Will Grief Ever Go Away? - Death, Loss, and Divorce Insights from an Average Joe
Average Joes: Arena Heroes
Several times a year we strategically invite the “Average Joe” on the Men in the Arena Podcast. They have never written a book. They do not travel the country public speaking. They do not have a huge social media following. But they are heroes. They are what every man should aspire to based on the qualifications of leadership in the Pastoral Epistles that Gene Getz so brilliantly wrote about in his classic, The Measure of a Man. They have stepped out of the anonymous bleachers and into the Arena. Because they get it—everyone wins.
Not so Average Joe
I met Joe Myall in the late 1990s when he joined our youth ministry team at El Morro Church of the Nazarene in Los Osos, California. There he served faithfully until eventually moving to Washington with his wife, Robyn. In 2015 Robyn was diagnosed with Stage-4 metastatic cancer of unknown origin and was given 2-3 months to live. She declined any diagnostic tests or treatment, opting for quality over quantity of life, and lived two-and-a-half years at home, before passing away with her family at her side. I spoke to Joe on numerous occasions as he battled through the grieving process and, by his own admission, made some pretty poor decisions during that time, along with some pretty impressive ones. You can learn all about it on the podcast.
5 Stages of Grief and Loss (taken from Psych Central)
I am not an expert in this area. I have not experienced grief like many of you have. I am simply a guide offering research and leading you to the right questions and answers. As Joe shared from his experience on the podcast, these stages are not necessarily in sequential order and may resurface anywhere in the mix at any time. Generally, speaking here they are:
Stage 1. Denial and Isolation.
The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. Denial is a reaction to terrible news with thoughts and comments like, “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening, I don’t believe you.” It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions. Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
Stage 2. Anger.
Where denial may be considered a coping mechanism, anger is a masking effect. Anger is hiding many of the emotions and pain that you carry. This anger may be redirected at other people, such as the person who died, your ex-wife, or a parent after divorce. You may even aim your anger at inanimate objects. While your rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings at that moment are too intense to feel that. Not everyone will experience this stage, and some may linger here. As the anger subsides, however, you may begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and feel the emotions you’ve been pushing aside.
Stage 3. Bargaining.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as: “If only” we had sought medical attention sooner. “If only” we got a second opinion from another doctor. “If only” we had tried to be a better person toward them. Secretly, we may make a deal with God in an attempt to postpone the inevitable pain. This is a weak attempt to protect us from the painful reality. Guilt often accompanies bargaining when we believe that there was something we could have done to save our loved one.
Stage 4. Depression.
This is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
Stage 5. Acceptance.
Acceptance is not necessarily a happy or uplifting stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you’ve moved past the grief or loss. It does, however, mean that you’ve accepted it and have come to understand what it means in your life now. You may feel very different in this stage. That’s entirely expected. You’ve had a major change in your life, and that will change the way you feel about many things. Look to acceptance as a way to see that there may be more good days than bad, but there may still be bad. That’s okay and normal.
Say This, Not That.
As a pastor for decades, I have horror stories of things people say to those suffering grief. A high school gal in my youth group was grieving the suicide of her Christian mother when a woman from church approached her at the funeral and said, “I am so sorry that your mom is suffering in Hell because she committed suicide.” What sick person says this?
- Don’t quote out-of-context Bible verses. In fact, don’t quote any. Pray them over a grieving person but people don’t need your Bible exposition during grief. They need your comfort. You are often the comfort God offers another.
- Don’t tell someone, “You know how they feel.” You don’t.
- Don’t tell them to call you if they need anything. They won’t. Do something for them. Their life is a blur and only those who take initiative will be helpful.
- Don’t compare your grief with someone else’s. One man who divorced tried to compare his divorce with Joe’s loss. He tells the story on the Podcast. Wrong.
Instead, say nothing. Minister with your presence.
Or say, “I have NO IDEA how you feel but I’m here for you.
Be there to answer questions, pray with them (often), and be the hands, feet, and arms of Jesus.
If their spouse has died, set an extra plate at your table and invite them for dinner (couples only).
Boots on the Ground
If you are at any stage of grief right now, two books were really helpful to Joe. And if they are good enough for Joe, they are good enough for me. They are: Experiencing Grief by H. Norm Wright, and Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb.