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Grief is painful but must be experienced

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By Rev. Michael Duncan

Most of us know about “good grief” from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoon. “Good grief, Charlie Brown.” More often than not, the comment was aimed at poor Charlie Brown’s ineptness. Perhaps we’ve all said it to someone... or perhaps said it to ourselves.

In reality, can grief ever be good? It is a painful experience and a wrenching emotion. We experience it in the death of a loved one, in the death of a pet, in the loss of job or a dream, and in a myriad of other life experiences.

In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in which she described five stages of grief: Denial and Isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance. As she correctly pointed out, the stages are not neat steps through which we progress. We each experience and express grief in our own ways. As we move though grief, we bounce back and forth among the stages. Sometimes one or more stages overlap. Sometimes one may skip a stage. There is no roadmap. Kübler-Ross’ stages serve to remind us of what it means to move through grief.

To experience “good grief” grief must be faced and lived through. Grief suppressed is still grief, and it is bad grief from which we may never recover.

My mother-in-law, Lois Weaver Austin, died May 28. Donna and I, along with her brother and his wife, sensed that some who came to console us did not find us grieving deeply enough. They sought “to comfort” us, but we didn’t seem to need comforting. Had Lois died suddenly at age 50 rather than gradually at age 90, our grief would be different than it is. We’ve been grieving Lois’ leaving for the past several years, as she gradually lost physical health and mental acuity. Lois was ready for death. She was tired of being less than who she was, and she held to her faith that beyond death there was life. For her and for us, her death was not loss, but gain. It was a victory. (See I Corinthians 15:54-57 and Philippians 1:21.)

For us, “good grief” is being made possible by three things: Lois’ well-lived and good life; our good relationship with her and hers with us; and our faith.

Whenever there is significant loss in our lives, we all grieve, but we do not all grieve alike. Crying, even uncontrolled crying, doesn’t mean we are grieving harder or better than another who does not cry. It certainly doesn’t mean that we lack faith. We grieve not from lack of faith but from the experience of loss; and however good a death may be, it is a loss.

As a person of faith, I grieve; but I do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14 NRSV). However you experience and express grief, I pray that yours will be “good grief.”