Grief and Faith: the relationship between belief and grief

I have had several people tell me recently that well-intentioned friends and pastors have thrown a little quip at them when they are grieving, to help them ‘move on’: “those who believe need not grieve”.   Needless to say, they have been feeling some frustration and conflict about this comment.  I was considering what the source of this anecdote might be, and it seems it could be connected to the Bible passage 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  In the Qu’ran we find the similar passage “Those who have attained to faith, as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians-all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds-shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.” Regardless of where the phrase came from, the oversimplification of grief and faith can undoubtedly cause pain to grievers and, hence, is worth a post.

Religion and spirituality are complex but important topics in the wake of a loss.  Religion can be an incredible comfort in times of loss.  Losses can also cause us to question our faith, as we struggle to make sense of the death.  And, in cases like the quote above, grief can confuse our feelings about our faith and our faith can confuse feelings about our grief.

(There is a whole separate discussion in here about those who grieve without belief in God or an afterlife, but that is a post for another day!)

I have absolutely no doubt that in every case the expression, ‘those who believe need not grieve’, is uttered it is with the best of intentions.  Just like, “he is in a better place” or “it is part of God’s plan”, these are shared with the hope that they will bring comfort to the griever.  What becomes complicated is when one internalizes these quotes and starts to feel that the depth of their grief is somehow reflective of our faith.  This can leave believers questioning why they are still feeling the pain of grief, when someone they love is now with God.

Grief is our natural reaction to a loss.  We feel a deep and aching pain when someone we love is no longer with us.  When someone we love is gone we feel the dozens of emotions that come with grief – sadness, anger, guilt, fear, loneliness, blame and more than I can possibly list.  Though faith that someone is in a better place or that you will see them again can be a comfort, this does not remove the pain that the person is gone.  It does not change the trauma that can come from watching someone suffer from a prolonged or painful illness.  This does not eliminate the anger, blame, guilt, regret or countless other feelings that can come up following a death.

It is not that your grief and your faith should be separate.  What is important to remember is that the depth of your grief does not imply a loss of faith.  The problem with the statement “those who believe need not grieve” is that one is made to feel that the reverse must be true: those who grieve do not believe.  What we are here to say, for all those who have felt conflict that their faith should be enough to eliminate their grief: experiencing grief DOES NOT indicate a loss of faith.  Let me say it one more time: experiencing grief DOES NOT indicate a loss of faith.

When a person of deep faith loses someone, it is important to remember that grief is about their own experience of loss, it is not a pain or sympathy for where their loved one is.  It is perfectly reasonable that one believes their loved one is in a better place, and still to feel overwhelmed with the pain of being separated from them.  Further, one can believe in a greater plan, while still experiencing the pain of their absence.  It is not selfish to grieve, it is not a loss of faith.  It is a normal reaction to a devastating situation that can co-exist with the comfort of one’s faith and spirituality.

Faith communities should be a place of comfort and support in times of loss.  Thankfully for many they are.  But the longer I work with grievers the more I learn that not every faith community brings this support.  Some bring judgment and criticism for the emotions of grief, fixating on the idea that grief and faith cannot co-exist.  Some are left feeling their grief has been minimized or misunderstood when they are not allowed to express their grief emotions.  If you have felt this way, I encourage you to consider that grieving the separation from someone you love can exist along with a faith that they are in a better place and that you will see them again.

If you are not finding the support you need in you congregation, it may be worth reaching out to others with a similar faith background who have also experienced losses.  We have said it a thousand times before and we will say it again today:  you have permission to grieve, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!  It is so important to find the people and place that allow you to do that.

Now, Rick and Kay Warren and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but a few months ago Kay Warren posted on facebook when she was getting frustrated with people pushing her to move on after the suicide of their son.  Though she doesn’t specifically address the internal conflict discussed above, she does give her perspective as a grieving mother and Evangelical Christian.  It is safe to say this is one area that I couldn’t agree more with Kay Warren.  In case you missed it, here are the words she shared on facebook:

As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to “move on.” The soft, compassionate cocoon that has enveloped us for the last 11 1/2 months had lulled me into believing others would be patient with us on our grief journey, and while I’m sure many will read this and quickly say “Take all the time you need,” I’m increasingly aware that the cocoon may be in the process of collapsing. It’s understandable when you take a step back. I mean, life goes on. The thousands who supported us in the aftermath of Matthew’s suicide wept and mourned with us, prayed passionately for us, and sent an unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts. The support was utterly amazing. But for most, life never stopped – their world didn’t grind to a horrific, catastrophic halt on April 5, 2013. In fact, their lives have kept moving steadily forward with tasks, routines, work, kids, leisure, plans, dreams, goals etc. LIFE GOES ON. And some of them are ready for us to go on too. They want the old Rick and Kay back. They secretly wonder when things will get back to normal for us – when we’ll be ourselves, when the tragedy of April 5, 2013 will cease to be the grid that we pass everything across. And I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again. There is a new “normal.” April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time….maybe forever.

Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving “well” (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive –so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered. “At least you can have another child” one mother was told shortly after her child’s death. “You’re doing better, right?” I was asked recently. “When are you coming back to the stage at Saddleback? We need you” someone cluelessly said to me recently. “People can be so rude and insensitive; they make the most thoughtless comments,” one grieving father said. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that it was standard in our culture for people to officially be in mourning for a full year. They wore black. They didn’t go to parties. They didn’t smile a whole lot. And everybody accepted their period of mourning; no one ridiculed a mother in black or asked her stupid questions about why she was STILL so sad. Obviously, this is no longer accepted practice; mourners are encouraged to quickly move on, turn the corner, get back to work, think of the positive, be grateful for what is left, have another baby, and other unkind, unfeeling, obtuse and downright cruel comments. What does this say about us – other than we’re terribly uncomfortable with death, with grief, with mourning, with loss – or we’re so self-absorbed that we easily forget the profound suffering the loss of a child creates in the shattered parents and remaining children. 

Unless you’ve stood by the grave of your child or cradled the urn that holds their ashes, you’re better off keeping your words to some very simple phrases: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Or “I’m praying for you and your family.” Do your best to avoid the meaningless, catch-all phrase “How are you doing?” This question is almost impossible to answer. If you’re a stranger, it’s none of your business. If you’re a casual acquaintance, it’s excruciating to try to answer honestly, and you leave the sufferer unsure whether to lie to you (I’m ok) to end the conversation or if they should try to haltingly tell you that their right arm was cut off and they don’t know how to go on without it. If you’re a close friend, try telling them instead, “You don’t have to say anything at all; I’m with you in this.”

None of us wants to be like Job’s friends – the pseudo comforters who drove him mad with their questions, their wrong conclusions and their assumptions about his grief. But too often we end up a 21st century Bildad, Eliphaz or Zophar – we fill the uncomfortable silence with words that wound rather than heal. I’m sad to realize that even now – in the middle of my own shattering loss – I can be callous with the grief of another and rush through the conversation without really listening, blithely spouting the platitudes I hate when offered to me. We’re not good grievers, and when I judge you, I judge myself as well.

Here’s my plea: Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB).The truest friends and “helpers” are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re ok with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say “Move on.”

Amen, Kay. Amen.

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March 28, 2017

39 responses on "Grief and Faith: the relationship between belief and grief"

  1. We lost our precious 2 year old grandson in March of this year. As a parent, have never experienced the pain of watching my child live through such a nightmare and completely helpless any every way. My daughter is very young and Xander was her entire world. I wanted to carry every ounce of pain for her and her husband because I could not imagine their pain. My soul was ripped out of my body and theirs was unimaginable to me. My daughter held him as he died. It was a heart condition that went undetected which lead to a virus entering his heart valves. Cardiac arrest. We were completely in shock that this beautiful healthy toddler had a health problem no doctor was ever aware of. I carried every weight for them that I could. His body had to be flown back to our home state for the funeral. I had to meet the cargo plane and watch my grandbaby unloaded in a cardboard box for the local funeral home to transfer him for their preparation for his service. I watched my child try to run away when they saw the tiny casket unloaded from the hearse. I had to be strong for our family and push my grief aside. I was told it gets easier, time heals, remember the good times, he is heaven and you need to rejoice. I had to find out it is okay to cry. It is okay to go through periods of crying for 3 days non stop then have a few weeks of calm. It is okay to think you are losing it because it is part of the process. No one tells you this. They seem to believe 3-6 months is sufficient. It is not. You are grieving the life that went to heaven with your loved one and most of the person you were went to heaven with them. This is a completely different life and nothing prepares you for this. I just tell God to hold my hand and keep me going because I have no idea how to do this. Accept the fact that you can’t know the triggers that will turn your progress upside down in a matter of minutes. It is day to day but it is also minute by minute on some days. Do not rush yourself, do not allow others to pressure you to get over it. Those who have lived this know reality is what we have to learn to live with. This does not get “easier”, time just allows us to heal and accept. I am only at month 7. I am still learning how to live life knowing Xander is gone. I also feel selfish because my grief is NOTHING compared to my child’s grief. There are few that will allow me to talk to them. Others just say “he is in heaven, you need to realize this”. My flesh wants our baby back because we need him. We weren’t ready to give him back to heaven. I have not once been angry at God. I have prayed for him to continue to heal us and the pain to lessen. I know he needed him back for a reason and I do not now that reason. I do know he saved him from something and he did have a purpose on this earth for his short little life. He brought joy to everyone, he was always smiling and those who met him never forgot him. He was special. Let your heart grieve. Take your time, this loss goes against the natural order and we are learning each day how to continue our lives with this huge part of our heart missing.

  2. 11 months ago we lost our son ..our healthy dirtbike champion racing son that took care of his body 29 years old our beautiful son Caleb I am a deep faith believing woman in God and so was Caleb Caleb died of cancer I am offended by people telling me I need to get closer to God I should be getting better I just “need a deeper faith and get closer to God “I don’t even want to go to church now . People say I’m praying for you really where are you why aren’t you at my doorstep the dishes are stacked up the laundry is stacked up I would like to be encouraged to even get out of bed and take a bath !!”We miss you when you’re not at church “they say ! i don’t even want to go anymore I feel like I’m just sitting there with people that really don’t care “God’s people who are always there every time the door is open I can’t do it now that is going to church I am so lost devastated ! Forever hurting Mon

  3. I had grieved over loss of many things i wanted to be healed from grief but i forgot the lord wanted me to use it to help others but i failed to trust him and now i hate myself and cant do anything for the lord or no longer have close relationship with him or my church the grief actually gave me a heart to want to reach kids and now he took it away and i realize i am a failure and i want to quit i forgot it was to reach others i got selfish and stupid and now i want to be the person i waz before not free who does not care about othersanymore i am angry at myself cuz i lost my relationship with the lord i experienced too much loss but my priorities were wrong i wanted him to replace that loss

  4. I wish people were more compassionate and empathetic towards the bereaved and understood how malicious their comments can be received. Five weeks after my brother’s violent and tragic suicide, I hosted a birthday party for my mother-in-law and my husband’s family. My sister-in-law’s husband said the most awful and cruel things that I will never forgive or forget and he should have known better – he lost his teenage son in a tragic car accident that was the fault of a drunk driver about 25 years ago. Upon arriving at my house, he sat down and blurted out, “What do you think of Robin Williams and mental health?” No words of comfort, no “I’m sorry for your loss” no hugs, nothing! Then he proceeds to antagonize me by attacking faith and saying things like “There is no God, there are no miracles…” and then criticized my Christian faith by criticizing Christians and their poor treatment of the earth and animals. He was argumentative and belligerent and not one person intervened because they are conditioned to his antagonism. I was absolutely blindsided and caught off guard and being in a highly vulnerable state I said nothing until he said “What do you think of evangelicals supporting Trump?” I lost it and ended up yelling and my SIL exploded into tears and I was made out to being the bad guy because of my reaction.

    Suicide is so very complex and painful and in my experience losing my brother was and has been much more painful than losing my mother to natural causes and I was very, very close to my mother. This man was so terribly cruel and insensitive that I went to counseling to help me deal with it and I’m still not over it 3 months later. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it and have made it clear I never want to be around him again and thankfully my husband agrees with me.

    Trying to dissuade someone of their faith and then criticizing their religion during the most difficult times of one’s life is inexcusable and unforgivable.

  5. I have not lost my believe in God, but I do not understand him. We were attending a Penecostal church when my mom died of cancer. We were learning of healing, and I thought surely God will heal her because she has a strong faith and is doing such good in the world. When she wasn’t healed, I think I just stayed in shock, not knowing how God worked anymore. Then my older sister died of cancer as well. Again I was believing in a healing. She actually died 5 years earlier than the doctors expected. Then my dad died of a drowning and my little sister of liver failure. Are we wrong to believe in healing? I don’t know how to pray for anyone when they have a life threatening health problems.. When praying, my mind goes right to my family members for which I prayed for a healing. What do I do with this? It’s been 36 years since my lost my mom and the last family death of my little sister, just three years ago. Again, I haven’t lost my belief in Him, but I am shaken. How do I pray and what should my expectations be.

    • I can relate to your issue. My hubby passed on 14 sept 2019 and both of us including our girls were praying for healing and yet God seemed silent. During his stay at the hospital my hubby was so positive n even claim his healing in Jesus name every day. My “wounded” faith till now make me hesitant to pray for healing. But still I believe God is sovereign n Almighty.

  6. I was raised as a Roman Catholic. My parents would drop me and my older sister off at the church on Sundays so we would go to church and Sunday school. As years passed my faith in God has never waned, it’s just that I stopped attending church at some point in my life.

    As the years passed, I met and married a girl who my sister introduced me to her and 35 others girls from her sorority.. While in South Vietnam I wrote to 4 of them girls. Eventually I seemed to single out one girl who was just so easy to open up to about my life. Of course, I have seen death while in my 12 years and 7 months in the U. S. Army. It makes life seem so much more real.

    Over time in my 42 years of marriage we had two wonderful sons. My wife eventually developed cancer and was put on the liver transplant list and taken off at times based on her cancer progression. Finally I lost her to cancer and I have felt lost since that day.

    The toughest thing to me is my sons won’t talk about their loss, my family wants to move on with life, but I just can’t seem to resolve this loss. I still strongly believe is God and the afterlife and truly believe that one day I will again see her. There are so many more facts that go with this story but I won’t dwell.

    It has been 4 years since she passed, everyone has moved on, but I just can’t seem to stop seeing her. Two things happened, one this year around her birthday. I never remember dreams, but for some reason one day I just woke and recalled a spirit all in white sleeping on my chest. I felt so comforted by it.

    The second was when she was in hospice house and told us near the end an angel had visited and told her she would take care of children in heaven. As a candle was lit and a prayer was read she moved from this earth to her next stage – heaven. As a strong believer in God I have seen these signs as not a test but a proof to me that there is a higher power and it awaits us all.

  7. On June 19, 2019 my 2nd oldest son, lost his life in an auto accident. They say that he lost control of the vehicle and over corrected and the accident was his fault. He didn’t even need medical treatment… Only about a month before, I said to God, please don’t let death come to my children or my grandchildren I don’t think I could handle. It’s almost as if it’s been my test to see if I can handle it. Well, I’m not. I’ve been to church one time since his death, excluding his memorial service. It was all I could do to sit there. I wanted to crawl under the pew to get out because I couldn’t understand how a God that says he loves his children and if you ask it shall be done, allowed my child’s life to end. I used to sing on the praise and worship team, but I no longer have any sing left in me. I feel no desire to utter the words of songs that once moved me. I am heartbroken, as a huge piece of me is missing. I don’t know how I can ever trust again. Human father failed me and I relied on God. I had breast cancer and other health issues and through all of it, felt God had his hand on me. What kind of cruel joke is it to leave a 50 year old woman on this earth who raised her children but to allow her son to die in front of his 3 children? The middle child can tell you all about the accident and how his dad’s head was cut open and blood was everywhere. This is the greatest pain I’ve ever endured. My name is Teresa, not Job.

  8. Michelle Fontanosa-YeeMay 8, 2019 at 7:44 amReply

    I believe that deep down I do believe in what/who we call “God”, and at heart, I believe in and feel love for Jesus- not because I should, but because I love his gentle, faithful spirit, and how he loved us, his brothers and sisters.

    But, despite the faith that was instilled in me from an early age, I find myself not doubting as if having less of belief, but believing in more…like God is love is a spirit is in so many things and places…in anyone, anything, and anywhere there is the unifying lifeforce, energy, spirit…

    I hate being judged by others who may see me as having less faith. What if, by believing both in the miracle of Jesus, AND believing in something beyond Jesus, I have not less faith, but more faith?

  9. I lost my world my wife of 38 years only 5 months after retirement! We both worked near 40 years each and now it was OUR TIME! But something had other plans and she was diagnosed stage 4 lung to brain cancer and in only 2 months after diagnosis she was gone!How the hell am I supposed to be with God after this? I have left him and the church. I tried for weeks after she died going to church. It was pointless- I was as alone as I am in our house we bought for retirement. I trudge through it and every day in agony. Its been 9 months and all I grieve is my loss and my desire to join her. I dont know what I think anymore. But for my wife a devout God loving Catholic a true angel in her life-nothing but good all her 62 years to have been taken from this world? NO EXCUSES! Now I sit alone in misery-she was my life. What God? If you took her and all I was asking through her illness was simply take me too-why not? Why leave me here to grieve what I have lost? The worst is to not die first because it leaves you with untold years of agony . My Dad died young at 57- My Mom lived to 92- Dont tell me this is my fate! NO.

    • Could you please tell me in what state of grieving you are now? This is an entirely selfish question, because I simply have no answer for you. However, I would like you to know that my father is in a similar position. He is an 80 year old man who is suddenly about to lose his wife of 54 years (having been in love since they were 13 years old) to lung cancer that has quickly metastasized to her brain, breast, and lymph. He is absolutely broken and in denial. He had always assumed he would go first (as my mom’s side of the family lives into their hundreds, more often than not).
      What I would really appreciate would be for you to tell me what (beyond the supernatural) would have helped you the most in those first days/weeks/months? I am a teacher who cannot even imagine being center stage after my mother passes, therefore I quit my job and am caring for my mom on hospice…but it is almost more difficult to try to figure out how to be there for my dad. I would really appreciate any response. I am truly sorry for your loss and for the timing that must feel absolutely unfair. I am also sorry for this question, but then at times of loss (albeit less great) I’ve felt that writing out a reply or a comment or a journal entry, turned out to be the most unburdening option that ended up presenting itself. Thank you for your time. I hope you have found some small grain of peace in your days.

    • I must say that I know how you feel. I lost my 19 year old daughter to murder in 2016. Before she passed, the question if God exist and many other thoughts that I now have never existed. Now, it is an everyday question, everyday thoughts. On top of dealing with the grief of loosing my baby, there is no justice for her murder. It is an ongoing investigation. I am so lost and confused with life. Like you, I tried going to church a few times after it happened but I could not do it. It was not the same. Giving praise and being told I have to forgive, and hearing those phrases as mentioned in the above passage….none of that works for me. I am so lost…

    • Gary, Our circumstances are very similar as well as pur thoughts about the untimely passings of our loved ones. My beloved and planned and dreamef of a second honeymooned retirement reliving our youthful loving dreams..however God had other plans on New Years Eve 2015 i planned on seeing that handsome 64 year young, love of my life greeting me. That did not happen this New Years Eve. I opened the door and smiled as i saw a romantic dinner made, a vase of beautiful red roses. I ran through the house excitedly calling his name with no answer. Finally the moment my world was slowly dying as I gasped not wanting to frighten him as he was dying, lying on the bathroom floor, paralyzed on his right side trying to say something to me. He later passed from a massive stroke. I said I loved him, begged him to not leave me as I dialed 911 and ran next door to get a neighbor’s help. No one will ever understand the way we feel suffering such uncomprehensible pain. Pain that never leaves, ever present, and at times drives one ti temporary madness. To those who are willing to give the trite and trivial words of advice, please say you will pray for our loved ones, because as they give those words of”comfort” they leave us and go home with their lives still in tact. I will never recover from my husband’s passing. I grieve with every beat of my broken heart. Look to the future?? I did that and it didn’t work as we planned. I have no future these days
      Just awaiting my time to hopefully see him, only then will I be truly happy.

  10. I know this is years old, but I came across it today.

    No matter how it feels to you, someone asking when you are coming back, or moving on while you are grieving, is not necessarily wanting to hurt you, or thinking only of themselves. They may not know what else to say. They may be wanting to distract you with work or whatever. They can’t read minds.

    They may be afraid something is wrong, or could be, with your health, mental or emotional.

    Eight years ago next month, a large tornado tore through Joplin, MO, hours after HS graduation. Several people were killed. Many others were injured.

    Reminders of that tragic time begin in late Apri/early May, and go through the month and beyond. No one is suggesting or has suggested that the people and things and animals lost or injured during that time should be forgotten. There are permanent displays honoring them and those that helped for the months and years afterwards.

    But when years later, the pain and grief are consistently as fresh as if it just happened – and I’m not referencing the person above who cried all night fourteen years after losing their loved one – then it’s long past time for them to seek help.

    You can get stuck in grief. That you are wrapped in it, feeling it, does not necessarily mean that you don’t need help dealing with it, or that others can not be concerned about you. Again, we can’t read your mind.

  11. I have always battled with God on this bc how can he love me when I am in such pain? What proves he loves me more then the flowers and bird’s? I am sick of hearing that. I have had a series of bad relationships filled with abuse- some of it even being my parents ignoring it all- and my sister dying just seems like another kick. I don’t feel love. I know my sister is in heaven, out of pain, etc etc but where is God in the aftermath? I cannot move on bc I am traumatized. I need some explaining, answers, sense! I need to feel his presence and comfort- and i don’t. Verses are not enough to calm me down, take my pain away. I want to but it feels like a mock, a lie. My dad actually told me it was a sin to still be grieving before a year had even come!!!! I understand he sees it as anger or questioning God’s control in our lives, and sees that as wrong. But- So- I am sinful, I am wrong? – it’s hurtful, it’s a shut up and a slap in the face to be told that! A complete lack of understanding and open, honest communication. If he is there already- good, but I am not. I can’t make myself and I am not a horrible person bc of it. It is not right for him to dictate how the rest of the family grieves. It doesn’t allow me to process this. This hurts as much as my sister forever being gone does. I don’t know what I can say in front of him, out loud, when he will say more hurtful things- and when will I not be able to control my emotions? So far I have just shut down bc I don’t want to be hurtful back-but it is a struggle. I honestly feel a lot of how my sister’s death happened, the details taking is through it, is bc of my father’s relationship with my sister, his inability to be honest about the hard stuff. Its always on his terms and any differences are wrong. Sinful is a strong word. I feel he meant it strongly, to put me down to stop me, and it did, but it didnt stop my thoughts… It does damage. I feel overwhelmed with sadness and this just adds to it.

  12. On Monday, February 25, my sister was violently hit by a 24 year old little girl making a left turn while my sister had the light, was in the crosswalk, with the right of way. Thursday night, February 28, my sister died as a result of injuries she sustained as a result of that little girl’s choice to not drive responsibly, so for all intents & purposes, she killed my sister, & as a christian, & a minister, I’m unable to completely forgive her 100% just yet, & I’m learning that it is indeed a very painful process to go through. My man has been so patient, supportive & understanding that it’s almost scary, & I know I’m blessed, I just wish wish I could get the one thing back I never will, my little sister.

  13. By faith and by God’s grace go I ‘
    A recent widow’ after 44 years of a contented ‘ romantic’ marriage and – old days gone by – type partnership’ it is terribly terribly difficult suddenly to face this new reality of being just me’ no more a couple’ no more a pair’
    I continuously cry and weep in secret’ in private’ not to worry our two sons’ and not to add more concern for me in their daily responsibilities’
    I feel the void ‘ the immense emptiness deep within my soul’ I feel lost ‘ I feel drained and aimless’
    As one blogger put it so well’ ” All the days start and finish the same, They begin and end without you ” / ” But now’ your eyes can’t pour over me ‘ the way they used to’ But now there’s only nothingness’ where your loving gaze once was ” –
    The only little break is when I read yours and other fellow grievers blogs of their various grief stories’ and the personal ways each try to find , to cope with the unchangeable fact of our beloved ones deaths’ of their forever absence from our life story and togetherness . . .

    Laura

  14. I am struggling with grief and sorrow over things I never had….the unconditional love of parents (even though they were physically present, there was emotional neglect). Grief over my only sibling, a sister who has never wanted anything to do with me, even though I craved a relationship. I married someone emotionally absent that led us through a chaotic lifestyle with job changes, moves, financial stress and hardships. I feel like I was so stressed most of the time, I missed enjoying my children’s youngest years (something I had really looked forward to enjoying). The stress and pressure continued throughout the years. But I tried to put on a “happy” face so my children didn’t have to experience what I did during my childhood (an angry distant mother and father)….but the consequences of that have been that my children don’t understand the losses and grief I have gone through, and think I am the “problem” in the relationship now,(not my emotionally and physically absent ex husband–he traveled most of our marriage and caused all the disruption) because I finally am just not coping well anymore–at some point you just can’t keep the facade up anymore. But because I appeared OK at the time, I can’t even explain what the grief and losses were because then it looks like I am playing the blame game. I have grief over the time and joy that was robbed from me. However, I am hopeful that God will restore me and the “years the locusts ate”–I think that is the verse. I just long for peace and rest, and for what is coming after this life.

  15. I guess I am doing something wrong, I always had a faith, but since I lost my ex husband a month ago I don’t believe in anything. To me it seems that this world is all about death. If you think about nothing can live without something else has to die to sustain it. What kind of God could have created such a place. I don’t know any answers but I am very sad.

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  17. I so needed to read this to understand my conflicting emotions. My mother passed away 3 weeks ago, and I sensed that the pastor was admonishing me for lack of faith when I exhibited grief at her funeral. I have been questioning my lack of faith since. My mother was so faithful to her God, and knew absolutely where she was going. Makes me feel as though I have betrayed her memory.

  18. My ex husband passed away at 47 of a heart attack a few months ago. We were married for 20 years and he is the father of my two sons, ages 21 and 13. The pain of watching my children suffer has been the hardest thing in my life. I am also very sad. We were not getting along at the time but he was my first love. I have not moved on even after many years of being divorced. I had children to raise and no time to date.
    I wonder if anyone else has gone through this. I guess it’s complicated grief????
    Whatever it is…it’s awful and I hope someone has some advice. I feel so alone in my grief because he was my ex.

  19. My sister who was 6 years older than me was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour last April. She became forgetful and confused, after a couple of falls at home, she was admitted to a large teaching hospital in the place where they lived and I visited a couple of times. Then after yet another scan, they found that the tumour had spread and was pressing on her brain, so more drugs and a move to a small unit in my home town, I visited her every evening, I helped her with her supper because by the July, she could not lift or coordinate getting a fork or spoon into her mouth. I sang songs to her that we learnt as children, I prayed with her and my church’s Deacon came to visit her with me one day. Then towards the end of July, the family decided that as she was failing fast that she shouldn’t be woken up to be fed, that was hard for me as although I’m retired now, I was a nurse. My niece and I visited her the day before she died and I said to my niece on the way through the ward, (my sister was in a little room at the end of the ward and we were out of her earshot by this time) that I thought death might be imminent, the senior ward sister came over to us and said the same, my niece drove me home and rang her Dad from my place. She stayed for a bite to eat and her Dad drove over to the hospital, where my niece met him. My sister died the next morning. I miss her SO much. Whenever I bought any new clothes, she came with me. We spoke often on the phone. We lost our Dad 27 years ago and our Mum 10 years ago, I feel as if my arm has been wrenched off. I have 2 caring sons and a supportive niece, who tells me that she couldn’t have got through it all without me. When my sister died, so many people sent me flowers and cards. We got through her funeral and here we are 9 months later. I talk to her still as I do my Mum but it’s very hard. My niece asks me when the pain will stop, I tell her that it will ease with time but it will never go away. Thank you for the lovely things that you have said and for letting me tell you all this.

  20. God. One year later and you’re supposed to be mostly “together?” I must be absolutely horrific then because I cried all last night and it’s fourTEEN years later. I cried about something I’ve never been allowed to show online or anywhere else but with this guy I was staying with who’s extended family to me both legally and according to his own open heart policy. He’s legally my daughter’s godfather, he became that when her dad died on September 11, 2001. But he considers himself or me part of his family because she is, although I’m not legally related to him. I’m not related to much of ANYone by blood (I’m adopted & didn’t really know my blood relatives until they became adults) so mostly the way I relate to family is by legal fictions. Stephen King called divorce that “if you still have feelings for the spouse” and I thought it was a great idea, that it applied to my case so I apply it. I’m legally related to the Gleasons but have feelings for the other family, so it’s a legal fiction.
    Anyway he’s the only one who probably would have listened to me try to explain how I felt about what they did not just to me (by killing her dad) but what it caused to happen to her, which I considered worse than anything they could do to me. I tried to explain by saying “words can’t describe what it’s like to see your child in pain, as much as she was in when I had to be the one to tell her he’s never coming back at a time I didn’t even believe it myself.” There was no physical evidence whatsoever to even confirm his death the way the government prefers to confirm such things and for some bizarre reason I couldn’t even believe he really WAS dead. It makes no logical sense when you consider the fact I was a paramedic and firefighter even then (well a firefighter & EMT-Intermediate); it should have been dead obvious that after ten days they weren’t going to find any living remains but something really strange happened to me. I lost all ability to even use the reasoning part of my mind. I thought some miracle had occurred and that we should wait to see. I didn’t want him coming back and seeing his own death certificate. Two months later I still thought that way. I swear I don’t understand what happened to me at all. But then it took almost 10 MORE years to even believe he truly wasn’t returning.
    On the morning they killed Osama bin Laden my daughter called me in the middle of the night to tell me about it. One of the first things she said was “I guess this means he really isn’t coming back.”
    Thinking she was referring to bin Laden I said “Well they shot him in the head and have confirmed it’s really him, so no, he isn’t coming back.”
    “I was talking about my dad,” she replied. “Until this happened I thought it must have been some mistake and that dad could come back. Now I seem to know in a more convincing way that he won’t be returning.”
    I had no response, not knowing what the hell you say to that.
    I just think I look like I’m awfully slow at processing this particular loss. I’ve had other that haven’t seemed near as difficult to manage.
    Richard, the guy I talked to about it, appears to be the only person who can listen to things like this – especially in the middle of the night – and NOT make judgments of me. Maybe some people in his own age group have a real ‘issue’ with him for going to Vietnam but I happen to think that’s the very reason he can listen to me while they CAN’T deal with it. So I just plain like him and feel utterly grateful to him for being able to be with me without judging me during my darkest hours.

  21. I am an Episcopal priest and also a recent widow. In our Book of Common Prayer, we have the following written with our funeral service:
    “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
    “The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ [Romans 8:38-39]
    “This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.”
    Whenever I preside over a funeral, I always read those paragraphs aloud and also include them in the leaflet.

    • These are wonderful and comforting words, Rev. Brenda. Thank you so much for sharing! It is wonderful to know you are sharing this with families. I have no doubt it is reassuring to them in their grief!

      • Litza, he was no longer your husband doesn’t mean he was no longer a person or the father of your children or someone you knew well (intimately) any one of those is enough to grieve for him. Look at it this way, he has friends, co-workers ect. that are missing him why shouldn’t someone who was so close at one time miss him. Give your self the green light to grieve, then if needed seek someone outside the “judgemental realm” to talk to about that missing him, deep sick sad feeling in you.

  22. We just have recently lost my grandma who has lived with us and faith is very important to us (or at least to me) to deal with her very sudden and unexpected dead. I don’t think “those who believe don’t need to grief”, we are all grieving in different ways, but faith in something may help. I was brought up in the believe that there is a life after death and that death is the beginning of a new life, which does not make missing a person any less sad, but it helps (me) to deal better with the pain that she won’t come back home. There will always moments missing somebody, missing coming home and nobody opens the door, nobody receiving your packages, nobody putting your clothes inside, when it starts to rain, but as we’ve talked to our priest, it’s about embracing these moments and turning them into something positive and knowing they are in a better place now, which helps a lot to accept the loss. It also helps a lot that we know she was not afraid of death and believed in being reunited with her family in heaven. Maybe like in Johnny Cash’s “will the circle be unbroken” or “we’ll meet again”.

  23. I have been wrestling with this very question for about a month now. Thank you for this post. It was comforting to hear these words, ” It is a normal reaction to a devastating situation that can co-exist with the comfort of one’s faith and spirituality.” Kay Warren’s story was very meaningful as have been the comments on this page. Thank you!

  24. Though I walk a different path then most, I do understand both sides of the grief issue.
    It is unreasonable to expect anyone to “move on” after the loss of a child. I am blessed that I do not know this first hand, but my Sister, two Cousins and a Dear Friend have. I know they wake each morning and for a brief time, think that everything is OK. Then they crash back into reality. It will never be OK like it was, life might be bearable, but that beloved child is in spirit.

    That said, I have also some frustrations. Some folks are so wrapped up in their grief and use it a sole perspective. Anything difficult in your life for instance, like right now I have Shingles for the second time in my life, my 24 year old son was diagnosed with a Hereditary Iron Disorder in Nov. 2013; since he cannot drink like his peers (look up Celtic Curse online for info on this disease that is the most common genetic disease in the US) he started to use drugs, not just the marijuana that may actually help his symptoms, but drugs to ease his pain. He lost his job, and last month was arrested. He goes to Court tomorrow, and I hope he gets off, simply because he was driving someone getting marijuana, and the police who did a “routine” traffic stop on him, held Guns on he and his passenger. Guns for a traffic stop. Then there was the 8 hours handcuffed at the Precinct without being allowed to make a phone call. Anyhow, prayers he gets a break tomorrow. He is clean and sober now. But my point is that one person who’s hand I held after her daughter’s death. Who I used to send an ecard to every Monday night – her daughter went into spirit on a Tuesday AM – who I told via email of my shingles resurgence. Emailed me again after 3 weeks to see if every thing was OK. And I told her Again, what was going on. This person who I was there for after the first year, the second year, the third year, the fourth and yes, fifth. She did not reply. I guess my role was to always be the Rock and support her and I think that is wrong. I think that some folks may wrap themselves up in their grief and use it as an excuse to be, say a shitty friend (pardon my language). I am trying not to confront her on this, but I really do ask myself, at what point does the person who is bereaved, become a despot in a relationship and always expect the empathy, when they are no longer capable of even saying: “Wow, that really is crappy.”

    Obviously you can delete this if it is inappropriate. I just needed to get that off my chest. The Death of a loved one changes people. But it does not give them the right to be the exclusive receiver of support. Sometimes it actually helps with grief to share and to give, and I hope my friend (or perhaps ex-friend) finds that place for herself.

  25. thank you Toni for the ocean analogy. I have been saying for some time that “skillful” grieving is about learning to surf the waves.

  26. From my own experince with grief (grandmother passed away 2 days before my wedding. It will be 2 years in October), I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that grief is like being in an ocean. There are some parts that are really deep and dark, there are other parts that are shallow and lighter and there are waves. During the first year after her passing, grief was more deep, dark and full of waves. I would be doing something random (i.e. shopping in Target) and would awashed in grief and tears and completely feel like it wasn’t ever going to be better. Then there were other times when I could laugh and remeber how much fun she and I had. It was like a roller coaster, with ups and downs. And that’s how grief is. It goes up and down. There are good days and there are not so good days.

    When I work with clients (I’m a therapist), I tell them that grief is like losing a limb. Sure, you can live without an arm or leg and the rest of your body will still function but that will never negate the fact that you miss the absent limb. It was there, functioning as a part of you and now it’s gone. In it’s absence, you have to learn to live without it and that takes time. So does grief.

  27. I lost my son in 2000, in his birthday month, just a month after my other son’s wedding. Of my three children, he’s the one who “got” me, enjoyed spending time with me, and talked freely with me. While I take comfort that we had no regrets of unspoken words, 14 years later, I still miss his welcoming presence in my life. I found that people let you talk about your grief for just so long and then it is necessary to find a professional to spill over on. I found the film Moonlight Mile very therapeutic, especially the parts about thoughtless well meaning people giving books and spouting platitudes. There is a great book for children of all ages that is laid out like a picture book called Tear Soup, which has to do with all of us having our own recipes and cooking times for our very own Tear Soup.

  28. My husband passed away six months ago (on Christmas Eve). I wrote a blog post last week about some of my feelings/thoughts, and it seems to go well with this discussion.
    http://outofhisfullness.blogspot.com/2014/06/in-middle-of-mess-all-this-glory.html

    I mentioned that I continually find myself coming back to the question, “What does ‘grieving with hope’ look like here?” At first it seemed like a simple knowing that my husband is with the Lord, and that truly brought much comfort and even joy in the midst of the pain, especially in the earlier months of grief. But as things settle in more, I tend to keep redefining that phrase. I am realizing, as you pointed out, that grief is about my experience of loss and feeling his absence, not a pain or sympathy for where he is. So I can say with equal intensity that my grief is hard and overwhelming right now, but my faith and hope are strong. I do think people tend to have a difficult time reconciling those extremes at once, and I definitely have felt the lessening of understanding and support of grief as more time has passed. (Maybe that’s part of why I wrote the blog post in the first place. . . I feel like I have been thrust into the position of a “grief educator” because so few people want to talk about it or admit that it lasts more than a few weeks.)

    I always appreciate your blog and am thankful for how you addressed this topic. I appreciate Pastor Moody’s comments as well!

  29. I am a pastor. Part of my responsibility is to help people grieve in the light of Christian hope. We need to remember that Jesus grieved the death of his dear friend Lazarus (whom he would restore to life in a matter of moments). We also need to think of how the late Granger Westburg dealt with that 1 Thess. passage in his wonderful little book GOOD GRIEF.

  30. This article reflected my experience well. Two main things for me. My husband’s very sudden death and the experiences around it increased my faith. And I was surprised that I could feel so peaceful about his departure in a spiritual sense and still have so much to grieve. The first year or so of grieving there was an anchor on my heart, but friendships deepened and my sense of connection was huge. The next phase was/is harder. My friends moved on. I truly am not sure if it was my friends or my expectations on myself–but I found it harder to ask for what I needed. Or perhaps it was because I had moved to grieving the million little things that are part of a loving partnership–like a thank you for emptying the dishwasher and the ongoing opportunities for reflection on everything. Hard to call a friend for those tiny but important things. . I am filling the gaps in ways others often find difficult to understand, but I honor what works for me.

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