All of us have lost a loved one, either through physical death or through the death of a close relationship. This year our Thanksgiving table will be set with one less member of our family. This past spring, our son-in-love observed his father being taken into the arms of Jesus to spend his eternal life. Alton was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend. The empty place at our table will be a reminder of the man who influenced many young people as a volunteer soccer coach and college professor. His character displayed godliness, kindness, and humility. Once when I burned the dinner rolls, Alton encouraged me by being the first to take a roll after I scraped the black off the bottom. Our usually loud table would often hush as his soft-spoken voice would speak up about a subject. This year, we will grieve because he is not with us, but we are thankful we will one day see him in heaven.
Grieving is a very important part of our lives given to us by God. Scripture tells us Jesus grieved the death of Lazarus before He raised him from the dead (See John 11: 35). He also grieved the death of John the Baptist and the disobedience and defiance of Israel (See Matthew 14:12-13 and Luke 13:33-34).
There is no correct way to grieve. There is also no time frame for grieving, and the stages do not have to occur in a certain sequence. Each person grieves in their own way. Even after a stage of grieving is over, a memory or event can trigger the grief once again; but if a person has gone through the stages of grief, the feelings won’t last as long. A person will move back and forth between these stages and it is okay to repeat them as they make progress toward recovery/wholeness. “You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy” (John 16:20).
The difference between a Christian and non-Christian moving through the stages of grief is the Christian has hope and can call upon the Lord for peace and comfort. If a person is going to get better, they must go through difficult pain to receive restoration and healing, but the Lord will give them grace to withstand the process. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).
If you have lost a loved one or a deeply connected relationship, below are the stages you need to allow yourself to go through.
Disbelief and shock- this creates a numbness and serves as a form of emotional protection.
Denial- the brain goes into a state of denial to avoid the pain and the reality of the loss. This is a form of self-preservation.
Guilt or Pain- the next stage is extreme emotional pain and suffering. A feeling of remorse ensues over missed opportunities or survivor’s guilt.
Bargaining/ Negotiating- this happens when a person needs an emotional release from the shock and pain in order to make sense of the loss.
Anger- a person can lash out, sometimes in the form of unwarranted reactions to feelings of helplessness, or by placing undue blame on someone else for the loss.
Depression- this is not the time to feel guilt over experiencing depression. Allow yourself to feel the despair and emptiness. This is a time of reflection and recuperation.
Acceptance- this stage is when the person makes a conscious decision to move forward and work towards a feeling of normalcy. This occurs when a person stops looking towards the past and focuses on the future.
Stages 1 and 2 are referred to as the “crisis stage.” “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:17-20 ESV).
Stages 3, 4, 5, 6 are referred to as the “crucible stages.” “Pour out all your worries and stress upon him and leave them there, for he always tenderly cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 TPT).
Stage 7 is referred to as the “contentment” stage- “Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” “Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 3:13; 14:11 NASB).
As I looked at these seven stages, I realized I did not know the stages of grief to go through with the loss of our baby and the loss of my sister. I felt confused and guilty for my feelings. It took time to understand the emotions I was experiencing. When both my father and mother passed away, I had more clarity about my emotions. The Lord was precious to me in these painful, difficult occasions and provided what I needed. There are times even now when I think of an incident, comment, or even want to pick up the phone to call my parents or sister, only to realize they are with Jesus. Sometimes this will send me back into a stage of grief. The good news is, the grief isn’t as difficult as it was in the beginning. The Lord is sovereign, all knowing and completely loving. He is the all-consuming Lord who brings comfort at all times. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 NLT).
My prayer for you is to not feel guilt over your grieving nor compare yourself to how others grieve. Again, it is not linear and there is no time frame.
Lord, my losses have been very difficult to handle, and it hurts so much. I know as I am going through the grief You are with me at all times. Your love, peace, comfort and mercy are what I lean upon. Thank You for being so close that you see my sorrows and my tears. Help me to remember the stages of grief are important and I will not try to skip a stage. I know You, Lord, have placed these stages in my life to help me become stronger and to rely on You through the pain. Lord, I praise You for your compassion in these difficult times. Thank You for your love. Amen.