“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Matthew 5:4
A few weeks ago, I discovered a small, dusty cedar box filled with rusty trinkets, a few pennies, and old letters from college friends. To my surprise, I found a postcard from my father, who passed many years ago, with a beautiful message of encouragement.
Immediately, I began to cry and experience a range of emotions from grief to joy, and even a moment of laughter. I expressed gratitude to God for this reminder from my father, as well as thankfulness for his life and legacy of faith that he left behind for me and my family. After this wave of emotion and reflection, I smiled one more time as I placed that precious postcard from my father on my refrigerator and breathed a prayer of thanksgiving.
Grief is the normal response of sorrow, emotion, and confusion that comes from losing someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life.
Take a moment and do a brief inventory of loss in your life. Have you experienced a major loss in the last year, month, week, or even yesterday? Maybe your loss includes a loved one, a financial loss, a relationship, a pet, or even loss of something small such as a watch or necklace that may hold a significant memory. Whatever loss has occurred, a process of grief will follow.
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed one of the most famous concepts on the process of grief. Kubler-Ross developed the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Other theorists have developed similar models of grief that include different stages. For example, Jozefowski’s model includes, impact, chaos, adaptation, equilibrium, and post-traumatic growth (Jozefowski, 2001).
This leads to a question; if someone experiences each stage of grief, have they grieved fully?
Grieving is a personal experience. How one grieves depends on various factors including personality and coping style, life experience, your faith, and the type of loss. Grieving and healing take time, and the grief process looks different for each individual. Someone may start to feel better in a few weeks or months, while another person may grieve for many years. Whatever your experience with grief, it’s important to be patient with yourself.
So, what does it look like to “grieve fully”? Below are some suggestions as you move through grief:
1. Acknowledge the loss in your life: Take the time to process the grief or loss with family, friends, or church.
2. Allow time for tears: Crying is a natural response to so many areas in our life, especially immediately following a loss.
3. Feel feelings: Many emotions occur following the loss of a loved one, or situational loss, such as a job. As Kubler-Ross described so well with her stages of grief, you may experience a wide range of feelings from denial, to anger, to sadness, to depression.
4. Stay in community: If you have a small group of friends, church or family, remember to stay in contact with your extended family members. You may need more support, consider seeking professional counseling, or a grief support group.
5. Rest: Sleep is one of the most important levels of self-care. Grief is exhausting! Remember to take time out each day during your process of bereavement. Eat, exercise, explore; please do the basics of self-care.
6. Reflect, remember, rejoice: Keep a journal and jot down memories of your loved one. Keep writing your feelings, thoughts, hurts. Remember the life of your loved one; celebrate the gift of remembrance.
The below quote captures what it means to grieve fully:
I will always want the ones I lost back again. I long for them with all my soul. But I still celebrate the life I have found because they are gone. I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace. That grace has enabled me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment.” ― Gerald L. Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss
Jozefowski, J.T. (2001). The phoenix phenomenon: rising from the ashes of grief. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Sittser, G.L. (2004). A grace disguised: How the soul grows through loss. Zondervan.