[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from one of the counselors that is part of my church’s mental health team as part of an article written for May’s mental health awareness month for the congregation members. Enjoy!]
Although I have not experienced an unexpected death in my family, I have experienced loss and grief in other areas of my life. As my husband and I have led the “Grief Share” groups at Crossroad’s Community Church, my heart has ached for the difficult emotions, questions, and feelings of helplessness the attendees share.
In walking this road alongside these hurting people, I have learned more about the grief experience. At the very beginning of their road to healing, it is important to recognize that the goal is to learn to live with their loss, not get over their loss. No one wants to feel that their loved one has been forgotten or that life goes on the same without that person. Continuing to honor their memory while still moving toward the goal of functioning in a healthy manner and without such intense pain, is the hope they cling to.
Initially, many can’t imagine ever feeling normal again, as the pain is so intense. To borrow a phrase from the author Lysa Terkeurst (It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way) “I’ve licked the floor of hell.” Overwhelming sadness dominates. However, ever so slowly, life returns in a new way. I have observed the brokenhearted move from hanging on by their fingertips to beginning to function with a sliver of light in their day and a new sense of routine and purpose.
As many attendees recall the details of their loss, they apologize for their display of emotions and vulnerability. Those in the tornado of feelings following the death of a loved one, need to know there is no “right way” to respond. All feelings – anger, regret, questioning God, and helplessness are okay. A safe place to process their thoughts and feelings without judgment is imperative if they are to avoid getting stuck in their grief. Psychologists call this “Unconditional Positive Regard” coined by Carl Rogers emphasizing the total acceptance of another person. Providing a space for grievers to bring their thoughts and feelings into perspective is invaluable.
Putting back together the puzzle of their lives is a difficult and energy zapping process. Fatigue, lack of motivation, and indifference toward life is normal. Some will even say they don’t care if they die, which is not the same thing as having suicidal thoughts. Their pain is so overwhelming and walling them in that the thought of just being done with life may seem temporarily appealing. Most will validate they have no intention of harming themselves, but just feel so worn and weak emotionally.
All of us will be acquainted with loss and grief in our lives, likely multiple times. Understanding the process better, as well as ministering to those in the midst of this experience, can be the life-line hurting people need.