Losing a loved one is never an easy experience. Our society does a poor job of caring for others after the death of a loved one. In a culture that values speed, constant stimulation, busyness, and productivity, there is often little room for grief – and even less tolerance when the grief is perceived as ongoing.
The death of Robin Williams in August of 2014 sparked a lot of discussion about grief. Zak Williams, Robin’s son, was interviewed by People Magazine in December 2014 about the loss of his father. I recently did a Google search to find the article and the first hit from abcnews.com read, “Zak Williams still hasn’t gotten over the death of his famous father, Robin Williams, earlier this summer.” I was immediately frustrated and saddened by the phrase “still hasn’t gotten over [his] death.” Four months after losing his father, Zak was perceived as having prolonged grief because he was not yet over his father’s death. That leads me to ask: Does anyone really get over losing a loved one? Are we supposed to get over it? I would argue that we don’t and that we shouldn’t.
Dealing with Grief
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler are known for their work surrounding grief and loss. They are responsible for putting together what we know as the Five Stages of Grief, which are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. If you have experienced the loss of someone, especially in death, you have likely experienced these stages, sometimes individually, sometimes combined, and oftentimes not in order.
Death is the Great Equalizer
These stages of grief exist for a reason. Death is the ultimate sign that something is not right in our world. We are surrounded by difficult circumstances and are constantly bombarded with bad news, but death seems to be the universal equalizer. As a Christian, I believe the Bible is absolutely true and I believe that we don’t have to experience a permanent death and be eternally separated from God. Physical death is certain, but I know that we can have eternal life with Christ.
No Easy Answers
If you are anything like me, you’ll experience about three seconds of comfort after reading that last statement. Even in believing that there is eternal life through Christ, I am still left with the thoughts and questions of the here and now. I’ll be honest: Death sucks. I’m selfish and I want all the people I love to remain on this earth so that I don’t have to feel the pain of not having them in my life. I don’t want to encounter the five stages of grief, or feel the pain of denial, anger, depression, and the anxiety of the bargaining process. And I certainly don’t want to just accept the outcome as if all is well. So what do we do with our emotions? How do we move through grief when it changes us so deeply? How do we deal with the knowledge that at some point we will all come face to face with losing someone we love?
Losing a Loved One Changes You
There is no formula or checklist I can offer that will get you through the grief process. Time, support, and patience are the things needed for the process. The expression “Time heals all wounds” is not helpful. In fact, I don’t even think it is true. Losing a loved one changes you – it has to. To not be changed by death is to deny the significance of a life. I don’t think that healing occurs in the way we understand healing. Time offers perspective, an opportunity for growth, and wisdom – and maybe even understanding of the loss. But it certainly doesn’t heal. I do believe that Jesus can use time, along with His grace, to heal broken hearts, but time does not offer healing in and of itself.
Give Yourself Time
There is no time limit on feeling the weight of grief. But it becomes difficult for others to watch you grieve when they have moved on from the despair of the loss. I believe that we therefore project onto others the idea that they should “get over it.” The loss of Robin Williams was a shock to most of those who did not know him. We only saw the funny man on TV and in the movies, and probably assumed that he did not struggle with depression. When he died, we grieved briefly for him and then went about our daily lives without much thought. But those who were in his life and were impacted by his presence and friendship did not and will not stop grieving as those who only knew him through the screen did. They will continue to mourn his passing because their lives have been forever changed by his absence.
Christian Counseling to Process Grief
Allowing yourself to feel the grief and to process it is the best way to show yourself compassion and care. Cry, scream, sleep, eat junk food, share stories and memories, and talk about your feelings. Do what you need to do in order to grieve. Find someone who is willing to walk through this with you so that you can get the support you need. Know that while you are experiencing grief, others who love you are also affected by it, and this can sometimes cause other problems to develop in your life. Christian counseling can be a place in which you can work through the grief, process other issues that may come up as a result of it, and continue on with your life in the midst of being changed by the loss. As a Christian counselor, I do not expect someone dealing with grief to suddenly “get over” the loss they have experienced. Both my training and, more importantly, my experience have taught me that this process takes time and I am willing to offer compassion and patience during the course of grief.
I’m more than willing to walk through the painful emotions and thoughts that accompany a loss and to help you find some resolve in order to live a more fulfilling life.
“New time,” courtesy of frankieleon, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Rainy Day,” courtesy of seyed mostafa zamani, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “hidden vision,” courtesy of Adam_T4, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)