rief is natural. Without it loss would be unbearable. The grief process is the natural way of handling the loss of a loved one. Refusing to allow grief its natural course will result in serious emotional as well as physical problems. To work through the grief process is to deal with loss, no matter how traumatic. Remember Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). Because of Christ there is a way to make grief good and healthy. Basically, the grief process has three stages: shock, suffering, and recovery.
One grief therapist described shock as a "natural injection of anesthesia." Grief is perhaps the sharpest form of pain a human being is asked to endure. The enormity of the loss would completely consume the bereaved if it were not for the cushion of shock.
Actions in this first stage are mechanical. There is a loss of initiative and lack of rationality. Because a bereaved person is unprepared to accept the reality of loss, he or she is in need of defense mechanisms (somatic symptoms, anger, numbness, guilt, pain, fear, anxiety, frustration or depression). These feelings are natural and should be expressed.
Normally this stage of grief persists only for a few hours, and even if it should last longer, usually after two or three days it terminates. Should this state of grief last for a longer duration the grief may become pathological.
What is shock like? If you have lost a loved one this is a dumb question. If you have not, then any illustration will only give you, at best, a glimpse. Let me show you what I mean. When you heard, read or saw, for the first time, the tragic and untimely explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, how did you feel or react? If you felt numb, helpless or sick at your stomach then you knew shock. Magnify those feelings ten times and you will know, to some extent, the shock of grief felt by the families who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
The first stage of grief is lonely, frustrating, and painful. It is this numbness which cushions the untimely blow of loss. Shock will lead to suffering which eventually will lead to recovery. Good grief, ironically, begins with shock.
This phase is defined as the long, slow adjustment of living without someone you love. This stage is the most crucial part of grief- work. The suffering in this period is acute. The bereaved now experiences not the expectation of the loss, but more painfully the truth that someone vitally important is irrevocably gone. Because denial of the loss is no longer possible, this stage of grief constitutes the worst suffering any human being is asked to endure.
In working through grief, suffering requires the longest amount of time. The bulk of grief-work will transpire during this stage. While shock usually lasts anywhere from hours to days, suffering can last from months to years.
The possible reactions of this second stage are many. These responses to the loss are natural and normal. One should talk these feelings out and never suppress them for any reason.
Numbness is one reaction characteristic of suffering. It is comfortable and cushions the pain of grief. If numbness persists, accepting loss is delayed and recovery is prolonged.
A second common reaction is fear. When numbness is no longer possible fear crowds out rationality. The most natural fear is another loss, including the grievers anxiety over his or her own life. Talking about fear with a good friend will do the most good.
A third natural reaction in suffering is anger. A sense of aloneness, confusion, or helplessness may generate frustration. This means a griever's anger is irrational. His anger may be expressed to a physician, nurse, relative, neighbor, preacher or even to the deceased. Sadly, the bereaved are most often angry with themselves. Again, the cure is conversation with a good friend.
A fourth reaction is guilt. Anger will often lead to guilt. Normally, guilt feelings in suffering are irrational. Thinking through and talking out feelings of guilt will help.
A fifth reaction in suffering is depression. One noted psychologist defined it as "the final insight...the worthlessness of it all." Depression usually leads to physical pain. Unless there is hope, serious complications could arise. Depression is this serious. Nothing eases depression better than the company of a good friend, even if the bereaved tries to persuade you that he or she is alright and needs no one.
The sixth reaction to suffering is self-pity. Usually, self-pity is ruinous because it destroys initiative. A griever has to want to live again after a loss to adequately cope with grief. Once more, a good friend is priceless.
The reactions in this second stage are difficult. Relatives and friends will need much patience in helping a bereaved friend through this state. While these actions are normal, nevertheless, they are irrational. No matter how difficult or painful the suffering, Christ will see all involved in the grief process through. In the final analysis, hope in Christ is the solution. Prayer is the lifeline that leads to good grief.
This is a time of rebuilding. Denial is pointless, defense mechanisms are useless and a safe passage back to normal style of life is finally possible. The light at the end of the tunnel can actually be seen. You are going to make it. You will love again.
Recovery takes time, perhaps even years. It is a trying time and yet, it can be fruitful. Unbelievably, in shock, actions are mechanical. In suffering, movement is forced by convention or one's own restlessness. In recovery, your actions are by your own free choice. You can actually become better because of your grief.
During recovery there are many stages taken. We pass through them, perhaps never realizing it. Thinking about each one of them will sometimes help in recovery.
The first step taken is acceptance. Recovery is impossible unless acceptance first occurs. Acceptance is the most important lifeline to a healthy recovery from grief.
A second step is the expression of your feelings to others. Giving sorrow words is a positive, healthy step toward recovery.
A third step and perhaps the most difficult one is regression. We must learn to live with memories. The bereaved may be on the road to recovery and a song, a book, a place, a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday, or a death will cause old wounds to once again bleed with sorrow. Creative regression, the acceptance of the pleasantness and usefulness of memory, is a giant leap toward recovery.
A fourth step in recovery is participation. There is the strong tendency to do nothing during grief. Even if the bereaved has to pretend to enjoy himself participating in normal activities, a positive step forward has been taken.
You never completely recover from grief because there is always a place reserved in your heart for your loved one. You loved deeply and so you grieve deeply. You can, though, adequately recover from grief to love and feel love once more.
The ray of hope is Jesus. It is He alone who can bear our grief and make us better because of it (II Cor. 4:16-18). - David Powell
Editor's Note: This excellent article was sent to me in 1986 by Doyle Banta, of Athens, AL. I have no idea who the author is nor where he lives. But this is a fine treatment of a vital subject. We are grateful to the author for his help. - CAH.