Article by Kim Sullivan.
Grief is a universal experience. We all experience loss, but everyone expresses that grief in their own way. When families grieve together it requires grace and compassion.
At first I was busy taking care of the things that had to be done, trying to shield my mom from as many decisions as I could. And as long as I was busy, I was ok. It wasn’t until about a month later that I realized that the sun didn’t shine as brightly as it had before my father passed away. Sometimes panic or fear would rise up in me. The rest of the family had a good cry, but every time I could feel grief swell up in me I carefully pushed it aside. I was sure I would break in two if I let the tears come.
My father passed away suddenly. There was no time for goodbyes. No time for making peace with the idea of losing him. I felt responsible for my mother’s well-being, and the truth was that I hardly knew how to be responsible over my own life. I could barely breathe for the tightness in my chest.
Other people could talk about memories with smiles on their faces. I wanted to avoid the subject of my father altogether, which in and of itself made me feel guilty.
But years later, the sun does shine brightly again, and I am able to talk about my wonderful, godly father. God was in the process all along. He is faithful even in our darkest times.
Communal grieving works better when we have the grace to drop some unrealistic expectations:
Don’t expect everyone to grieve in the same way.
My mother and daughter shed pools of tears. They held one another and laughed at funny family stories. My sons gave random hugs and showed physical affection especially to my mother and me. I kept myself busy; washing dishes, planning a memorial service, writing a eulogy; busy, busy, busy.
But God was in each person’s coping, and He will guide each beautiful individual to a place of peace. Trust that God is leading each family member on a careful journey designed for each one’s healing. Give some space and time. Don’t fall into the immature trap of thinking that everyone must deal with situations the same way that you do. Romans 12:15-16 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
Don’t expect everyone to grieve within the same time period.
Do not judge the person who still grieves after what you feel is “too long.” Feel free to encourage family members to receive counseling. Many churches offer Grief Share and other groups to help in the process of grieving. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult times that a human being experiences. Getting help can be a healing and fulfilling experience. Galatians 6:2 tells us, “to bear one another’s burdens for this is how we fulfill the law of Christ.”
Don’t try to go through difficulties alone.
This is one of the beauties of family life. We help one another. We watch out for one another. Community is an important component of the Christian life. Be careful not to isolate yourself or allow a family member to isolate themselves during a time of grieving. On the other hand, give each member some time alone as well. When my father passed away I called my mom every day for three years! Sometimes we would talk for hours, other times just for a few minutes. I tried to be sensitive to what she seemed to need each phone call. If you notice a child, spouse, or parent beginning to pull into isolation, see if you can draw them out with a simple invitation to coffee or ice cream. Offer to do something with them that they have enjoyed in the past. Make yourself available to your family for whatever they might need. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire;He rages against all wise judgment.”
Above all, remember that the Father promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is the Comforter. Grieving can be a time of growth in your relationship with God. Read the Psalms. Trust and pray that God is also caring for each of your loved ones as you walk together in this process. Grieving together can draw your family closer together, if you give up unrealistic expectations and allow each individual to process their grief. Just as Psalm 23 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Kim Sullivan is the executive director of Love INC of Tinley Park, IL, a non-profit service organization that brings together local churches, volunteers, and community agencies to help people in need. Kim began this new career in 2012 after “retiring” from home educating her three children. Kim’s passion for writing began as a child with her love of reading, and her first manuscript was a children’s picture book. She blogs at Journey to Epiphany. As a Christian, Kim believes that her relationship with Christ is the most important thing in her life. He is all that matters and she is very grateful to be His girl. Kim loves finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and finding lessons in unexpected places.