Grief: sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes it overstays its welcome and you can’t figure out how to quite shake it. Unfortunately in this world, grief will affect all of us at some point. Our goal in this issue of Eagle Counseling Newsletter is to give you some insights about grief to help yourself and your loved ones if and when it comes time for you to mourn.
Starting the Conversation
Many of us don’t know how to start the conversation with someone who is mourning, but often asking, “How are you? What can I do for you?” gives the person the opportunity to see that you are there for them and communicate their needs if they have any. Offering a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “so and so will be very missed,” may seem like you aren’t saying enough, but less can be more in the case of grief. Everyone is different, but when I am mourning, statements that try to make me see the silver lining actually make me more angry and sad about what I’ve lost. For me, “at least you still have so and so” or “at least they died peacefully” minimizes the loss I’ve faced and communicates that the speaker would like my grief to be over so they aren’t so uncomfortable. But grief is uncomfortable. It may be hard for you as a friend or loved one to watch someone mourn, but they need you to be okay with them mourning however is needed.
What can I do?
For those of us who are “doers,” sometimes there isn’t anything we can do, and it’s time to just be present with the person. They may need space and a listening ear to say what they are thinking, even if it is ugly, dark, or nonsensical. They may not want to cry, and that’s okay. They may not be able to stop crying, and that’s okay. There is a time to help a person continue with life as usual, and there is a time to cut them some slack. Offering to take care of basic needs like food, transportation, laundry, etc. helps them stay focused on the bigger tasks at hand because the little things are taken care of.
When do I get help?
Generally speaking, and again, everyone is different, we begin to worry that grief is too overwhelming for someone and they need to seek a mental health professional if grief consumes them entirely, and they are unable to function either all or most of the time. This may happen right away, or it may build up over time. Checking in periodically with someone experiencing grief, even months later, gives them opportunity to communicate their needs and emotions. The biggest help you can offer someone is the space for them to be honest about their emotions even if it is uncomfortable for you. If you feel that someone may need more help than you can offer, do not hesitate to be honest with them that they should seek professional help. Have some resources available so they do not have to look far for help, and follow up with them to see if they found someone to talk to.
What if we all lost the same person?
Everyone in the family is going to mourn differently, but grieving together can build strength and demonstrate your family’s resilience. Parents grieving in front of children, while it can make children worry, also communicates that it is okay to be sad and miss that person. “Holding it together for the kids” can actually backfire and cause children to feel like they need to hold it together for their parents. Allowing children to see you grieve in a healthy way, gives you all opportunity to lean into each other for strength. This must come with conversation, however, and children need to hear you communicate hope in your grief at some point. If you are struggling in your own grief, seek professional help before you become overwhelmed to the point where your grief affects your ability to function.
This is just a snapshot learning to mourn in a healthy way, and below we’ve provided some resources for you to learn more about grief and how it may affects your family. If you have any questions or if we can help you in a specific way, please let us know.
What does God say about death?
Phil Taylor, a well-loved coach and role model at Prince of Peace Christian School died on September 25th, 2018 after a long battle against cancer. Our whole community felt the shudder, and many of us are left wondering what to say in the wake of losing someone who was such an influence in the life of so many of our students. Micah Miller, Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and father of two of Coach Taylor’s football players, spoke some needed truth at Phil’s Memorial Service held at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on October 1, 2018. Pastors are often called upon to deliver wisdom in the most tragic of circumstances, and to that, Pastor Micah opens his message with this profound statement, “Apart from the words of Jesus, I have nothing to say. Because there’s nothing I can say to you that will comfort you. There’s nothing I can say that’s from me that will give you any hope. So I pray that the words of Jesus will be the source of your strength and your comfort.” Pastor goes on to ask some tough questions that maybe we’re asking too, “Why God? Why now? Why Phil? Why cancer? Why at 25? Why at this stage of his life when he’s making such a difference in the lives of so many people? Why God?” While we don’t get to know all the answers, Pastor Micah shares the hope-filled words of Jesus and the promise of eternal life that Phil embodied during his earthly life. Phil had hope, and that hope came from the only source of true, tireless, unending, and eternal hope found in Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Common Myths about Grief
“The Mourning Booth”
“The Mourning Booth,” as performed by The Skit Guys is a beautiful portrayal of the complicated process of grieving. Grief has many faces and no timeline, and we are all touched by its pain at different points throughout our lives. Whether you are seated in the midst of mourning, or coming alongside someone who is hurting, we see the great need for understanding, empathy, and compassion for such times as these. Reminding ourselves of this as well as giving these tools to our children are a vital part of the process. But most importantly, we cannot forget the power of “just being there,” and how by simply spending time sitting with someone who is grieving, we can bring a little bit of healing and peace.
Grieving by Developmental Stages
Death and grieving are a part of our lives, and while many have said “It’s a part of life,” or “it’s how it’s always been,” these statements simply are not true. There is nothing natural about death because it was never intended to be a part of God’s original design for life. We are left with its consequences though, and we must deal with the wake of its aftermath. As Esther R. Shapiro puts it in her book Grief as a Family Process: A Developmental Approach to Clinical Practice, “When someone we love dies, we are forced to rebuild both our shattered web of life-sustaining relationships and our shattered assumptions.” These truths are true no matter how old we are, and when it comes to our children and students, we sometimes struggle to know how to help them understand or cope with loss and grief.
Last spring my in-law's Golden Retriever died, and it was the first time my now 4 year-old had experienced the sting of death. I was very grateful for Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger in those moments, as they had both just been on the day before, and both episodes were about a fish that died. My own understanding of death has more layers and complexities to it when I think about the future without her, how it will affect the family, etc. I also see it with a permanency whereas he sees it as a temporary problem easily fixed by simply “digging her up.” Understanding our children’s developmental capacity for processing information and events like death, dying, and grieving can help us as we relate to them and guide them through it. Included below is a breakdown of what we can generally expect to see in terms of reaction, understanding, processing and conversations with them based on their age/developmental stage. These are of course generalizations, but they are helpful all the same.
Gary Prindiville is the school counselor and a middle school theology teacher at Prince of Peace Christian School and Early Learning Center in Carrollton, TX. Visit the Contact page for more information.
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