4 Things to Remember When Grieving

It is not a matter of “if” … only “when.” The day will come when everything seems finished. A burden so heavy…a grief so smiting…a sadness so overwhelming, it would not matter much to you if your life just ended right then and there.

It is not a matter of “if” … only “when.” The day will come when everything seems finished. A burden so heavy…a grief so smiting…a sadness so overwhelming, it would not matter much to you if your life just ended right then and there.

For me, it was the last Sunday night in October, 1994. My father had a brain attack, one so severe he did not recover from it. He lived a few days but only because a machine kept his body alive. Ten days after the stroke, I gave the funeral homily, my older brother brought the eulogy, and my younger brother sang a song in the very church …the church where I was pastor…the church Dad had just joined the very morning of the mortal stroke that took his life…and, with it, our hearts. That was almost twenty years ago now and I have thought many times about how I survived that experience…the grief and sadness that I only ever feel now and again, but still do nonetheless. I have reflected much on my recovery…how it happened…over what period of time the healing came…and, I have learned a few things about grief and sadness and here are at least four of them.

1. Dark night of the soul. When “the dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross called it, comes…and, be assured, my friend…the night IS coming, you will be in utter shock, denial, and perhaps even panic. If like me, you’ll shift into gear…take charge…and appear to everyone else around you as if you know how to manage unexpected, and unwanted, happenings. What they do not know is that this is normally how you respond to crises. They’ll turn to you for leadership and you’ll provide it. But do not be deceived by what feels and appears to others as strength. You are really just operating from a default position into which you instinctively shift whenever a crisis occurs. It’s a kind of denial position, too, or may quickly become so. It will be just one of many strange things you will do in the days that follow a heart-wrenching crisis.

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Everyone responds to the initial shock of things differently. You would wise to acquaint yourself with “the stages of grief” because, although a dated book now, E. Kubler-Ross’ work is timeless and helpful. Knowing the stages of grief…or, knowing how grief works and the likely route it takes…will not help you much at the outset of the journey. But during the days and months, even years, that follow the event you will recognize Kubler-Ross’ path the process of pain follows and it will act as a map on your road to recovery.

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