“He was such a good person.”
“Everyone loved him.”
“She was so young.”
“She was a mother of two young children.”
“He did so much for his family and community.”
“She was an active member of the church community.”
“They did everything right, according to Jesus’ teachings.”
“They tried so faithfully to have this child.”
“She lived the ten short months of her life in pain. I don’t understand.”
These remarks are often heard when you are filling the silence in line at a wake, at the dinner table with friends after funeral or burial services, or while sitting at a grieving person’s home.
When you are mourning the loss of a loved one, you may find yourself in desperate need of an answer to the question: Why did this terrible thing happen to such a good person?
This will be an extremely pressing question if your loved one has passed away because of terminal illness or as the result of a fatal accident. In these circumstances, you may find yourself wanting to place blame on someone or something; to point a finger and say, that’s why this happened.
You might think that placing blame will absolve you of your grief. However, spending your hours seeking answers to impossible questions will inevitably lead you to a never-ending ping-pong match between anger and denial.
The stronghold of that painful volley can rob you of your right to live a joyful life. It can cause you to feel like you want to jump out of your own skin or flee your circumstances, and it will absolutely exhaust you into depression.
The truth is, there is no answer to the question, “Why?” that will ever satisfy your soul. You will ask the question to everyone around you, and while friends and family may all have personal answers to offer, none of their words will act as a balm for your grieving heart. If anything, those answers will strengthen the fiery anger within you, causing even more pain in the long run.
It is also very common to throw your anger and pain at God, in a desperate cry for help. You may shout out, “Why, God?” And you may not be able to hear or see God’s answer in that moment of despair. The noise of anger can be ever-present in mourning. It is healthy and part of the process, but it can be hard to navigate. Sometimes, that noise can drive out God’s whispers to our souls.
Grief can transform itself into a temptation to leave God, which seems cruel because it is. God is our saving grace. But His guiding voice and steady hand can be so hard to access when you are asking all the wrong questions, from a place of extreme pain and anger.
So what do you do with this insatiable hunger for an answer? How do you turn off the radio that haunts you every night with this question, just as you are about to drift off into the relief of sleep? How can you save your relationship with God, after crying out in despair?
The only answer is: by doing the work.
The Five Stages of Grief
Grief is not a linear, predictable, controllable, or convenient process. If you go to the self-help section of a bookstore, you will find countless books on overcoming grief. That is because the grieving process is a unique and deeply personal experience.
You will never find someone whose experience of grief is exactly the same as yours. There may be similarities (which will feel like a breath of fresh air), but your grief experience is truly unique to you and your relationship with your deceased loved one. This can make the process of grieving extremely isolating. It can also be enraging. No one can tell you what to expect, or how you are going to feel from one day to the next.
If you are someone who needs to be in control, the experience of grief can be particularly frustrating. Articles about “The Five Stages of Grief” exist to give you the ability to identify and name your emotional experience. Unfortunately, those articles still don’t give you control or the ability to predict what tomorrow morning will feel like.
While the Five Stages of Grief are helpful to know and explore, they are not definitive, cyclical, or linear. If you were to put the average person’s experience of grief onto paper, it would look like a toddler’s first attempts at painting a Jackson Pollock. There is no rhyme or reason to it.
Grief can show up strong on some days, and then you can feel free of grief for weeks at a time. One day, several years after your loved one has made their journey to Heaven, you can wake up in shock again. You can wake up looking at your cell phone, wondering why Dad hasn’t called in a few days—only to then realize, with a sip of coffee, that your father passed away twelve years ago.
So how do you survive this roller coaster? By doing the work.
“Doing the Work” with Grief Therapy
What does “doing the work” mean? Well, it can take on many different forms. As previously stated, every person is different. Therefore, each individual’s needs during times of grief are different. The process of building your own personal toolbox for grieving is an ongoing, daily practice.
For some, traditional one-on-one grief therapy can be a good place to start. For others, that is an overwhelming starting point, but group counseling may be a good fit. There is something very cathartic about going to a weekly grief group meeting. It takes dedication and courage, but if you stick with your group, you will begin to feel less alone.
Your experience will be normalized, one week at a time, as you listen to other men and women share about their day-to-day experiences with grief. You might pick up some additional tools for coping with your loss from your grief therapy sessions.
Your counselor or fellow attendees may say something that really resonates with you, and you might be encouraged to try a different way of approaching your own journey with grief. You may have a change in perspective after hearing other people’s stories.
While the process of sharing your story is daunting, group counseling and one-on-one grief therapy are the best places to be brave. Your counselor will be sure to moderate your discussions with affirming language that stays away from comparison. Boundaries will be in place to protect you. It will be a safe space for sharing your true, possibly hidden feelings about what you are thinking and experiencing as you mourn the loss of your loved one.
In time, you will discover that there is magic in courageous communication and like-minded community. It takes work to participate that first time and to come back the fourth time. But you will notice a difference – a lightness – in the car ride home after that first session or meeting. Your breath will deepen and the joyful tears will flow again. Each week, the numbness of your grief will fade away a bit more.
Five Practices for Dealing with Grief
In addition to grief therapy, some daily practices may also be helpful as you’re dealing with grief. Often, we think that only the grand gestures (like going to therapy) can make a difference. However, positive growth can also happen as a result of tiny changes to your daily life. See what works for you. No matter what, the way to start is by doing something.
Just one new practice can make a difference. And then, maybe, you can add on something else tomorrow. Or next week. Be gentle with yourself. This work takes courage, self-love, faith, and time. Grief can get in the way, and that is okay. You’re allowed all the time you need. But every morning, you can try something new until you find your way through.
Here are five exercises that may help your grieving process:
Five-minute gratitude journal: Set a timer for five minutes, and attempt to write down three things for which you are grateful. When the timer goes off, give thanks to God.
Breath Break: Whenever you feel emotionally overwhelmed, stop, sit, and breathe. Sit down wherever you can in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and count ten full breaths. Try to only focus on the breath and your counting. This will help your body to regulate and reset, as opposed to activating its fight or flight response system. Meditation doesn’t have to be fancy. There is no right way to do it. Just breathe.
Mood Music: If you have access to Spotify, Pandora (free), Apple Music, or YouTube (free), you have access to hours of music therapy support. Explore these platforms for mood-related playlists, free meditations, or music that will bring back happy memories of you and your loved one.
Yoga: All you need is a mat (or a towel, or just some grass in a park), your body, and your breath for this one. Find a space that is inspiring to you, whether that is out in nature, or a quiet spot with natural light and green plants in your home. Release all of your tension, gently breathe in and out, connect with God, and give thanks for a body that can move.
Green Thumb: Plant something and watch it grow. Whether it is a potted plant, or seeds your plant in your garden, take care of something and watch how it brings beauty into the world. Let hope grow within you again.
Grief Therapy in Seattle
If you’re looking for grief therapy in Seattle or the surrounding areas, please contact one of the grief therapists at Seattle Christian Counseling. We are here to help you with the grieving process as you continue to mourn the loss of your loved one. Hope and help are available to you. Contact us today.
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