Coping With Grief
The Peanuts comic character, Charlie Brown, is famous for saying, “Good Grief!” Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can grief be good? As a professional counselor, I can tell you that grief is good. If you do not allow yourself to grieve, you will experience mental health consequences. When you suffer a significant loss or end to a familiar pattern, you feel a profound sorrow that must be expressed. You’re like a teapot that must let off the steam or else explode.
Grief Is Complicated
One problem with grief is, there’s no good time for it. Crisis and loss never come at a convenient time. It just happens, and usually at the worst times, times when you’re busy. You have a job that has to be done. You have a family that depends on you. You can’t just stop everything to grieve and heal. You have to move on. And yet you can’t just make yourself feel better. You must grieve. But how and when?
That’s another problem with grief, it’s messy. You can’t schedule it or set aside a certain time to go through it and then be done with it. Grief isn’t like a broken arm that takes six weeks to heal. You hear about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s not like that at all. There is no neat process that you move through and it’s over. (Actually, the “stages of grief” is from a study of people who learned that they were dying, not people whose loved ones had died.) Grief is a disorganized jumble of emotions that are like a tangled ball of twine.
Expressions of Grief
Grief is a personal thing. You don’t grieve the same way someone else grieves. You may not even grieve the same way you did the last time you had a loss. It’s impossible to know the scope, intensity, or duration of the emotions that you will go through until they start cascading through you.
But there are some typical responses to grief that most people experience. This is not a comprehensive list, but you might experience some of these expressions of grief:
An inability to concentrate.
A change in your appetite
Emotional highs and lows
Ways To Cope With Grief
Whatever ways grief manifests itself in you, it is important that you not try to stifle your grief. You need to allow yourself to grieve. Grief is not something you conquer; it is something you cope with. How can you cope with grief?
Let yourself mourn.
It's healthy to express emotions. Tears are not a denial of our faith, but an expression of our humanity. It’s interesting, in John 11, when Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, the shortest verse in the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that He was about to raise him back to life, Jesus still wept at the death of His friend. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul said that Christians “do not grieve as those who have no hope.” He didn’t say we don’t grieve, but that our grief (over a fellow believer’s death) is marked by hope.
Let yourself be weak.
If you’re a man, you have so many messages telling you to buck up, be strong, don’t be emotional, crying is a sign of weakness. If you’re a woman, you may feel that your children need you to be strong for them and don’t let them know how much you hurt. Those messages are wrong. Pushing down or denying your feelings doesn’t make them go away. It certainly doesn’t help you or anyone else. In fact, it’s healthy and your friends, family, and children actually need you to model that it’s okay to express sorrow at a time like this. You will be helping them know what to do when their time of grief comes.
Let people take care of you.
Isolating yourself isn’t a healthy way to grieve. Your inclination will be to shut yourself off, turn out the lights, and keep people at arm’s length. Don’t do it. You need support now more than ever. Let your Bible Study group bring food by and pray over you. Let your relatives and friends mow your yard, run errands for you, and take care of little chores that take the burden off of you. You have done it for others. It’s your turn now to be shown love and taken care of in your hour of need.
Pay attention to your health.
Don’t cancel doctor appointments. If you need to see the doctor, go. Keep taking whatever medications you might be on. Get enough rest. In fact, let yourself sleep late if you can. Eat good food (not fast food and junk food, but real, nutritious food that’s good for your body).
Postpone life-changing decisions.
Your ability to think and reason clearly is diminished right now. Your frontal cortex is not online. Your emotions are in the driver’s seat. That is never the time to make decisions about selling your house, quitting your job, moving, etc. Those decisions will wait until you are in a better, more rational place. For now, just let yourself sit with your grief. This may be hard if you are a person of action. But if you act rashly and on emotion, you may regret it later.
Take one day at a time.
In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Wise words. Take each day as it comes. Live in the now.
When Grief Doesn’t Go Away
You might ask, “What if I do all these things, and grief doesn’t go away?” Grief has its own time-table. For some, there is a season of grieving and then they are able to move on. For others, time drags on and the wound is still fresh. Some people have trouble with daily activities, cry uncontrollably at the mention or memory of their loved one, and might even have to energy or will to live.
If that is you, I urge you to reach out to a professional Christian counselor to help you gain a new perspective and focus. I urge you to read more about grief counseling and then contact us at Christian Counseling Associates to schedule a free consultation for grief therapy.
Janet Marfisi is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Christian Counseling Associates. She is taking new clients in the Plano office.