Helping people through grief

These are the notes that went with this message, rather than a transcription of what was said. As with all our recent sermons, you can watch the video in the North Springfield Baptist Church Facebook Group, or on the YouTube Channel for North Springfield Baptist Church Chelmsford UK.

What could I say? Helping other people through grief

“Grief is coping with loss. Grief is our normal response when someone or something of value is lost,
and the griever is faced with the emptiness and the problems of readjusting.”

Aspects of grief
Grief is complicated. It affects us profoundly in a number of ways: our emotions, our thought processes and our relationships with other people. Grief can also have physical effects on our sleep patterns, our appetite, our energy levels and our health. And grief has a spiritual dimension – many people find grieving affects their relationship with God.
You have probably already experienced grief as a result of bereavement, maybe after the death of a parent or another loved one, so you know how grief felt for you.

Sometimes grief can be so painful that people think that they must be doing something wrong. But the reality is that grief is always painful. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Grieving is a process we need to go through, and there is no way round it, although I will make some suggestions about things which can help.

Causes of grief

• Death of a loved one
• Loss of a beloved pet
• Loss of a job – especially through sacking, redundancy or retirement
• Loss of a friendship
• Loss of a romantic relationship – divorce is the death of a marriage.
• Loss of a physical ability e.g. sight, mobility, due to accident or illness
• Loss of a personal dream or aspiration

Grief is a process

Stage 1 DENIAL Shock, Numbness 5-7 days
Stage 2 ANGER emotional Release, Guilt A few months
Stage 4 DEPRESSION Yearning, Disorganisation, Despair A year or two
Stage 5 ACCEPTANCE and reorientation Ongoing

Some people misunderstand the idea of stages of grief. They are not sequential. You can’t say “I’ve moved on from denial and now I am in anger.” The stages overlap and some people sometimes experience them out of order. The reality is that for everybody “Grief is a roller-coaster.” But recognising the process helps some people find hope that things will get less painful in time.

FOUR TASKS every person who is grieving faces
1. Accepting the reality of the loss
2. Feeling and admitting the pain of the loss
3. Adjusting to the new environment without the lost
4. Forming new relationships without the lost

When bereavement can be more difficult
When the death is exceptionally untimely, e.g. death of a child or baby
Death by suicide
Death following prolonged terminal illness
When the cause of death is incomprehensible
When the survivor feels guilt because they caused the death
The first experience of major grief is often harder.
Grief experienced in childhood can be harder
When the mourner was extremely dependent on the lost person
When the mourner was the primary carer for the lost person – they have lost not only the person they loved but also much of their daily activities
When mourner and deceased were so close there were no other relationships
Work, family or other circumstances disallow expressions of grief
The dead person extracted promises e.g. not to grieve, be sad, remarry, move
The griever believes that Christian joy should prevent sadness and grief

IN OTHER SIGNIFICANT LOSSES – divorce, the death of a marriage, redundancy can have equivalent factors making them more difficult or complex.

ANTICIPATORY GRIEF – e.g. in terminal illness or dementia, grieving in advance for what one is about to lose. This is present for the person who is passing as well as for their loved ones. Anticipatory grief mourns for the past which will never come again, for the present as the dying person becomes more incapacitated and for the future experiences which will never be shared, as well as for the death.

When grief goes wrong – the warning signs
Pretending the dead person is still alive
Excessive and premature “jumping back” into normal life
Unwillingness to talk about the deceased
Tendency to speak about the deceased person in the present, as if still alive
Open or subtle threats of self-destruction
Persisting deep depression, guilt and low self-esteem
Antisocial behaviour
Excessive hostility, moodiness or guilt
Excessive drinking or drug abuse
Withdrawal and refusal to interact with any others
Persisting psychosomatic illnesses
Veneration of objects linked to the deceased e.g. refusing to change the room
Refusal to accept counselling or other help
Stoic refusal to show emotion or appear affected by the loss: denial/avoidance
Impulsiveness or intense busyness and unusual hyperactivity

Advice for a person who is grieving
• Take your time. Take things slowly.
• Get plenty of rest, eat good meals and try to get regular exercise
• Reading, puzzles or games can help calm your thoughts.
• Be easy on yourself. Your body, your mind and your emotions all need time to heal from the shock and sadness of your loss.
• Avoid making major decisions too soon if possible.
• Accept help and support when offered, even in simple practical tasks.
• Be prepared to ask for help and support.
• Accept that pain is part of the grieving process it should not be ignored.
• Crying helps
• Take time to do things that you enjoy, especially on significant dates.
• Be open to the help of your minister or a counsellor.
• Don’t feel guilty when enjoying good times with family and friends

What could I say?
• People must each go through their own journey of grief, but your love and support can help them through that process.
• The things you do and your attitude are more important than your words. Nothing you can do will make everything better for a person who is grieving.
• Don’t let your own grief impose on theirs. Be patient – give them time and space. Don’t hurry them
• Encourage and support expressions of emotion.
• Accept and do not judge any expressions of grief.
• Don’t impose answers but help people to find their own answers to the problems they face.
• Listen to anything they want to talk about
• Make sure you keep any promises you make, but also set limits on what you do.
• Remember that the processes of grief are shaped by religion and culture.
• Watch out for grieving difficulties, when professional help might be needed.

 Pray for them and offer to pray with them
 Encourage discussion of the loss before and after
 Be present and available
 Encourage expressions of feelings
 Accept without surprise any expressions of grief
 Be a careful listener
 Gently challenge irrational attitudes
 Offer practical help
 Gently offer guidance on major decisions

 Preach or give simplistic answers
 Push or pressurise
 Criticise expressions of grief or grieving rituals
 Encourage major decisions
 DO NOT SAY things like “Don’t cry” or “You’ll soon get over it” or “I know how you feel”

Bible passages for bereavement and grief
We can encourage with our Christian hope, but only when it is Christians who are mourning for Christians who have died, with e.g. John 11:25-26 or 1 Peter 1:3-5. And even Christians need to be encouraged to mourn rather than bury their genuine grief under Christian joy. For everybody, the best passage to turn to is Jesus at the Graveside of Lazarus in John 11.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ (John 11:35:36)
Grief and weeping are natural. God understands our grief. Jesus experienced grief for Lazarus and the Father grieved for the Son dying on the cross.

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