Grief and Loss

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away."

Revelation 21:4

What is Grief and Loss?

Grief is a normal and natural response to loss and is often a very painful, solemn season in one's life. Although grief is felt in varying degrees, everyone experiences it at some point in life. When we think of loss, we tend to think of death and the passing of a loved one, but there are many other changes in a person’s life that can involve loss and lead to the grieving process.

Loss of any kind can bring about a variety of difficult emotions. Shock, anger, guilt, and sadness are just a few of the many emotions that may accompany loss. While these feelings can be overwhelming and even scary at times, they are normal typically temporary (though they may last for months or weeks at a time). Being patient and allowing oneself/others the freedom to experience these emotions will be helpful in learning how to cope with the pain.

God is not surprised by or disappointed in our emotions. It is easy to forget that our God, fully God and fully human, experienced grief, too. John 11:33-35 is an excellent example of the grief that Jesus experienced as result of loss. “When Jesus therefore saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him [Lazarus]?' They said to Him, "Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept."

While it is an emotion that brings difficulty, grief expressed and experienced in healthy ways has the potential to bring about healing, which can even lead to a strengthened life and a greater intimacy with the Lord.

Causes and Symptoms

As mentioned above, there are many types of loss that can lead to grief.

  • A relationship breakup
  • Loss of health
  • Losing a job
  • Loss of financial stability
  • A miscarriage
  • Life transitions (college, marriage, birth of a baby, etc.)
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a cherished dream
  • A loved one's serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma (i.e. physical, sexual, or verbal abuse)

Coping with Grief and Loss

How a person grieves may depend on many factors, including the following:

  • Personality style
  • Coping style
  • Life experience
  • Faith
  • Nature of the loss

How You Can Help

No matter what the reaction, the grieving person needs the support of others. A grief supporter needs to be ready to accept a wide-range of emotions experienced by the griever and needs to understand that healing takes time. There is no “normal” timeframe for grief, and it is important that healing is not hurried or forced. While some people feel better in days and weeks, others may need months or years to heal.

Since every person’s grief response is different, it is probably most helpful to say to someone who is grieving, “How can I best support you right now?” Some people will want to talk about how they are feeling, while others want to talk about anything but that. Some may want more time with friends or family, and some may withdraw for a time. Asking the person in your life who is grieving how you can best be of help gives him or her the chance to be the expert on what is needed or helpful, and it often leads to him or her feeling cared about and respected.

When Grief Turns to Depression

Sometimes, the grieving process evolves into a state of depression for the person struggling with the loss. This is a complex issue, since grief looks differently and lasts different lengths of time for all people. However, if the following symptoms are present, it is wisest to speak with a mental health professional to ensure that depression is not going untreated:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss without dieting or weight gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day (inability to sleep or sleeping significantly more than normal
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (feeling physically sped up or slowed down)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death.

Resources - Books

Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright (2004)

This handy booklet explains the nature, process and expressions of grief from a Biblical perspective. It includes the many "faces of grief" that people often experience as part of their reaction to loss. Guilt, fear, anxiety and anger and their possible role in the grieving process are just a few of these topics. In addition, the author addresses trauma and complicated grieving situations.

Helping Those In Grief: A Guide To Help You Care For Others by H. Norman Wright (2011)

Many pastors and lay counselors have had minimal training in clinical methods of grief counseling. Helping Those in Grief is a biblical, practical guide to pastoral counseling written by one of the most respected Christian therapists of our time. Wright brings more than 40 years of clinical and classroom experience to this topic, and shares real-life dialogs from his private practice to demonstrate healthy, healing counseling sessions. Readers will learn how to counsel and coach both believers and non-believers who are grieving, how to walk alongside them and how to help them find the path to complete restoration.