Grief & Loss

Facing a Loss

by Eric Kreye

Jim was the pastor of a small church that also operated a day-care center during the week. He will never forget the morning the police came to the church and charged him with child-molestation. One of the children passed on information that was construed as improper behavior on the pastor's part. The incident became news immediately and was displayed on the front page of the local paper. The pastor lost his position and his reputation in the community. The charges were eventually dropped, but only a small notice appeared elsewhere in the newspaper. Needless to say, the pastor and his family suffered a great deal. Even though his name was cleared, he was never able to regain the confidence he formerly enjoyed. Jim's life would never be the same again.

George was a businessman who gave an honest value for every dollar he earned. He was knowledgeable and an expert in his craft, and his business prospered. But one day things changed drastically. George lost several large accounts through no fault of his. Things looked bleak financially. He was forced to consider bankruptcy and the closing of his business. This businessman experienced an emotional roller coaster, tough for himself and his devastated family.

Barbara suddenly faced the shock of her husband's unexpected death. There was no warning that could have prepared her for the changes that would soon flood her life. Losing her husband was painful, but she also suffered other losses. She lost the new car they had recently purchased, since she would no longer be able to make the payments. And she was forced to look for a less expensive place to live.

Judy was the wife of a pastor and enjoyed the friendship of the congregation. The most difficult experience came to her each time they were asked to move to a new district. After every move Judy suffered a period of depression. It was difficult for her to leave her friends.

All of the above shared a common trauma--each experienced a significant loss. When we think of a serious loss, usually we think of losing a loved one through death. Without doubt this type of loss is the most difficult to cope with. But any significant loss is painful. Divorce with its broken relationships, loss of health, loss of wealth, even good things like retirement can bring pain. In each case the process of grieving must be faced.

This process usually comes in stages--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The order of these stages varies from person to person with different degrees of intensity. But it is normal to suffer some pain when dealing with any major loss. Therefore, we must be patient with ourselves and the experience of others who suffer in this way.

There is no one way to grieve. We are all different and we face the grieving process in our own personal way. But there are some things that have proven helpful to those who face major losses.

Talk about the loss even though it may bring pain. Larry Yeagley, the originator and author of the Grief Recovery Program, writes, "Without hurting there is no healing." Because of the pain involved, it is tempting to run away from it all, to withdraw within yourself and stuff the painful emotions. But Larry suggests that by trying to avoid these feelings of pain, recovery can be delayed and often unexpected physical and emotional side effects result. One hurting person shared, "Feelings we don't deal with do not die, but are buried inside us--alive." In other words, those painful feelings remain hidden inside, waiting for a future time when they will have to be dealt with.

Seek out a sympathetic friend who will listen to you. This can be a family member or a trusted friend. (One caution: Remember that family members may be going through emotional turmoil themselves and may not be able to give you the needed help at this particular time.) If no friend or family member is available to meet your need for a sympathic ear to listen, seek out a support group. (A local hospital or other agencies in the community can direct you to an appropriate support system.)

Just talking about loss, whatever the situation, helps to resolve the denials that so many people experience. For example, one individual could not face the reality that her husband had died, and she called the hospital every day for eight months. She repeatedly asked someone on the staff how her husband was doing. She was reminded gently that her husband had passed away. Finally the lady sought out a support group of individuals who had gone through similar loss. At last she began to talk about the death of her husband and only then did she discontinue her daily phone calls to the hospital.

Don't be afraid to cry. Some well-meaning friends may think that they are being helpful when they admonish the grieving person, "Don't cry." But crying is extremely important and will release many of the pent-up emotions. Men, in particular, should be assured that it is okay to cry. Often in the past it had been drilled into them that "real men don't cry." Fortunately, men are learning that it is perfectly acceptable to show one's emotions without embarassment.

If at all possible, don't make major decisions following a significant loss, at least not for the first year. Often there is an understandable period of confusion when even the simplest decision is difficult to make. It may be difficult to concentrate and to know how to follow through. Many experience a feeling of helplessness. Of course, some situations demand that a decision be made. At such times it is wise to have a trusted family member or friend give advise.

Say good-bye to a lost relationship. Of course, you can never say good-bye to the memories of a loved one. But it is essential that one say good-bye to the relationship. It is over and can never exist again in this life. Until this point of release is reached, it will be impossible to form healthy new relationships.

One man who had a good relationship with his wife found it difficult to accept her death. He eventually married again, but he could not release the relationship with his first wife. He did not want any of her personal things removed from the house. Needless to say, the second marriage did not last long. He insisted on trying to maintain the first relationship and it negatively affected his new marriage. Saying good-bye to a past relationship helps to sever the emotional ties, which is imperative.

It is important to maintain good health. A thorough checkup by the family physician is recommended after a major loss. Try to get plenty of rest and do your utmost to have a balanced diet. Simplify life as much as possible and conserve energy. If you have difficulty with sleeping, ask your doctor for temporary relief. One woman suffered many health problems after her husband died, because the emotional strain caused her immune system to weaken.

Seek out other interests as you begin to feel better. Many people find it helpful to get involved in an interesting hobby. Others have found fulfillment by volunteering. Some prefer a part-time job, not only to be occupied but to have an extra income that will help defray expenses. One woman discovered that when she decided to teach a college class about making necessary changes in one's life, it helped her to cope better. It is a fact that those who reach out to help others, in reality help themselves. Amazingly, one undaunted husband and wife were still making hospital visits while well into their 90's!

Strengthen your relationship with God. As you come in contact with God in Scripture and in your prayers and quiet meditation, you will find a gradually growing trust. You will come to believe that God has a purpose for your life. Every day will become another opportunity to see that purpose unfold. Then tell Him all about how you are feeling--the pain, the confusion, the longing for peace. Some have discovered the benefit of writing their prayers in a journal. It is a definite blessing to write out special Bible promises and post them around the house where they can be frequently seen and easily memorized.

"Cast all your anxiety on him,
for he cares about you."
--1 Peter 5:7

"I will never leave you
nor forsake you."
--Hebrews 13:5

"He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds."
--Psalm 147:3

"When you pass through the waters
I will be with you;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;..."
--Isaiah 42:2

Finally, remember that healing of any kind takes time and cannot be rushed. Don't compare yourself to someone who recovered very quickly. Your feelings, the intensity of your grief, and the length of the grieving process are unique to you. Be aware that even after some time has passed, there will be times when unexpected events will trigger sorrow and the tears will come again. Don't let that discourage you. You have not slipped back to the emotional upheaval you first experienced. These regressions are common and should not upset you. If such experiences are truly frightening, don't hesitate to call a professional or a trusted friend and share your feelings.

Be assured, with God's help available to you anytime, you WILL emerge at the end of the dark tunnel and once again enjoy the blessings of daylight and life-giving sunshine.

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