around the types of pain that I wrote about in the book, The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out To God When Pain Overwhelms. No conversation regarding the pain we experience in this life is complete without a discussion about grief and loss. On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, I chatted with Susan Duke about recovery from grief. Healing from grief is a painful process, so I wanted to share some tips for coping with grief and loss.
Understanding the Grieving Process: A Journey Through Healing from Grief
Grief is an intense and complex experience we go through after significant losses in our lives. Losing a loved one, dealing with divorce, experiencing a career setback, or even facing the end of a cherished phase in life can trigger grief. While there are generally five recognized stages of grief, it’s important to realize that no two people grieve the same, not everyone goes through all five stages or in the order they are listed, and that many go in and out of these stages repeatedly while healing from grief.
5 Stages of Grief
Stage 1: Denial and Shock
When faced with loss, the initial stage of grief often involves denial and shock. We may find it difficult to accept the reality of the situation, feeling numb or disconnected from our emotions and others. This stage serves as a protective mechanism, allowing us to process the loss at a manageable pace.
Stage 2: Anger and Guilt
Following denial, anger and guilt may emerge as we start to comprehend the magnitude of our loss. We might direct anger towards ourselves, others, our circumstances or even the nature of life itself. Guilt often accompanies this stage, making us question our actions or choices made before the loss, wondering what we could have or should have done differently. It’s important to remember that these feelings are natural, and it’s crucial to find healthy ways to express and work through them.
Stage 3: Bargaining and “What Ifs”
During the bargaining stage, individuals often ruminate over “what ifs” and attempt to negotiate with God in hopes of reversing the loss or mitigating the pain. This is a stage characterized by a desire to regain control and seek alternative outcomes. Bargaining can bring temporary feelings of relief, but it is essential to recognize the limits of our influence over the situation.
Stage 4: Depression and Sadness
Depression and sadness tend to be the most recognizable stages of grief. At this point, the reality of the loss fully sinks in, and we may experience a deep sense of sorrow, loneliness, and hopelessness. This stage often involves withdrawal and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It is essential to seek support from loved ones or professionals to navigate through this intense emotional state.
Stage 5: Acceptance and Healing
What is commonly considered the final stage of the grieving process is acceptance and healing. While it doesn’t mean forgetting or getting over the loss, acceptance allows us to begin living in a new reality. Healing transpires gradually, as we learn to integrate the loss into our lives. Memories become bittersweet reminders of our loved ones or the past, but they no longer overwhelm us, allowing us to move forward while still honoring what we have lost.
Coping with Grief and Loss—Basic Strategies
Throughout the grieving process, it is vital to adopt healthy coping strategies to aid in healing from grief:
- Seek support: Reach out to family, friends, or support groups who can provide a listening ear and empathy.
- Express emotions: It is important to acknowledge and express your emotions, whether through talking, writing, or engaging in creative outlets like art or music.
- Practice self-care: Prioritize self-care activities such as exercise, sufficient sleep, balanced nutrition, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
- Seek professional help: Don’t hesitate to seek therapy or counseling from specialists experienced in grief and loss therapy.
- Allow yourself time: Healing takes time, and every individual’s journey is unique. Avoid rushing the process and grant yourself patience and compassion. *There is no time limit on grieving.
Finding Healthy Coping Mechanisms: A Guide to Emotional Well-being
Life can be filled with ups and downs, and sometimes we face challenges that push us to our limits. During these difficult times, having healthy coping mechanisms becomes essential for maintaining emotional well-being. Coping mechanisms are strategies or behaviors we adopt to help manage stress and deal with difficult emotions. While some coping mechanisms can be damaging, such as substance abuse or avoidance, it’s helpful to focus on finding healthy and effective ways to handle life’s challenges in a positive and constructive manner.
Coping mechanisms play a crucial role in our lives as they determine how we respond to stress and adversity. It is important to understand that not all coping mechanisms are created equal. Healthy coping mechanisms contribute to our mental and emotional well-being, while unhealthy ones can perpetuate negative cycles and lead to detrimental consequences.
Identifying Healthy Coping Mechanisms
- Physical Activity: Engaging in physical activity, such as exercising, dancing, or practicing yoga, releases endorphins, which are known as “feel-good” hormones. Regular exercise can alleviate stress, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall mental well-being.
- Creative Outlets: Expressing oneself through creative outlets like painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument can be highly therapeutic. These activities not only provide a distraction from stressful thoughts but also allow for the expression of emotions and self-reflection.
- Seeking Support: Finding a support system composed of friends, family, or joining support groups can provide a safe space to share emotions, gain perspective, and receive guidance. Social support is crucial for maintaining mental health and resilience during challenging times.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can play a significant role in coping with stress and fostering emotional well-being. This includes practicing good sleep hygiene, maintaining a balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, and avoiding excessive use of electronic devices. Taking care of our physical health can positively impact our mental and emotional well-being.
- Pay Attention to Your Thoughts: Our inner dialogue has a tremendous impact on our emotional state. What we think matters. Scripture encourages us to take every thought captive and bring it in obedience to Christ Jesus (see 2 Cor. 10:5). It’s important to ensure that the thoughts we have are based in the truth of God’s word. Furthermore, being kind and compassionate to oneself during difficult times promotes resilience and fosters a healthier coping mechanism.
- Time Management: Feeling overwhelmed and stressed often stems from poor time management. Crafting a well-structured daily routine, setting realistic goals, and prioritizing tasks can help regain a sense of control over one’s life. Effective time management allows for better stress management and reduces the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.
Honoring the Memory of the Deceased: Preserving Their Legacy with Love and Respect
Losing a loved one is undeniably one of life’s most challenging experiences. The pain and grief that follows the death of a dear family member or friend can be overwhelming. However, while we cannot bring back those we have lost, we can honor their memory in profound ways. By preserving their legacy with love and respect, we celebrate their life and ensure that their impact on the world endures.
- Creating Meaningful Rituals: One of the most common ways of honoring the memory of the deceased is through rituals and ceremonies. Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life enable friends and family members to come together to collectively grieve, share memories, and pay tribute to the deceased. These events provide an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments, remember their character traits, and reflect on the positive impact they had on others’ lives.
- Establishing Lasting Memorials: Creating a lasting memorial can be a fitting way to honor a loved one’s memory. Memorials come in various forms, such as planting trees or establishing scholarships, as a way of contributing to causes that the deceased deeply cared about. These lasting memorials provide comfort to mourners while preserving the memory of the departed for future generations.
- Sharing and Preserving Stories: Every individual has a unique story that deserves to be heard. Sharing precious memories and stories about the deceased helps keep their legacy alive. Whether it is through storytelling sessions, writing blog posts, or publishing a memoir, these narratives allow their memory to continue resonating with others, ensuring their values and experiences are not forgotten.
- Continuing Their Work: Honoring the memory of the deceased can also involve carrying forth their unfinished work or supporting causes they held dear. By continuing to do the good works they were passionate about, we honor their memory and help create a positive impact. This could involve volunteering for their preferred charitable organizations, donating to their favorite causes, or even establishing new initiatives in their honor.
Addressing the Practical Aspects of Loss: Navigating the Challenges of Grief
Navigating the daily challenges of grief can seem overwhelming, especially because it often means at least temporarily assuming responsibilities we were previously unfamiliar with. This is another time when it is crucial to ask God for wisdom, and seek appropriate support and education.
Handling Legal and Financial Matters
The loss of a loved one often brings with it the responsibility of handling legal and financial matters. It is crucial to address these practical aspects promptly to avoid additional stress and complications. In the case of a death, notifying relevant authorities and obtaining a death certificate is the first step. The deceased person’s will, if it exists, should be located and reviewed to understand their wishes concerning their assets and liabilities. Consulting an attorney might be beneficial to help navigate the legal aspects, such as estate distribution and probate.
Dealing with the practicalities of financial matters is also important. Canceling or transferring any joint accounts, credit cards, or insurance policies will prevent unauthorized access and potential identity theft. It is wise to inform relevant financial institutions about the loss to update account information or to close accounts entirely. Additionally, handling outstanding debts and organizing necessary paperwork related to taxes and insurance claims are crucial steps towards resolving the practical aspects of loss.
Managing Personal Belongings
In the aftermath of loss, dealing with the personal belongings of the deceased can be emotionally overwhelming, and physically draining. There is no right or wrong timeline for this process, as each person grieves at their own pace. It is important to allow oneself time to emotionally process before diving into this practical aspect. However, addressing it eventually can provide a sense of closure and help with healing from grief.
Many find it helpful to involve other family members or close friends to assist in sorting through personal belongings. Sharing memories, stories, and possessions can alleviate a bit of the burden and provide comfort during this challenging time. Donating items to charities or organizations that hold personal significance can also be a meaningful way to honor the memory of the deceased while benefiting others.
Dealing with Practical Challenges in Daily Life
Grief can significantly impact daily life, making even ordinary tasks seem incredibly difficult. Maintaining normalcy can be a challenge. Practically, it is crucial to communicate with family, friends, or coworkers about the situation to ensure understanding and support. It’s also important to extend grace to yourself during this physically and emotionally taxing time.
Seeking assistance with household chores, childcare responsibilities, or even cooking can help alleviate some of the burden and allow individuals to focus on their emotional well-being and attend to the tasks that only they can do. Consideration should also be given to temporarily modifying work schedules or taking time off to grieve and heal. Engaging with a support group or seeking professional counseling can provide additional guidance, not only in managing the practical aspects of loss but also in processing the emotions associated with it.
Coping with Unexpected or Complicated Grief: Finding Strength in the Midst of Pain
While some may find solace and healing from grief over time, others may experience unexpected or complicated grief, a profound and prolonged response that can hinder their ability to navigate through life. Unexpected or complicated grief goes beyond the typical grieving process. It manifests as an intense and extended mourning period that significantly impacts an individual’s daily functioning. This type of grief might be triggered by various circumstances, including sudden deaths, traumatic incidents, or when a loss is accompanied by feelings of guilt, anger, or regret. Unresolved issues, difficulties in accepting the loss, or a lack of sufficient support can also contribute to its development.
Causes and Risk Factors for Complicated Grief
- Sudden or traumatic loss: Abrupt or unexpected loss, such as accidents, suicide, or violent events, can dramatically impact an individual’s ability to process grief.
- Relationship dynamics: Complicated grief may arise when the relationship with the deceased was complicated, strained, or unresolved, leaving the bereaved feeling conflicted and overwhelmed with emotions.
- Childhood trauma: Individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse might be more susceptible to complicated grief due to the unresolved issues from their past.
- Previous losses: If an individual has experienced multiple losses within a short period, they may struggle to cope with grief, as it becomes cumulative and overwhelming.
- Lack of support: Insufficient social support or an absence of a support system can hinder the grieving process. Without someone to lean on, individuals may find it challenging to express their emotions and navigate their grief journey effectively.
Many of the coping strategies for complicated grief are similar to normal grieving, as mentioned above, but during these times of extended or complicated grief it’s especially important to pace yourself, extend grace to yourself and others for what you’re not able to do or mistakes you’ve made in the process, and take things one moment at a time. Grief is a journey that cannot be rushed. Remind yourself to be patient and kind to yourself as you navigate through the ups and downs of the grieving process.
Moving Forward with Hope and Resilience While Healing from Grief
Hope, often described as the anchor of the soul, is the belief in the possibility of a better tomorrow. It fuels our dreams, ignites our passions, and enables us to envision a brighter future. Hope is not a passive emotion; rather, it is the driving force that propels us forward even when the path seems darkest. It provides the much-needed motivation to overcome obstacles, conquer fear, and believe in our own potential. With hope as our guiding force, we are empowered to take action, make positive changes, and remain steadfast in the face of adversities.
Resilience, on the other hand, refers to the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences, adapt to changes, and thrive despite challenges. It is the inner strength that allows us to withstand the storms of life, emerging stronger and more determined than ever before. With resilience, setbacks and failures are perceived as opportunities for growth, and the focus shifts towards finding solution-oriented approaches rather than dwelling on problems.
Moving forward with hope and resilience is about trusting in God even in the face of adversity. It means acknowledging the challenges, yet firmly believing that they can be surmounted. Nobel laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” These words encapsulate the essence of moving forward with hope and resilience.
Moving forward with hope and resilience is not mere wishful thinking but a conscious choice. Despite life’s hardships, we have the capacity to believe in a brighter future and navigate through difficulties with determination and strength when we trust that God never withholds any good thing from His children, and He is still working in our waiting. By cultivating hope, developing resilience, and trusting in the faithfulness of God, we can overcome any obstacles that come our way. Let us hold onto hope, and to God who holds onto us.
Grief is a painfully difficult process after a significant loss. It is one that has no rules, no standard operating manual, no definitive timelines…everyone’s experience with grief is as different as the relationships with the loved one. Grief can feel like a black hole, but there is no hole so deep that God cannot fill it. People will make mistakes, say or do the wrong thing, not meet up to your expectations, etc., but God knows exactly what we need, and He promises to stick closer than a brother. In your grief and sorrow, resist the temptation to isolate and run away from God. Instead, lean in to His kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, and comfort, while He brings healing from your grief.
The Hem of His Garment
We all experience pain from time to time, and not just physical pain, but also emotional pain, relational pain, spiritual pain, grief and loss.
I’ve been there. I’ve experienced each one of those types of pain. I’ve asked the hard questions. I’ve searched the scriptures for biblical examples and lessons learned through pain and suffering. And I’m sharing a fresh perspective in my new book “The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms.”
Here’s what Shonda Whitworth, author of Appeal to the Courtroom of Heaven: Petitions for Prisoners and Prison Families and co-founder of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., had to say about The Hem of His Garment: “Dr. Michelle’s courage, compassion, and faith fills every page of The Hem of His Garment. As a fellow pain sufferer, I’ve cried out, “God, can’t you give me a how-to guide?” God has answered this prayer for those who are walking through the valley of pain. Drawing from the experience of her own sufferings combined with biblical truths, Dr. B provides a step-by-step guide on how to walk through the darkness of pain yet radiate the glory of God. This book addresses the tough questions many silent sufferers want to ask but rarely discuss with others. Readers will find encouragement, support, and the inspiration to carry on amid their pain.”
The Hem of His Garment: Reaching Out to God When Pain Overwhelms is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com, Books-A-Million, and other fine book retailers.
Click here to learn more: The Hem of His Garment.