Handling Grief


Recently something very painful happened in our family. One of our family members made some life choices that went against everything we believe in as a family. The implications of this are going to affect everyone in the family for years to come. I have had a very hard time accepting it.

When I first received the news I felt fine. For about a week, it seemed like I was handling it well, and I thought, “This isn’t going to be so bad, it’s not such a big deal.” After that brief, but blessed week, I began to feel BURNING ANGER. This emotion frightened me. I don’t consider myself an angry person. I try to keep an “even keel” most of the time, and not to be destructive in my actions. However, I had no control over this anger. It woke me in the night. It followed me everywhere I went. I could be talking to the checkout person at the grocery store, and my anger would come roaring up at me. It affected every one of my relationships. It was difficult for me to think about anything else for several weeks. I began to ask myself, “Are you an angry person? Don’t you know how to forgive?” I began to get angry with myself!

After what seemed like a really long time, but was actually about three weeks, I began putting parameters around the problem. I said, “Well, ok, this has happened, but I don’t have to let it change my life, do I? I can limit my exposure to this problem by putting strict boundaries around this person in my life, right?” I began coming up with elaborate schemes, thinking of how I could keep this problem from affecting me. I reasoned that I didn’t cause the problem, so why should I suffer the consequences of it?

I suddenly realized I have been walking through the five stages of grief, in an almost a textbook fashion. “Putting parameters around” the problem is a fancy phrase for “bargaining.” The word “bargaining” tipped me off to the five stages of grief. I had already been through the first three stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger, and
  3. Bargaining.

I realized while I was in the anger and bargaining stages, I had also been struggling with depression. I had been discovering almost daily some new loss I was going to have because of this person’s poor choices. I realized this loved one’s life losses would be even greater than mine, and that others in the family were going to suffer, and this made me intensely sad. So, I had been experiencing the fourth stage of loss concurrently:

  4. Depression.

Realizing I was experiencing the five stages of grief actually helped me. I was able to relax about the burning anger I had been feeling. After all, anger was just one stage of the grief process. It wouldn’t last forever. Trying to “bargain” this family member’s problem out of my life was also just a stage I needed to pass through. Even the depression that was hovering like a cloud over me would eventually pass.

About this time, my mentor gave me a paper she had written to be shared at a women’s conference. The opening statement read:

 “What you believe about God will influence how you respond to the circumstances of your life.

Her basic thesis is that God orchestrates everything in our lives, even the things that we consider “bad.” Since God is a good God, we can trust He will bring good for us out of whatever circumstance He allows in our lives, (Romans 8:28). If we hold onto Him throughout our dark days, we will see Him move through these things. She said,

 “What other people do to us does not remove God’s involvement from our lives. He has a plan and He will execute that plan. And it is all to reveal to us WHO HE IS.” 

She quoted Ann Voskamp from her book One Thousand Gifts. This quote is a paraphrase from Habakkuk’s famous quote in Habakkuk 3:17-19:

“Though my marriage tree may not bud and though my crop of children may fail and my work produce little yield, though others may choose different ways to live their one life, till my last heaving breath, I will fight to the death for this: I will take joy.”

This quote has helped me so much in these dark days. I have repeated it to myself over and over.

I am slowly moving toward Acceptance, the last stage in the grieving process. I still have moments when anger rears its ugly head. I still have days where the dark cloud of depression saps my energy. And I still have times where I try to make it all less hurtful by trying to bargain away the painful consequences of this person’s actions. I take comfort in knowing this is a process, and I don’t have to be “perfect” or “godly” all the time.

Sometimes, we just need to let ourselves grieve.

Many of the writings in the Psalms are psalmists pouring out their pain and grief to God. One of my favorites is Psalm ­­­77. Verses 1 through 15 read:

1 I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
    the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. . .

Here, the psalmist is in distress, crying out to God. He is groaning and feeling faint, and his soul refuses to be comforted. He feels as if the Lord will reject him forever, and His promises have failed. The entire psalm turns around in verse ten with the word “THEN.” After that, he begins to remember all the deeds of the Lord from the past. He meditates on all the Lord has done, and the psalm ends on a joyous note.

Grief sucks. No one wants to go through it. I certainly don’t. I am just thankful God is there with me in it. I hope you know He is there with you as well in your times of grief, even when you don’t feel him. Bless you.




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