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 The “normal” has been replaced by something that is NOT normal.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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Inactivity

I lament that I have been unable to post anything to this blog in over a month. Part of that was due to the intense-preparation I had to put into getting ready for the CNA Spring Conference, which was February 24-26. I spent over six weeks getting ready to speak during the Sunday morning service, and then just a week before the event, I was asked to also speak on Saturday morning. That last one had me scrambling for material. Thankfully I had plenty of material at my finger-tips.

I went into the Conference already dog-tired, and the Conference didn’t help matters in that regard. Between being sick for the first two weeks after the Conference, and having family (mom was hospitalized for a week) and personal emergencies (my refrigerator died) to deal with, I have “lost” three weeks since the Conference. I finally had to go to VA Urgent Care on March 10th if I was going to have any chance of getting well anytime soon. IV fluids, IV antibiotics and a prescription for more antibiotics have slowly done their job. I am finally “on-the-mend” and starting to feel like a human-being for a change.

In addition to my personal-issues, a close friend lost both her dad and her best-friend this week, and I am about the only “support-system” she has. She also lost her mom about eighteen-months ago, so she has taken a huge emotional-toll.

My mom has now been put in a Hospice House, and she is dyeing by inches. She has a whole host of health problems, probably including cancer, and she is also 86 years old. She is my only remaining blood-relative since I also lost my dad 3 1/2 years ago. This is taking a huge emotional and physical toll on me, so I am pretty much a “basket-case“.

Hopefully I can get back “on-track” in the coming weeks and get back to writing and posting regularly. I will be posting my material for both Saturday and Sunday shortly. Until then, please keep me and mom in your prayers.

Update 4/4/17:

My beloved mom went to be with the Lord this morning at 2:00 after a long illness. She passed peacefully in her sleep at one of the Hospice facilities in Ocala, Florida. I am already badly missing her. Please continue to keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,
Steve

There Is A Balm In Gilead

A recent post by Rebekah Hope (rebekahhopes.wordpress.com) brought this great old hymn to mind, because not only do we need physical healing in this life, we also need spiritual healing. Jesus is the Great Physician, but how often do we go to Him with our deepest hurts?

There Is A Balm In Gilead

Refrain
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

God cares…
God cares about your broken marriage.

God cares about your grief over a loved-one who was struck down by cancer.

God care about your dysfunctional relationships.

God care about your friend who is suffering from chronic illness.

God cares about all of your hard questions, including those that start with “WHY?”.

God cares about your anxieties and insecurities.

God cares about your physical ailments.

God cares about your addictions and struggles with persistent sin.

Answers…
God doesn’t always give us the answers that we want, but He WILL give us the strength to carry on.

God doesn’t always heal our broken relationships, but He will give us the strength to work through our own emotional and psychological hurts and aches.

God won’t take our grief away, but He will wrap arms of love around us as we work through our grief.

God doesn’t always heal our physical ailments, or those of our loved-ones, but He will help us deal with them in a manner that makes us better people and trust Him more deeply.

God won’t take away your anxieties and insecurities, but He may send people into your path who can help you with your anxieties and insecurities. He may also give you the courage to own and face your anxieties and insecurities.

God may not take away your friend’s chronic illness, but He may send you to help that person get through those times of illness.

God may NOT Take away your addictions or release you from your persistent sins, but He will give you arms of love to flee to as you realize that those things are bigger than you are.

The Balm of Gilead…
Yes, there IS a Balm in Gilead, and that Balm is the blood of Christ. Some of our wounds ARE deep. Some of our struggles are over our heads, and we ARE powerless to release ourselves from sin, but none of those things are beyond the power of God through the blood of Christ. That is what GRACE is all about. God is able to do what we are powerless to do, to heal our sin-sick souls.

May you come to the Great Physician for His healing Balm of Gilead.

Steve