Understanding Grief

Nothing hurts like losing someone you love due to death, divorce, or separation. Similar feelings often surface after a major life change such as a job loss or a move. Grief is unpredictable, affecting each of us in different ways. And while it may not ease the pain, understanding our grief can help us cope when we lose a special person or go through a significant change.

How Grief Feels

Everyone goes through seasons of grief in their lives. During these seasons, often created by circumstances outside of our control, we can have desperate feelings. They may be harsh and unpredictable, or we may feel empty or numb. Grief even causes some people to experience trembling, nausea, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, or insomnia. Feelings of anger can also surface, even if there is nothing, in particular, to be angry about. Almost everyone tortures themselves with guilt by asking what they did wrong, how they might have prevented the loss or some other form of self-condemnation. In short, grief makes us feel like our emotions have gone haywire. Over time, however, you will regain equilibrium.

What Grief Means

God made us for intimacy and life – not separation and death. When we grieve, our deepest selves declare that something is wrong with this broken world. And it is. According to Genesis, death and sin were not part of God’s original plan for humanity. The Bible tells us these things came into existence as a result of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). And each of us echoes that same choice when we ourselves choose to sin. But within our hearts and minds, we know that sin is wrong. We know that we were meant for something greater. And indeed, we were meant for something greater—we were meant for union with God! And this is just what Jesus came to bring back to the creation now broken by sin. There is a very real sense in which our grief is a longing for that union with God, for that Kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not a bad thing to desire, but according to Scripture we must wait and watch for this fullness to come (Matthew 25:1–13). On that last day, the God who holds our tears preciously in his bottle (Psalm 56:8) will wipe each one away from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).

Children and Grief

If you have children impacted by the pain of death, divorce, separation, or change, it is important that you remain attentive to their needs. You are God’s gift to them as they endure a loss that may be beyond their comprehension. It is not your role to explain why this grief has occurred. You do not need to “defend God” to them. If you do not know what to say to a child’s questions, say nothing. It’s also ok to say, “I don’t know.” Your presence is the most important “word” in those moments. Your presence will tell them that they are loved, that they are not forgotten. If they want to talk, let them talk and don’t avoid the issue. If they want to be quiet, let them be quiet. Allow them to experience all the confusing emotions that grief can bring in the safety of your patient company.

How Grief Heals

Even though it may not feel like it now, grief can often become a source of great hope. Your reaction against what is wrong comes from a deep yearning for things to be made right. Loss can open us to wholeness and restoration. While grieving the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis asked “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never been to a dentist?” The dentist’s drill, while an instrument of intense pain, ultimately brings health. The drill of grief fosters healing in our lives by raising fundamental issues and eternal questions such as “Do I love God himself, or just his gifts to me?” and “In whom do I place my hope?” and “Do I trust in eternal or temporal things?” As believers, we hold preciously to the hope that God will one day set things right, as he promises so often in Scripture. On that day “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). In the words of the great English saint, Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Prayer

For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servant for whom our prayers are offered. Remember him, O Lord, in mercy, nourish his soul with patience, comfort him with a sense of thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon him, and give him peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 831

For Quiet Confidence

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 832

A Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, 833

Going Further

Resources

  • Losing Susan By The Rev. Dr. Victor Austin
    The personal account of Fr. Austin caring for his wife through her decline and death as a result of brain cancer.
  • A Grief Observed and the Problem of Pain By C.S. Lewis
    Books that deal with questions of grief and evil, written by one of the most famous Christian writers of the 20th century.
  • When God Doesn’t Make Sense By Dr. James Dobson
    A resource from an evangelical perspective for those who feel confused by how a good God could allow suffering in our lives.
  • Someone I Love Died By Christine Harder Tangvald, And When Bad Things Happen By Ted O’neal
    Help parents comfort young children through the process of grief.
  • Praying Through Cancer By Susan Sorenson And Laura Geist
    A 90-day devotional for women battling cancer or who have a friend or family member who is battling with the disease.
  • Rainbows.org
    Provides a bridge to emotional healing for children, adolescents, and adults confronting death, divorce or other painful family transitions. Rainbows.org
  • TroubledWith.com
    Includes helpful articles and resources for dealing with death, divorce, and other sources of grief. TroubledWith.com
  • Good-Grief.org
    Has many good resources, especially for children experiencing grief. Good-Grief.org
  • The Book of Common Prayer
    The BCP contains all of our services, prayers, and many resources for private devotions. It can be purchased on Amazon or at the Incarnation Bookstore. See especially pages 301–308 for insight into how our tradition thinks about children and parenting. bcponline.org

Church Support

  • Weekday Holy Eucharist & Healing Ministries
    Church of the Incarnation has a Holy Eucharist which includes the laying on of hands and the anointing of the sick on Wednesdays at noon in Memorial Chapel. The Cancer Support Group meets weekly for prayer and Bible study on Wednesdays after this mid-week healing service.
  • Community of Hope
    A lay ministry to our homebound parishioners. For more information about how to receive or volunteer for this ministry, call the church office at 214-521-5101.
  • Get Connected.
    Join with other people from our church in your same season of life who are meeting together to study and connect and pray. Go to the Growth Groups web page for more information.
  • Get Involved.
    Use your gifts! Take our Spiritual Gifts Assessment to discern ways to get plugged into the life of Incarnation.
  • Serve the Poor.
    Visit our local outreach page to find out how your gifts can change lives.
  • Talk with a priest.
    Any of the priests on staff at Incarnation are happy to meet with you for direction, counsel, or simply just to talk. We are available for home visitations, hospital visitations, anointing of the sick, last rites, and funerals. Email a priest to set up a meeting. Or call the parish office at 214-521-5101.
Categories: Bringing Faith Home