- we are authentically engaging the emotions that come with loss - rather than stuffing or denying them. As many grief experts say, "You can't heal what you don't feel."
- we are protesting the injustice of the loss - rather than acting like it was okay with us
- we are expressing that we deeply wish the loss had never occurred - rather than minimizing it
- we are facing the devastating impact of the loss head on, absorbing it and eventually mastering it - rather than running from it, deflecting it or pretending it didn't happen, only to have its effects hit us again and again
- we are allowing our brain to replay the tapes of our disturbing and traumatic memories in a sale environment, thereby robbing them of their terror and integrating them into our rebuilding life.
- we are inviting Jesus to enter the dark forest of our pain, experience it with us, comfort us in the midst of it and walk us out the other side of it - rather than sitting passively alone and paralyzed at the edge.
- unresolved grief is a factor in the development of a wide range of psychological problems including outbursts of rage, restlessness, depression, addiction, compulsion, anxiety, and panic disorders.
- unexpressed grief is linked to the development or worsening of medical problems such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, asthma, and a variety of allergies, rashes, aches and pains.
- we are at odd with our body's built-in psychological processes to deal with a traumatic event.
- we are at odds with God's spiritual intentions to meet us in the midst of the fire of our trauma, causing us to miss out on His plans to deepen our faith and strengthen our relationship with Him.
Grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. If gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
As you read through the following list of symptoms, check any that you are experiencing.
- Fear. You may fear that you will experience more losses, that your husband won't get any better, that your symptoms won't improve or might even get worse, or you won't be able to endure the pressure now existing in your household. You may fear your friends will abandon you in your pain, that your husband might harm you or your children, or that he might leave you.
- Anger. It doesn't have to be logical. You could be mad at yourself, your circumstances, your husband for coming back so changed, at the military, at God for allowing your husband's trauma, at the paperboy for bringing more bad news about the war, at your neighbor for being intrusively helpful and caring. Your anger might be seething just below the surface for a long time.
- Rage. You may yell, scream, stomp, slam doors, kick the trash can, kick the dog, pound your pillows, throw things, yank things off walls or our of the ground. Sometimes you feel better afterwards. Usually you don't.
- Weeping. You may cry. Then cry some more. And more. And just when you think you couldn't possibly have any more tears to cry, you cry some more. You may wail, or just sit in a chair, tears flowing down your face like a waterfall.
- Guilt. If only I'd... What if... I should have... Hindsight and regret could occupy your thoughts for a while. As illogical as it sounds, you may blame yourself for what happened to your husband or for what's happening in your household.
- Loneliness. You may feel that no one can understand what you're going through now - and that no one wants to, either. People may indeed avoid you for a while - not because they don't hurt deeply for you, but because they just don't know what to do or say. So they choose the typical default setting: nothing.
- Blaming. This is so unfair! Where's the justice? What did we do to deserve this? Somebody has to be held accountable! Why didn't my husband take better care of himself? Why didn't the military protect him better? Why doesn't he get over this?
- Running away/numbing. You may look desperately for an "escape hatch." There must be a way out of this! You may try drugs, alcohol, work, travel, ministry, sex, food, shopping, gambling - anything to get you away from your difficult environment.
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sexual desire
- Memory lags, mental short-circuits
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Sleepiness, fatigue, lethargy
- Feeling abandoned
- Overly talkative
- No desire to talk
- Feeling out of control
- Emotionally overloaded
- No feelings at all
- Others not on the list _____
In our shallow, sensual way of looking at life, we tend to measure God's presence by the kind of emotion we feel. Happy feelings that make us want to sing, we assume, are evidence that God's Spirit is present. We think a sense of lostness or confusion or struggle indicates His absence.
Meanwhile, where is God? . . . Go to Him when your need is separate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double-bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are not lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once.How closely can you identify with Lewis' "crisis of faith?"
His crisis didn't last forever. By the end of his journal, we read how he had come out of the other side of the dark forest, with more clarity, more love and stronger faith than ever before:
Turned to God, my mind no longer meets that locked door; turned to Joy, it no longer meets that vacuum . . . There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight. When you first notice them, they have already been going on for some time.
God is aware of your circumstances and moves among them.
God is aware of your pain and monitors every second of it.
God is aware of your emptiness and seeks to fill it in a manner beyond your dreams.
God is aware of your wounds and scars and knows how to draw forth a healing deeper than you can imagine.
Even when your situation seems out of control.
Even when you feel alone and afraid.
God works the night shift.What you can expect from others
When you have experienced a great trauma or loss and your grief is assumed and evident to all those around, you will be treated differently for a while. This is to be expected - but some treatment you receive is helpful and some you could do without. As C. S. Lewis expressed in his journal, "Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers."
The less-than-helpful things. Especially in the Western world, social taboos have been invented that make us try to avoid or deny any discomfort from loss. We look with disdain at the outpouring of grief in other cultures and accuse them of "lack of control." We don't realize we are the foolish ones, holding in something that would be better let out.
But it's important to remember that your friends mean well. Their insensitivity is not because they intend to hurt you or prolong your grief - it's just that they're uninformed about what to do and how to help. When the following comments are shared, it's best to see the good hearts behind them. Smile if you can, say thanks, and move on. But don't follow their advice! Check the ones you've heard...
- You need to put it behind you. Time to move on.
- Don't dwell in the past.
- You just need a good distraction.
- Think happy thoughts!
- Haven't you prayed about this yet?
- Don't "cave in" to your sorrow. Keep a stiff upper lip!
- You should be over this by now.
- What would Jesus do? (counseling by cliche')
- It's not as bad as it seems.
- Keep a grip on your emotions. Don't cry in front of anyone.
- Since you're a Christian, you shouldn't be grieving. Don't you know that God works everything out for the good?
- You'll feel better tomorrow.
- Hey! Did you see that special on TV last night? (In other words, let's talk about anything else but your grief.)
- Be strong for your kids - don't let them see you cry.
- How are you? (but they don't really want you to tell them too much."
- You think that's bad? Let me tell you what happened to me...
- If you just had a little more faith, this wouldn't seem so bad.
- When they ask, "How are you?" they really want to know, and they stick around for the answer.
- They're willing to give you their time; available when you need them.
- They'll sacrifice fro you.
- They're good listeners, non-judgmental, won't interrupt you to talk about themselves.
- They take the initiative with you; they reach out to you by calling you up, asking you out, including you in their lives.
- They find out what you need and then go get it for you.
- They'll pray for you and pray with you.
- They won't mind if you cry, in face they'll end up crying with you.
- They've got your back.
- Act out - giving in to the pressure to misbehave.
- Aim low - to what seems more achievable.
- Attack - beat down what's threatening you.
- Avoid - stay away from anything that causes you stress.
- Compensate - make up for weakness in one area by gaining strength in another.
- Deny - refusing to acknowledge that the event occurred.
- Displace - shifting an intended action to a safer target (like kicking the dogs).
- Fantasize - escaping the reality to a world of unachievable wishes.
- Idealize - playing up the good points of a desired action and ignoring downsides.
- Identify - copying others to take on their desirable characteristics.
- Intellectualize - avoiding emotions by focusing on facts and logic.
- Passive aggression - getting your way by pointedly avoiding what is expected
- Project - seeing your own undesirable characteristics in others.
- Rationalize - creating logical reasons for self-destructive behavior
- Regress - returning to a child state to avoid problems or responsibility.
- Suppress - consciously holding back unwanted urges while ignoring the root cause.
- Trivialize - making something small when it really is something big.
- Immobilization stage - Shock; initial paralysis after being exposed to the crisis or trauma. It takes a while for the enormity to register and sink in. Jaw drops, breath catches, can't decide what to do next.
- Denial stage - Trying to avoid the inevitable. No! This can't be happening! Or, It didn't affect me; it's not that bad. Or even: It never happened. I just imagined it.
- Anger stage - Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up-emotion. Life sucks!! Rage seething belong the surface at all times; lashing out at anyone for the slightest reason; blaming others; sometimes cold, ice anger; self-isolating to avoid blowing up.
- Bargaining stage - Seeking in vain for a way out. Making promises to God if He'll fix things; setting conditions for healing, like: When my husband returns to normal, then I'll be okay.
- Depression stage - Final realization of the inevitable. A very sad time, but also the turning point, because the griever is finally resolved to the fact that he or she won't be able to restore life to the way it was. It's the staging area for victory.
- Testing stage - Seeking realistic solutions. Maybe I should try getting out more. Maybe I should talk with someone about my situation. Maybe I should start exercising again. Maybe I should join that Bible study I heard about.
- Acceptance stage - Finally finding the way forward. They are not fully acknowledging the trauma or crisis. It was bad - real bad - but I survived. I'm going to make it. My world changed, but I can live in this new world. I could even prosper.