The sudden or untimely death of a loved one—is there anything that rocks human emotions more? Here’s a look at grief and how to deal with loss.
In the aftermath of the untimely death of a loved one, we deal with tidal waves of emotions and a sense of loss. We cry, grieve and seek answers to how and why this could have happened. Initial shock and numbness eventually give way to loneliness as we struggle with the emptiness left in death’s wake.
In coming to grips with such a sudden loss, grieving is a healthy part of the process of recovery. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a “time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Grieving is a normal part of the emotional healing process. How long—and to what degree—depends on the situation and the person. There is no standard time frame for dealing with loss.
Five “stages” of grief
In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined what’s become known as the Kübler-Ross model for how people deal with grief. She wrote about five “stages” that human beings often go through in dealing with their own impending death or with the loss of loved ones or other extreme situations. (In answer to critics, she acknowledged that some people go through some of these emotions concurrently or in a different order or that they may not experience some of them at all. Each person’s experience is unique. These five “stages” may be better thought of as five aspects of grieving rather than rigid stages.)
Dr. Kübler-Ross’s model is only one approach, but it can be useful to consider the five stages she described:
Denial: In the first stage of grief, we operate from the standpoint of “I’m fine.” We are not yet able to accept the reality of the situation and instead deal with it by denying its severity. Refusing to acknowledge the loss is our initial defense mechanism.
Anger: At some point, denial may give way to anger. We may ask questions like, “Why me?” Or we make statements such as, “It isn’t fair!” We may demonstrate our anger by yelling at people or exhibiting a lack of patience.
Bargaining: This reaction is experienced in certain cases of grief. For example: We are told by a family member or friend that he or she is dying, and we begin to try to bargain with God. We may cry out to God and ask that He spare the person’s life. We tell Him that, in return, we will be a better person, go to church every week, volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, etc.
Depression: For the one facing death, depression may well be the next step. For those struggling to accept the loss of a loved one, this may also be familiar territory. “What’s the use?” “I just don’t care anymore.” Having experienced waves of nearly every emotion up to this point, we find nothing that fills the void. In our grief, we may feel there is nothing to be done and enter a depressed state of mind—mentally and emotionally surrendered.
As we face these five aspects of grief, we may find that we move through some faster than others.Acceptance: Finally, we may come to an acceptance of the loss. Shock and numbness fade somewhat. We realize that there is nothing we can do to bring the person back (or to change the impending outcome, if it’s our own demise we face). We accept that fact, and we move forward with life as it really is, taking one step at a time.
Navigating uncharted waters
As we face these five aspects of grief, we may find that we move through some faster than others. For example, we may make our way through the shock and numbness of denial rather quickly, but then find ourselves laboring in the emptiness of depression.
Ultimately our desire is to move to acceptance. But how do we get there? Can we do it on our own? What role may others play in dealing with our grief?
We may be in what we call “uncharted waters,” experiencing things we have never experienced before. We may not want to ask for help. Some may feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness. But really, nothing could be further from the truth!
On the other hand, some try to deal with grief by using alcohol or other drugs. Using mood-altering substances can temporarily diminish our grief or mask our pain. However, after coming out of our substance-assisted escape, we find ourselves right back where we were before—needing to deal with the grief.
Remember, our goal in dealing with grief is to make it to the final stage of acceptance.
So how do we get there? How do we get to acceptance?
There is no set template that can be universally followed. However, there are a few common-sense solutions to get back to moving on with our lives.
Family and friends
Family members and friends can be a tremendous source of encouragement, comfort and help. Having a few close friends with whom we can talk about our grief is extremely therapeutic. We may not be asking them for answers as much as just needing to talk to someone who will empathize with us.
Encouragement and guidance from God
Talking to family and friends can help us through the grieving process, but it is most important that we look to the higher power of Almighty God for strength and guidance as we navigate the heavy, rushing river of emotions and grief following a loved one’s death.
God’s inspired Word tells us that we will see our loved ones again. Jesus Christ assured us of this very fact in John 5:28 where He stated, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice.”
Human beings view death as permanent and final. Yet Jesus Christ is telling us that death is temporary—that those who die are described in Scripture as being asleep in their graves until the time they hear His voice and rise from their physical graves.
Several passages in the Bible speak to the state of human beings and the resurrections. We find some of those encouraging and inspiring words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; and Ezekiel 37. We also know that death is something that no one will escape, as Hebrews 9:27 tells us.
For more information about what the Bible tells us happens after death, we encourage you to read our article “Resurrections: What Are They?”
We all must face trials in this life. It is through the process of trials that God determines what we are made of. More information about this very fact can be found in the thought-provoking and ultimately encouraging article “Why Does God Allow Suffering?”
The untimely death of a loved one and the ensuing onset of grief is a trial we may have to face.
On the other hand, we should remember that God tells us He will not try or test us beyond what we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we understand these inspired words from God, we can move a little closer to that all-important stage of acceptance.
For more practical advice on helping someone dealing with grief, read our blog post “How to Help Someone Who’s Grieving.”
For more information and guidance from God’s Word, we encourage you to explore the biblical truths found in the articles in our section on “Is There Life After Death?”