In times of grief


By Dr. Hal Brady

Since our daily newscasts show so many grieving people and since I have just finished reading about the death of legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, I want to address the subject of grief. Grief has been defined as “the natural response to any loss.” The key word is that it is natural. There is an orderly process people go through in dealing with grief. This process is nature's way of healing a broken heart. And keep in mind that there are no short cuts, no magic words or magic cures.

It is the same way with the healing of a broken bone. If a person breaks a leg the physician puts a cast on the leg. Then, for an extended period of time, the physician instructs that crutches be used to keep the pressure off the leg. No one suggests that the time be shortened or that the crutches not be used.

Do you know how long the average person grieves? According to those who study such things, the process lasts about two years. Sometimes it lasts longer, sometimes it may be a little shorter, but two years is the average. This means that it lasts much longer than most of us realize, and it is full of peaks and valleys.

For a moment, let’s focus on the various stages of grief. It will help us in our understanding to name them. But as we consider these various stages, we need to keep in mind that there is no smooth transition from one stage to another. These stages overlap and we make progress and fall back throughout the healing process. One day we get better and another day we get worse, and that is altogether normal.

The following are the stages:

Shock. That's when the news first comes: “I can't believe it.”

Numbness. In a dazed condition, we try to absorb the shock.

Emotional Relief. This is the time when tears of laughter or another kind of emotional expression breaks through.

Depression or loneliness. At this point in our grief, we feel isolated and cut off.

Guilt. Most of us deal with a measure of guilt. If I had just done this or that, things might have been different.

Recovery. We commit ourselves “to start living again and rebuilding our lives.” The mark of faith and victory is the ability to go on.

After the loss of his mother, Henri Nouwen observed, "I had to fight the temptation 'to get back to normal' too soon.”

Now, in times of grief there are several things we can do to help ourselves. First, we can remember that God heals through time. There's an old saying that “time heals,” and it does. God often uses time to heal our sorrows. Second, we can keep our spiritual disciplines. When I first received the heavy news that my father had died, for several days I didn't feel like spending quiet time. But I kept to my daily disciplines of quiet time anyway, and from it I received an added source of strength. Third, we can stay involved in fellowship with others. So much of our healing comes through the gate of fellowship – fellowship with family, friends, religious institutions and others. Fourth, we can move forward! In essence, grief is like riding a bicycle. The only way to keep your balance is to go forward. If we stand still, we will topple over. And fifth, we can trust God! So where can we go to find the strength we need to face life, death and grief? We cannot find the strength we need by looking back at the sorrows of the past and asking why.

The biblical character Job didn't find the answer there. Job found the answer in the whirlwind when he was encountered by God. Job simply could not fathom the mystery of why things happen, but he could sense God's presence through all his experiences.

On hearing of the drowning death of his son in the Rio Grande River, Bob Buford, businessman and author, was walking along that river as frightened, he said, as he had ever felt. “Here's something you can't think your way out of, buy your way out of or work your way out of. Here's something you can only trust your way out of.” And I appreciate the helpful way Ellsworth Kalas, noted preacher and teacher of preachers, put it. Dr. Kalas said, “That our trust is not so much in God’s promises, though that is an integral part of it, but in God’s character. Thus, in our grief, we people of faith trust in the character of God and Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation (grief). But be of good cheer (courage), I have overcome the world” (John 26:33).

Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.