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Footsteps to Follow: Good grief

2020 could be titled, “The International Year of Grieving.” Almost everyone has experienced daily losses, from time with family members to finances to freedom of travel. For example, this week alone, I broke a knee bone, one son was diagnosed with COVID, I learned the only local son, daughter-in-law and two precious grandchildren are moving out of state, and my husband broke his second tooth in two months. Already, I was helping Dad who has Alzheimers and Mom who is the 24/7 caregiver. All our lists could go on, each bringing varying degrees of grief.

Many know the Kubler-Ross grief cycle: bargaining with God, denial, anger, depression and finally acceptance. This cycle is like a never-ending roller coaster ride. Many dislike the grief rollercoaster and choose to submerge the pain instead of going through it, thinking it will “all just go away.” Unfortunately, unresolved grief always resurfaces, whether in five or 50 years. Thus, as a chaplain, I have met patients who confided about deep personal pain that had never been dealt with and was haunting them years later.

Many people are uncomfortable discussing grief. The inability to recognize, talk and deal with it in healthy ways reveals itself in unhealthy coping mechanisms including overeating, drugs, gaming, alcohol, promiscuity, binge watching, isolating or shopping.

Speaking with a chaplain or similarly trained person can help. Chaplains are trained to listen with their hearts and ears, to not minimize the loss with easy answers, to allow people to express their guilt and anger, and to accept mood swings. They encourage patients to understand that the process takes time, and rushing isn’t helpful. They further encourage people to share their feelings and memories and consider a support group. Furthermore, chaplains warn that anniversaries and family holidays will be a challenge.

How do I deal with my own grief? Praying, journaling, sharing with close friends, listening to music, reading the Psalms and going to professional counseling all have helped. Also, I study biblical characters and how they grieved in healthy and unhealthy ways. Furthermore, I notice how their ability to grieve affected their family and friends. That’s a good practice for any grieving Bible reader. Evaluate who has a loss, what was the loss, how did they deal with it, and what was the outcome.

My biggest method is to rely on the ever-present Christ. Mark 4 is an eye opener. Christ had lost his beloved cousin, John, to a terroristic beheading. As soon as Christ heard the news, He went apart from the crowds for a needed time of grieving and prayer. His tradition was to remember the Psalms, most of which are prayers, revealing to us the raw honesty, pain, and questions of grief. True prayer is honesty towards God. Verses 23 and 24 stress that Christ was alone, not taking even a close friend with him. Sometimes we say we are alone, but are distracted by technology. Being truly alone allowed Christ to work through His intense feelings. Then Christ reconnected with the disciples. He saw their need, they were in a big storm, and met it. In other words, we need truly alone time to bring healing into our own lives before we can reconnect with others in a helping capacity.

Good grieving means we recognize it, refuse to take shortcuts, find healthy ways to cope, and most of all, rely on our Heavenly Father to bring us through to the other side. As a hymn says, “He’ll strengthen, uplift and uphold you, and wrap you up warm in His care.”

Rebecca Logan, retired UPMC chaplain, member of Lycoming Valley Baptist Church

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