Have We “Institutionalized” Grief?

Let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with grief, either their own, or anybody else’s. Grief makes us uncomfortable. Grief is “strange“, and because no two people’s grief-journey is the same, we don’t know how to deal with it. As I have read other articles about grief, and through my own experiences, I have come to the unmistakable-conclusion that we may have “institutionalized” grief by trying to “compartmentalize” and suppress it. Our society would say;

Grieve in private, but act like you are “normal” otherwise.

What is grief?
Grief is an “intense emotional suffering caused by loss, misfortune, injury or evil of any kind“. WOW! That brush is pretty broad, but for those who have suffered from these kinds of experiences, it should come as no surprise that grief comes calling too. Grief is a journey, not a destination…

Grief has many causes…
Grief is the result of some kind of death. Death is the unwanted guest in human life. We do not want it; we often fear it; we cannot command it; and we hate our helplessness. As hard as we try to stave it off, it relentlessly comes into our lives and the lives of those we love. The experience is universal; nobody is immune; death is no respecter of persons, young or old, rich or poor; all will experience death, because death came as a result of the Fall.

While we commonly think of grief as being related to the death of a loved-one, and that kind of grief reaches the deepest into our soul and psyche, death isn’t the only cause of grief. Grief may be caused by any “death-like” experience, such as the deterioration of a relationship or loss of a job. Grief may be caused by anything that turns our world upside-down, anything that seriously upsets the “status-quo“. Grief-causes may “stack-up“, further turning our world upside-down, and compounding our grief.

Trauma, in all its forms, causes grief, because whether it is the loss of innocence for a sexual-abuse survivor, or the loss of bodily-function in someone who has survived a serious accident, injury or disease, something HAS been lost. The “normal” has been replaced by something that is NOT normal. Whatever has been lost will cause grief for that loss.

We often seem to want people who have suffered terrible things to just “get over it”. They cannot. Evil has real impact and does real damage. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Imagine being forced out of your home, losing your job, losing your spouse, getting four death-threats AND losing your family, all within the space of about three months. That was what I experienced in 1997. Everything that could go wrong – did, in spades. Any one of those events would have been bad-enough by itself, but each “shoefall” compounded the situation. To add insult to injury, my wife had died by her own hand – suicide, and her family had the audacity to blame me for her death. Is it any wonder that, when I walked into that first divorce-support-group meeting, I was bonkers-crazy? I wouldn’t have blamed them for telling me to hit the door and never come back, but they didn’t. They loved me through my craziness, for six long months.

All of the faces of grief are part of one over-arching task: learning to let go, learning to live without what once was, learning to wear something that feels like it does not fit. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

“Bereavement-leave”
I lost both my grandfather and my father-in-law in 1984. As with most major-corporations, the one I worked for had a policy of granting employees “bereavement-leave“, or “paid-time-off“, and the length of this time-off depended on how “close” the family-member was and where lived and were being buried. Both were out-of-state, one in Illinois and one in Oklahoma, so I was allowed to take five days off – with pay. Had they been local, ie, in state, I would have only received three days paid-leave.

What if I had been responsible for their funeral-arrangements? Any additional time-off I needed would have to come from my vacation-time. Each time, when I got back to work, I had to pick-up where I left-off, as if nothing had happened, but it wasn’t a “nothing” that had happened. I had lost my grandfather and my wife had lost her father. Those weren’t “nothing” events. They were real losses. What if my wife had really needed me more than for just a few days? BTW, she was thirty-four-weeks-pregnant with our third child. Is three or five days off really “enough“?

The Israelites mourned Moses’s death for thirty-days (Deuteronomy 34:8). “Great-leaders” are often “laid-in-state” for several days after they pass. Is anyone less “worthy” to be “laid-in-state“, and yet, only the “powerful” and “well-connected” are given this honor…

“Celebration of Life” events…
What better way to shew grief out of our lives than to celebrate the dead-person’s life? It no longer is important that they are no longer with us (DEAD) as long as we still have good memories of them. They might as well have moved away and left no forwarding-address…

Funerals and memorial services still honor our memories of the deceased, but they also remind us that we have lost someone we were close to and held dear. We mourn their loss at a funeral. We try to forget the loss at a “celebration of life” event. Yes, there is a difference…

One of the reasons we so often criticize another’s grieving process or rush them along in their grief is because we have not yet really accepted the reality, the finality, the crushing nature of trauma, endings or death ourselves. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Life Must Go On…Grief does too…
Bills still have to be paid, groceries bought, food put on the table, and the family tended-to…

Grief goes on too…

Jobs still have to be done…

Grief goes on too…

Life goes on…

And so does grief…

Grief waits for no-one…

Grief shows up unbidden at random and inopportune moments…

Shortly after I lost Connie, as I was going into a support-group meeting, someone asked me how I was doing. I told them; “Doing okay. I’m tough. I’m resilient.” Who did I think I was kidding? I was a basket-case, but I didn’t want to admit it.

The darkest place in the grieving process is somewhere along the way as the shock wears off and denial can no longer numb, a sense of hopelessness and despair can settle in. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

How long does grief last?
Grief has no “time-line“…

Grief has no “expiration-date“…

The faces of grief do not occur in a linear fashion. Everyone’s grief experience is unique. No two people go through the grieving process in the same way or on the same timetable. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

We just passed Mother’s Day, my second without my mom, and as I walked into church, a close friend said “Happy Mother’s Day“, and how much I still miss mom hit me like a freight-train. I was probably too numb from just losing her last year to notice it, but not this time. I had lost my very best friend. Mom’s are special, and mine was the best of the best.

Its reappearances many years later may be “triggered” by similar-events…

I lost a “brother” to suicide last October, and his funeral was the day before the twentieth “anniversary” of my wife’s death, to suicide. That was a tough funeral, and a tough weekend.

Suicide isn’t a “normal” death, so it carries with it a LOT of extra “baggage“, and greatly-complicates the grieving-process…

Final thoughts…
Don’t be afraid of your grief – it is a normal part of the healing-process.

Grief is not your enemy. Death is…

Don’t say “I’m okay” even when you’re not.

It’s okay to say “I’m not in a good space right now“, when that is truly how you are feeling.

Don’t “compartmentalize” your grief, thinking it will go-away on its own. It won’t.

Don’t suppress your grief – it will come back to bite you when you least expect it. I know. I did…

Allow yourself to feel sad when you are sad.

I am sad right now, and that’s okay…

You will grieve deepest those you loved most deeply.

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Romans 8:28 – What It DOESN’T Say

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Romans 8:28 may be the most popular verse for Christians to quote when “everything that could go wrong – does“, but it may be little help to someone who is going through some kind of struggle. Rather than helping, it may be like “pouring salt on the wound“, because while what it says is true, what it DOESN’T say is equally-true. SO – what DOESN’T it say?

We are “planners“, and so is God, except that God’s plans always trump our plans, whether we like it or not. When I planned my month-long trip last year, I calculated the mileage of each leg of the trip to within less than five miles. That gave me a good idea of when I would need to refuel my truck and how long the drive would be, except that I couldn’t control the weather. A tropical storm “happened” to park itself off the Gulf coast, so I drove through torrential rain for much of the second leg of the trip. That increased my drive-time and reduced the fuel-economy of my truck, so I had to refuel sooner than expected. Did it REALLY matter? No, except that as I refueling my truck, I was able to talk with an Alabama State Trooper who gave me exact directions to my motel and told me what kinds of restaurants were in that town. No, there wasn’t a Chick-Fil-A. Shucks! God knew what I would need, so He “arranged” that meeting, “courtesy” of the weather. The Trooper pulled into that fuel island less than thirty-seconds after I did. How’s that for coordination? Things don’t always turn out that neat-and-tidy.

The first thing we need to notice is that God is the “active-agent” – “God causes…“. God didn’t consult us when He laid out the plans for our lives, because, according to the Psalmist (Psalm 139:13-16), God’s plans were made before we were even born. I would have had some serious qualms about God’s plans for my life, but He didn’t ask me first. Does He take our “preferences” into account when He makes our plans? Maybe, maybe not…

The next word that hits us between the eyes is “all“. We might be okay with “some“, but we have serious reservations about “all” – ALL! Sure, some things are “okay‘, but some of them really stink, such as an unexpected-death or unwanted-divorce. I have experienced both, and then some…

How about “good“? Romans 8:28 doesn’t even give us the right to define “good“. God wasn’t, and still isn’t hiring consultants to help Him define “good“. Defining “good” is His sole prerogative. His definition of “good” is final. Yes, even death and divorce. Because God sees, knows and ordains the outcomes, sometimes the “good” is the GOOD of someone else whose life we will be able to impact, even though OUR perceived outcome was less than “good“. I have experienced an extended-period of intense-struggle during which I was given the opportunity to do a lot of “good” for another person. While I struggled, I was able to help another person through their struggles. That must have been part of the plan…

Also conspicuously-missing is any form of “time-line“, so we don’t even get to pick WHEN the “good” will happen. It may happen in this life, but there are no guarantees, written, expressed or implied. God is, once-again, the sole-arbiter of that “time-line“. It has taken over twenty years of “train-wrecks” to get me to where I am now. Twenty years, and some of the messes are still not “cleaned-up“. Some of them may not be “cleaned-up” in this lifetime. Twenty-plus years of debris…

“to those who love God”: How well do we show our love for God? If you are anything like me, my love for God waxes and wanes. We are called to humbly trust God, as we progress towards loving Him with all of our being. Only Jesus accomplished that daunting-task perfectly.

to those who are called according to His purpose.“: Also conspicuously-missing is any say on our part in defining God’s purposes. As mentioned previously, God laid out the plans for our lives long before we were even a gleam in our parent’s eyes. God’s purposes are eternal.

Final thoughts…
Romans 8:28 is NOT a “feel-good-pill“, and it may be “cold-comfort” to someone who has or is going through some kind of traumatic-event.

Romans 8:28 doesn’t say that “God is going to make it all better“, because in many cases He doesn’t.

Seeing the “good” may have to wait for Heaven.

Don’t throw Romans 8:28 out there when it may cause more harm than good. It is far-better to simply love the person during and through their hard-times.

If you preach it to yourself, as I have many times, keep in mind that it doesn’t always explain the unexplainable. I still have many unanswered “Why?” questions, and you may too.

God ordained the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the most evil, vile act in human history, for OUR good“, that we may be saved.

God is at work accomplishing His plans and His purposes, and He may use us to accomplish His desired-ends, but He doesn’t have to ask our permission first.

Sola Deo Gloria!