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The Process of Grief

Written By Jonathan Neef

It hit me out of nowhere.

One minute I am joyfully planning my daughter’s first birthday party, and the next minute I am overwhelmed with different emotions. My shoulders are tense with anger, my gut feels hollow with anxiety, my body feels drained of all energy. I am starting to feel numb, and all I want to do is curl up on the couch, eat ice cream, and watch sports.

All motivation for party planning, and all of my other responsibilities, has disappeared. I feel worthless. And it hit me out of nowhere.

I know why. “Why” isn’t the problem. I am grieving because my mom died when I was young, and I want her to be here for my daughter’s first birthday. I want her to meet my daughter, to celebrate with me, to be proud of her first grandchild and to be proud of me. So I know the “why.”

The conversation about the party ends rather abruptly, and my wife knows something is up. We both know something is wrong, but I don’t want to talk about it. Why not? Because I should be over this. My mom died when I was a kid. I have been through years of counseling and already worked through this grief. I don’t feel that I should be grieving again, nor that this grief should ruin my ability to plan my daughter’s birthday.

Why am I rambling on about this? Why are you hearing some grief story from me? Because I don’t think my story is unique. I think many of us deal with grief on a day-to-day basis. Sure, your grief probably looks different than my example. Some of us are grieving the loss of a friendship, having an identity crisis, mourning the loss of a life stage, or hurting from a divorce.

Grief can look different for each of us, but we all grieve. And I would wager that we all get tired of the grieving process. It is the word “process” that I want you to remember. Grief is a process. 

This blog can’t talk about everything regarding grief, but let me make a few observations based on common questions.

What is grief?

The dictionary defines grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.” But I also love this quote from author and chaplain Kate Braestrup, who says, “Grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.” Basically, grief is an intense emotional response to change. Often, the change makes a feel a sense of loss and the loss occurs because we have loved.

What can often be the difficult thing about grief is that we view it as a negative emotion that we shouldn’t experience. And if we do experience grief, then we expect grief to occur quickly, quietly, and for us to be over it without making a scene. But that’s not how grief works.

Grief is complex, and different stages of our life can bring fresh waves of grief crashing over us. One of the most important insights in my own life was when my counselor talked about each stage of my life bringing new and fresh pain to the grieving process. Let’s examine that further with our second question.

Why can’t I get over my grief?

Grief is a process. The five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Denial is where we suppress our feelings in order to survive. This denial is actually a grace to us because it allows us to  push down our emotions until we are able to handle them.

Anger is often thought of as something to be avoided, but actually, anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Anger is often a secondary emotional response to loss, sadness, or fear so expressing our anger helps us in the journey to understanding our grief.

Bargaining is when we start to rationalize and make promises of what we will do instead of dealing with the pain and loss.

Depression sets in when the sadness feels overwhelming and hope is diminished. It is important to remember that these feelings are part of the grieving process and that they will not last forever.

Acceptance is not to be confused with being “ok” with what happened. Rather, this is about accepting the reality of what has occurred and that it is the new permanent reality.

With all these stages of grief, the point is to remember that grief is a process and that no one grieves exactly the same way as someone else. While there are many unhealthy ways of grieving (addiction, substance abuse, self-harm, etc.), we need to remember there is no one right way to grieve. Therefore, we can show grace both to ourselves and to others if we grieve differently. This understanding of grief has helped me see how each new stage of life brings a new stage of grieving.

Sometimes I’m not sad (though I think I should be) on certain occasions like Mother’s Day. And other times I am sad or angry when it hits me out of nowhere (like planning my daughter’s birthday). I hope this understanding of grief gives you freedom to know that grief isn’t something we get over, rather it is something we work through.

Is grieving wrong?

People often feel ashamed that they are grieving. After all, there are Bible verses that say “count it all joy” through various trials (James 1:2) and “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). So, is grieving wrong?

Without getting into the details of those particular verses, it is important to look at the entire canon of Scripture when it comes to grief. When we do this, we see that many characters of the Bible experience grief, pain, loss, and suffering (look at Job, the prophets, or David for a few examples). In fact, many of the Psalms are meant to teach us how to grieve. We also see that each member of the Trinity expresses grief throughout Scripture.

Therefore, if examples of grief are found throughout Scripture, and we see that God can grieve, surely this gives us the ability to grieve without sin or shame. I realize that grief is difficult, can feel shameful, and is often frowned upon in our society, but I want you to hear that grieving is not a moral issue, and that God can handle your grief.

My own journey has taught me that God is able to handle my grief, and can take whatever I can throw at Him. Furthermore, I don’t need to feel guilty for not being sad when I think I should. Nor do I need to feel guilty when I am sad and I don’t think I should be.

God loves me and gives me grace wherever I am in the grieving process. This is still hard for me to accept, but every time my grief hits me it is a new opportunity for me to realize the love and grace of my heavenly Father, and to be reminded of the words of Jesus, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

What do I do with my grief?

Grief is part of what it means to be human. We experience grief as a result of the sin and brokenness of this world. There will come a day when we will no longer experience grief.

But while we wait for the day, we are not meant to experience our grief alone. God made us relational beings, to know and be known by others. Therefore, we need to process our grief with others. We see this in the Psalms. The Psalms give examples from others of how they processed their grief and poured their heart out to God. Hopefully, the Psalms can give you words to express your emotions both to God and others.

So please talk to someone! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to a friend or loved one who is a safe person for you
  • Meet with your pastor
  • Meet with a counselor (your pastor can help you find one)
  • Attend GriefShare at our Leawood Campus
  • Above all, express your grief to God

While I do not know the complexities of your grief, there is One who does. Jesus knows your pain. Jesus came to suffer for you. Jesus died for you. And Jesus conquered the grave to assure us that one day every wrong will be made right and every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4).


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