How would you respond to a friend who just lost her husband in a tragic car accident? How about a mom who, with weeping, delivers her stillborn daughter? Or an elderly man who awakes to find his wife of 50 years has passed, unbeknownst to him, as they slept?
We hug. We cry with them. We offer small words of encouragement, rarely believing they are adequate sources of comfort. We organize meals to be sent to the bereaved to ease the strain of daily living. We send cards, flowers—anything we can do just to let them know we’re thinking of them. Praying for them. Letting them know they are not alone.
Death, albeit uncomfortable, heart-breaking, and life-altering, is a form of grief to which we’ve grown accustomed. It is inevitable. Everyone dies, right?
Sure, it’s unfathomable when a loved one is “taken too soon.” For the bereaved, for those mourning the loss, any time is too soon. And we understand that. Nobody has lived without the pain of death brushing or piercing the heart with its prickly tendrils.
But what about the uncommon sources of grief?
How do we define the moments in life that, like death, stun us and take our breath away? We experience a myriad of great losses and it is easy to find ourselves at a loss as to how to cope.
We might start to believe there is something wrong with us. Why can’t we just move on? Why can’t we just get over it? Would we say that to the woman who lost her husband in an accident? Would we tell the mother of her stillborn baby to just get over it? No! So, it’s time we stop lying to ourselves and understand that grief is complicated, and the grieving process is not reserved for death alone.
Here are three surprising sources of grief, and ways in which grief therapy or grief counseling may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Loss of a lifestyle before a devastating medical diagnosis
Malik was a 30-year-old man, falling in love, working in a job he enjoyed, and looking forward to the future. His world was rocked with a diagnosis of brain cancer. Not just his world, but his girlfriend’s world as well. There was a lot to take into consideration. What if he was incapacitated and in need of someone to make medical decisions for him? What if the life he envisioned was no longer on the table? Malik and Tara decided to marry anyway. They would tackle this together.
Everything changed. Their schedules became routinely disrupted with multiple doctor’s appointments. Their expectation of a romantic life was shockingly altered as they coped with the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Life as they knew it was gone. In an instant. With one diagnosis.
Sure, death crossed their minds. But their focus was on doing whatever was needed to ensure Malik would live. And in their pursuit of healing and living, they grieved the loss of all life was like before that life-altering moment. But, they didn’t know they were grieving.
Tara would often toss and turn at night, thinking about all of the “what ifs.” She found herself with a short fuse at work, getting angry at even the smallest things, to which she wouldn’t have given a second thought before the diagnosis. She would cry if the traffic light didn’t change from red to green fast enough.
Tara didn’t realize she was experiencing stages of grief like anger and depression. They were grieving the loss of what their life together was supposed to look like, before cancer. They were supposed to get married, have kids, work hard, buy a home, and live the dream! Suddenly, that dream was put on hold. Not just on hold. The future was entirely uncertain.
What Malik and Tara needed was the understanding that they were going through the grieving process. They needed to be able to talk about it and call it what it was, grief and loss. But Malik was still alive—so, what was there to grieve?
Everything. The loss of all they had hoped and prayed for. It was a journey they never envisioned. And yet, here they were. In need of the knowledge that even in living, processing the loss of a life before cancer was essential to their very survival.
Loss of a dream, passion, or identity
Denise had always wanted to be a dentist. She really couldn’t tell you why, she just knew that the science of healthy teeth and gums brought her joy. She pursued her passion with vigor, putting in the late nights and long days that went along with dental school. It was never work to her. It came so naturally.
One day as she left her office, a thriving practice she had built with a team of five to support her, she noticed her hand trembling. And that wasn’t the last time. It started to happen so frequently, she decided to visit a neurologist. And, just like that, the passion she had so vigorously pursued and achieved would be taken from her.
Denise was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Her hands, the crucial instruments of her success, would soon disappoint her and she would lose her ability to practice dentistry.
The diagnosis, Denise could handle. She was an optimistic person by nature. Her dream, however? The loss of that dream? Her identity as a sought-after professional? It was soul-crushing. She felt as though she had just lost her very being. Everything she had become so intimate with was no longer hers.
She fell into denial, one of the beginning stages of grief, and labeled it optimism. She believed this was a temporary setback and she’d be back to reality in no time. She bargained with her neurologist, having researched a myriad of alternative treatments. And, yes, she fell into depression. Her purpose had been ripped from her. And it felt like there was no reason to go on living. Denise was mourning the loss of her lifelong passion.
Denise’s friend told her, “You’re grieving. I think you need to talk to someone about this. A grief counselor can help you understand and work through all the emotions you’re experiencing right now.” Denise, not quite understanding, said, “This doesn’t feel like grief! It feels like I’ve been robbed. Life is so unfair. What’s the point of living?!”
Thankfully, Denise had a friend to talk to, someone who didn’t tell her, “Everything happens for a reason.” A friend who had heard about how complicated grief was and that we experience it even when physical death isn’t part of the equation.
Denise pursued grief counseling. Her counselor helped her navigate not just the stages of grief, but questions like, “What happens now?” that were swirling through her mind. She stopped feeling so angry and started to understand that her purpose was alive and well, it just had to be repackaged.
It would have been easy for Denise to curl up and live an unhappy life, lamenting the loss of what once was or believing that this was the end of the road. Ultimately, counseling helped her understand her grief and work through it.
Life isn’t perfect. Denise still has moments of grief when she recalls her passion for her craft. And, thanks to counseling, she’s come to expect those recurrences of mourning. Now she gives herself permission to grieve and permission to keep moving forward.
Loss of trust
It’s not uncommon to hear a member of a couple say something like, “I just want to get back to the way things were.” Yes, even in relationships, there is a grief process to be travelled, particularly when there is a breach of trust.
We all have expectations in our relationships (friendships, familial relationships, and those with significant others). We believe or want to believe we are safe with someone. That they will hold our heart carefully. And in this imperfect world in which we live, we also recognize the presence of imperfect people (namely, all of us).
We may be guaranteed the opportunity to love and be loved. We are similarly guaranteed the opportunity to be hurt, especially by someone we hold dear. It’s inherent in a world in which we are not yet perfected. In fact, we have all hurt someone at some point in our lives, either intentionally or unintentionally. Truthfully, we are not immune.
When trust is breached in a relationship, either through action or thought, it’s easy to miss the signs that the partners must begin to navigate a grieving process together in order to reach potential restoration. The wounded partner tends to focus on the wrongdoing of the other and takes action to ensure that they will never again be hurt. Unfortunately, mourning the loss of what their relationship was “supposed to be” or who their partner was supposed to be is often overlooked.
Have you ever been betrayed by someone you held (and maybe still hold) dear? At first, you may attempt to rationalize the betrayal and come up with all sorts of reasons that it can’t be true. Then, your denial might shift to anger as the weight of what has happened sinks in and you come to feel wronged.
You may even bargain with God or friends, “This isn’t as bad as it seems, right? There’s a way around this right?” before slipping into despair over the could-haves and should-haves and downright I-can’t-believes swirling through your mind.
And then you realize you’re walking the road of grief. Winding in and out of each stage. Sometimes two steps forward, other times three steps back. A couple’s counselor will serve as your guide through that grieving process. Not necessarily helping you to get “back to the way things were,” but rather navigating you through the loss of relationship hopes and expectations—and ultimately, helping you determine a path forward through, not around, that grief.
Christian Grief Counseling
Grief isn’t reserved for those mourning the physical loss of a loved one. Grief is packaged in every expectation that’s ever been dashed, every relationship hurt, and in every thought that whispers, “Life just shouldn’t be this way.” And grief counseling or therapy may help you understand your grief in a new light.
You may come to find that grief, even in its uncommon forms, is a process you can learn to work through and move beyond—not back to the way things were, but with a clarified perspective of hope.
If you’re experiencing a form of grief—regardless of the circumstances—browse our counselor directory today to find a grief counselor for your situation. Hope and help are available.
“Candlelight”, Courtesy of Mike Labrum, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Raining again…”, Courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Despairing but not lost”, Courtesy of whoislimos, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Red flower field”, Courtesy of Dylan Nolte, Unsplash.com, CC0 License