Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts on Surviving Grief

Our church family experienced a sudden, tragic loss over the weekend--every spouse's and parent's nightmare. A young father of 6 suffered a debilitating series of strokes, never to recover. Many of us initially heard through the Facebook grapevine, moving our community to prayer on his behalf. As we gathered for worship on Sunday morning, the announcement was made that he was to be taken off life support sometime during the day. 
It all happened so fast! We had no time to process the sheer unbelievability of it. Even those who didn't know the family were moved to tears at the very thought of what the family will now endure. We are left to trust in God: 
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18
In light of this, I wanted to share a few practical thoughts on how to deal with grief (whether this specific event or any other). My MOPS group recently heard a speaker discuss this topic, and I borrow some from her material.
If you are the one grieving, allow yourself grace. Be kind to yourself;  allow yourself to be sad. Pay attention to your energy and fatigue. When options present themselves, postpone major decisions. Generally speaking, they should be avoided for at least a year if possible.
Accept your limitations. You won't have the emotional or physical energy to be involved in social, sporting, business, church, or other activities to the same degree you previously did. And that's OK. Cut back. On everything.
For those who have a grieving loved one:
Pray, daily or as often as the thought occurs to you. Intercede on behalf of the grieving survivors. Honor their requests for privacy, yet be available to help. Don't ask, "How can I help?" Rather, offer something specific and practical, such as a meal or a gift card. If you are very close, you may serve as a liaison between the family and the larger group of friends or church, setting up a care calendar for meals, childcare, house/yard help, etc. 
Lower expectations--extend grace to the hurting. You might not get a thank you card, or a phone conversation. Emotions may flare, words may lash out, tears may overflow.
Your loved one will not be the same as before. But he/she will need you nonetheless. Be prepared to give of yourself--not just your stuff or your time, but you.
Don't necessarily hug. Ask first. I remember with my mom, when she lost her husband a few years ago, any sympathetic touch would set off another round of tears. Sometimes she needed it but often it overwhelmed her. Many others react similarly. Be sensitive.
On a positive note, there are thing we CAN do to keep the memory of the deceased person alive. Donate in the person's name--perhaps a favorite charity, ministry, or benevolence fund.
Plant a tree--every year it will spring forth into new growth and renewed life.
Develop new traditions--especially around the holidays.
Hug your loved ones tight each day. Say "I love you." Treasure them for the gifts they are to you, knowing that we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
Write notes--the real, snail-mail, handwritten variety--to surviving family, perhaps several months and years later. Just so they know their loved one isn't forgotten.
Talk about the deceased. Celebrate his/her life, even after the funeral when your life goes back to mostly normal.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:29
(Thanks to Sandra Glahn for much of this material.)

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