Did you know, the most common symptom of grief is memory loss?
When I tell my clients this, they are so surprised (and relieved) to find out they aren’t losing their minds. In fact, their brain is actively engaged in the process of grief; it is biologically unavoidable. Another common misconception is that grief is something reserved for the loss of death. People grieve losses of many kinds! Grief can be experienced briefly or significantly. Grief mirrors the type of loss you’re experiencing. When a stranger dies one tends to feel a compassionate yelp in the heart, but when a parent, spouse, or child dies; one experiences a soul crushing pang in the deepest part of the self.
People grieving a loss may be going through any number of things, such as death, divorce, separation, illness, hospitalization, unforeseen diagnoses, imprisonment, addiction, or other painful relational circumstances. One can expect to grieve longer and more deeply when the relationship was closer, or if the relationship was estranged or un-reconciled at the time of the loss. The loss you or your loved one is experiencing is likely normal, natural, and even expected as a response to the deep kind of pain grief brings.
The cycle of grief and its stages is often explained as if happening in a smooth orderly manner. Being familiar with grief in my own life, I can tell you it feels more like a pinball machine, and it will have you bouncing around from one stage to another, and sometimes back again. Certain days will rush with several emotions at once, flooding your system, and leaving you to wonder which stage you’re in for the moment. Trying to convince yourself, or your loved one, that you’re fine is the worst thing you could do. Denying that your feelings are real brings real emotional consequences.
Jesus went to the cross, having been fully human and feeling everything. The Bible tells us in Isaiah 53:3
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
American culture today despises grief and glorifies anger as the socially acceptable expression of emotion. Think about it… if you walk into a coffee shop and the lady behind you is crying or anxious you’d probably want to get out quick, but if she were angry you’d likely linger around to see what happens next.
Are we in fact just like the Israelites… despising the anguish of the grieved? Jesus is the example, a fully feeling human being who was grieved for us all, who never sinned in his grief, anger, fear, sadness, or joy! He even refused to dull His senses on the cross! He felt everything, each ounce of pain, each pang of grief; He felt it all for us. So follow Him, do not be afraid of what you, or your loved ones, are feeling. No feeling will last forever. They all pass by eventually. The first year is the most difficult, and there is no formula to tell how quickly you will move in and out of these stages in a healthy way.
There is no “normal” length of time to grieve a death, life altering circumstance, loss, or divorce.
The time frames for people who do not typically suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, or other mental diagnosis that would slow down or stagnate the process are shorter because these people have less for their grief to get stuck to. If you know that you have previously struggled with any of the diagnoses mentioned here, tell someone, then get to a therapist so they can help you understand and appreciate your grief as a gift.
Yes, grief is a gift, a gift illuminating that our time here is limited. Illuminating the depth of our capacity to experience love! Human beings are here for love relationships with God and others! Be fully human! Love and grieve your loss and give God the glory for each pang in your heart.
God’s word says the following in
Lamentations 3:31-33 “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men.”
He is full of compassionate love for each of us! Embrace each stage of grief and love God and yourself through it. You will also find that the days spent grieving differ in number, and intensity, depending on the type of loss you are grieving, the state of the relationship at the time of the loss, whether or not you have healthy others supporting you, and your coping skills. Below you will find a short list of common things grieving people say, think, or feel.
- “I feel sick to my stomach, I just can’t eat”
- “I can’t get to sleep and when I do I don’t stay asleep”
- “I can’t get organized, I’m all over the place, but I get nothing done”
- “I keep thinking about how it all happened, over and over again in my mind. I guess I’m trying to make sense of it all”
- “I think I’m losing my mind, I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t even decide what to wear today”
- “Yesterday I heard him/her calling for me, and today I thought I saw him/her”
- “If only I had told him/her one more time ‘I love you’”
- “He should have gone to the doctor months ago, this could have been avoided”
- “The nights and weekends are the worst for me, empty and alone”
- “It’s as if any moment now he/she will come walking through the door”
- “I keep thinking of things to tell him/her”
- “I thought this would bring us closer together, instead we constantly bicker and argue. When I’m ok he’s not, when he’s ok I’m not”
- “If my faith were stronger I’d be getting through this ok”
- “If I really believed and trusted God this wouldn’t have happened”
Other symptoms may include: weakness, pounding or heaviness in the chest, shortness of breath, lack of initiative, forgetfulness, tension, anxiety, feelings of relief, anguish, depression, unexpected and uncontrolled crying spells, tendency to respond to others with anger, irritability, a loss of spontaneity, anger with God, doubts about the reality of God’s existence, doubts about the goodness of God.
You are not invisible as you grieve.
Oh, how I love each of you who are hurting and experiencing loss of every kind! I pray you feel less alone in the cry of your soul today. I pray God continues to pour out His mercies all around you and that your love and your grief are a living testament to His glory fulfilled on the cross! Oh, how much He loves and grieves for each of his lost children, then how much more for those He calls His own! Right now, I am asking the Lord to send a hug to each of you who has been left living alone due to loss. In Jesus name! Amen
Shannon is married to Chad Strader and they have 3 children. She is also an LPC and owner of Strader Christian Counseling in Magnolia TX.