Arborlawn United Methodist Church has announced its annual Hope for the Holidays worship service, created for and dedicated to individuals and families struggling with grief in its various forms. The inter-denominational service, open to the public at no charge, will begin at 7:00 p.m., on Thursday, November 17, 2016, in the sanctuary. Arborlawn offers transportation for those who might need it, as well as childcare for families with young children.
“The holidays can be darker than ever imagined for all who struggle with grief in its various forms,” explained Deb Sewell, event founder. “Anyone struggling with the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, a loss of a job or a move to a new home in an unfamiliar city often looks at the holidays with a sad heart. Hope for the Holidays can help. Our goal is to normalize what these people are feeling.”
Eleven years ago, Hope for the Holidays was founded as a response to the difficulties that often arise when society encourages those experiencing grief to join right in with the holiday festivities, forgetting that the sights and sounds may trigger painful memories that increase hurt.
According to Ms. Sewell, highly experienced in grief and bereavement support, one of the key elements of the service is an opportunity for audience members to hear that first holiday song since experiencing a loss.
“Without exception, every grief group I have facilitated has expressed that they could face the holidays were it not for that first Christmas carol,” she explained. “We understand and have created a way to reintroduce the music into their lives in a gentle, understanding way.”
The Hope for the Holidays service presents inspirational talks, prayer, choreographed ballet, a string quartet, and exquisite choral arrangements. During the ceremony, attendees are invited to place an emblem or token of loss on the altar — a picture, a flower, a trinket or another meaningful symbol of loss. Tenderly interwoven into the service are pragmatic ideas about navigating the holiday season within these complex situations.
Among them, Hope for the Holidays offers these recommendations:
- First, remember to be just as compassionate and considerate of yourself as you would be with someone else grieving a significant loss. Lower your expectations of yourself and others around you who are also grieving.
- Don’t be afraid to express feelings of grief, sadness or loss. Find caring, compassionate friends and relatives who will be patient with you. Be honest about how difficult certain aspects of the holiday season can be.
- Be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits, because whenever grief revisits, so does its partner — fatigue. Anticipate lower energy. Listen when your body tells you to “slow down and stop.” Keep your heart and eyes open to see, as you are able, simple blessings. Appreciate these blessings with thankful peace.
- Join us at Hope for the Holidays, designed expressly for you.
2016 Hope for the Holidays Prayer Guide
Dear God, we are so thankful that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how or what to pray, but the Spirit of God intercedes for us through groans too deep. And the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
For the church staff and clergy, as they prepare for the evening that God will do a work in their own hearts and lives; that they, too find restoration in their spirit as they minister daily to others.
For our speaker, who will share their own story as an inspiration for those there, that they be at ease with their talk and sense the anointing of the Holy Spirit guiding her that night. For our pastor, Ben, as he shares the hope we have in Christ.
For those lighting the 7 categories of candles that night. (Military, Broken Relationships, loss of health, mental and physical, loss from addictions, incarcerations, the invisible, neglected, homeless, abused, remembering our tears, and the support of family and friends, for those who place the safety of others before their own). May God’s strength and peace be present with them.
For the choir, as they lead us in worship through song.
For all clergy, leading placement of tokens, candles and serve the Lord’s Supper.
For Deb, that she leads this ministry in a spirit of Thanksgiving, anointed by the Holy Spirit. It is the work of Christ and the result of this evening is left at the foot of the cross.
For the members of this ministry team, that we be kept well in body, mind and spirit, that our preparation is not self seeking, that we love one another in our actions as we prepare together.
Most of all, heavenly Father, we thank you that you have gone ahead of us to prepare the hearts and minds of those planning to attend. We pray that you would give them continued strength and courage to actually walk through the doors on Nov. 17
May all who come that night find the light of Christ piercing the darkness, giving them courage to take one more breath, one more step toward You. Show us how to be Your hand of love extended. In Jesus Name, Amen.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
– How long is the service? About 1½ hours.
– Is admission charged or an offering taken? No. Hope for the Holidays is Arborlawn’s gift to the community.
– Is everyone supposed to get a flower? Roses are primarily for those who forgot to bring a memento, but we don’t deny anyone.
– May I put my candle / memento on the kneeling rail now, or should I wait? Participants may put items on the kneeling rail before being seated; or they may wait until the designated time during the service.
-What happens to my memento after the service? If a participant wishes to keep the memento they bring to place on the altar rail, items can be picked up at the end of the service. All other mementos will be collected, placed in a box, and buried on the church grounds in a small service, usually in the early Spring.
– May I sit in the balcony? Of course.
– Is there certain seating for those who have lost children? Or for those who are survivors of suicide? Arborlawn has not designated specific seating. However, in the past the survivors of suicide have sat as a group.
– What about transportation? Yes, these services are available for those who make arrangements with the church (817-731-0701) in early November.
– Will anyone be available to talk with me after the service? Yes, pastors will be in the sanctuary for a short time after the service.
– Is a nursery/childcare available? Yes. For more information about the nursery please call the church office (817-731-0701).
– Is the service appropriate for children? What ages? Yes, Grief is a family affair. But most children younger than 7 have difficulty sitting still. If they have attended a funeral, they will have an idea of the solemnity of the evening. There will be flowers for the children to place on the altar in memory of the person who died. Children may want to place tokens on the altar.
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– I’m wondering if I should have come or not. This is normal. Some individuals may be more comfortable sitting in the balcony, the chapel, or the downstairs cry room. Offer to find someone to talk with them (Melissa or pastoral staff).
– How soon after a loss is too soon to attend? Usually less than a month is probably too soon. But we have had those attend with losses in less time.
– Is there a lot of crying? “I don’t mourn in public.” It is not uncommon to hear sniffling, but that’s about it. If you’ve lost someone, tears are one of the best tools for healing. But, the service ALWAYS ends in inspiration and the focus of HOPE. There is always a moment of laughter during the evening.
– How can participants learn more about the grief process? A variety of grief information will be available.
Coping with Grief Articles
Jesus Sits Right Dere!
[Molly and Kelly McNair, members of the church family at Arborlawn have shared this message of hope in the midst of loss for others during this Christmas Season.]
Our daughter, Mary, had just turned 2 when she was diagnosed with a rare and most-often fatal form of leukemia. During our first night in the hospital, with what promised to be a 6-month stay facing us, Mary didn’t want me to sleep at all. She wanted Mama to sit up all night next to her bed while she slept. Knowing that we were in for the long haul and that much would be demanded of me each day, I knew that I could not get by night after night with no sleep. So the next night, after we said prayers, I suggested to Mary that we ask God to send an angel to watch over her at night while she slept, so that I could sleep on the couch right next to her bed. She loved to say prayers and was thrilled by this prospect, and it became a great game, every night, to say prayers and then tell the angels where she wanted them to sit.
Sadly, I was not the kind of mother who went around telling Jesus stories and singing Sunday school songs to my kids all day. But not long after we began the ‘angel game,’ one night when Mary had said her “God-blesses” for everyone from her daddy and brother to Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh, I suggested, “…and why don’t you add, ‘Dear Jesus, please make me well.”
Mary’s big brown eyes popped open, she patted the bed beside her. “Jesus sits right dere,” she declared. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t told her more about Jesus. She already knew all about Him.
In the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” a character declares that “there’s a separate God for children.” In our family, we know this is true. That separate God is the One who said “Let the little children come unto Me.” Mary died that year, two days before Christmas, but of this we are certain: No matter where she is, she’s with Jesus.
Tears. What to Do with Tears?
That question always takes me back to an interview I heard on a national morning news show following the tragedy of 9-11. The panel of guests consisted of kindergartners who were grieving loss and the topic was “tears.” One little boy said that he let himself cry when he needed to because he figured out his tears actually started somewhere down in his tummy, (maybe somewhere around his heart, he said) and then they moved up through his throat and he had to let them out because if he didn’t, his throat and face hurt and then he got a stomach ache. So, he said it’s just easier to cry and let the tears come out through your eyeballs and get it over with. He proceeded to say it wasn’t worth getting a sore throat and stomach ache.
Out of the mouths of babes, right? Priceless. How many times when swallowing back tears, do you find your throat gets tight and tense, with tension moving into your shoulders and neck, the into your jaws and temples, forehead and then a headache starts?
The Old Testament tell us about biblical time and their relationship to tears. For THIRTY days approximately 600,000 people stopped everything to mourn the death of Aaron. Various versions read, “they wailed”, “they lamented”, “they wept”, “they cried out.” For thirty days the entire community stopped everything as they sought restoration and healing for their loss, mourning and grieving together in community. Builders stopped building. Harvesters stopped harvesting. Everyone’s job was to do the work of grieving.
Thirty days of mourning is still very common in third world countries, with grief expressed publicly. In those cultures, withholding your tears and grief is seen as extremely rude and open weeping is actually expected from men and young children. Everyone is taught and encouraged to cry together from a very early age.
On the other hand, here in the West, we typically prefer our grief, our weeping and mourning to be tidy, neat and out of sight, especially hiding it from our children. We want it to be over quickly with things back to norm. Kids back to school, adults back to work. Some company and office policy manuals state that employees who lose immediate family members should return to work within the first month. But in that first month, there is little to no time to grieve, due to the handling of the legal aspects of a death. There’s no time to grieve that first month, due to the handling of legal aspects around the death.
Parents grieving the loss of a child or the loss of their own parent usually have other children needing care, reducing the time or opportunity needed to grieve adequately, particularly if the adult is hiding emotions of sadness and loss from children or other family members. As a result, we appear have become a nation of ‘part time’ grievers, or grief -postponed, “…all of Israel mourned for him for thirty days.”
Yes, there will be tears at Hope for the Holidays. Usually very quietly. And, it’s o.k.
When you think about it, there should be no safer place for tears than in a church sanctuary, under the cross of the One who said He came to care for the broken hearted and give us beauty for ashes and joy for our mourning.
Or, as the wise 1st grade boy said, “When you need to, just cry, go ahead and get it over with”.
And, yes the tears will stop and they may start again, but God never stops collecting each one as they fall. It is what He does so well.
Our speaker this year is Melissa Austin Weeks, a wonderful speaker who shares her encouraging, inspiring story through difficult loss, with truly helpful ways to find Hope in the Holidays. You don’t want to miss her story.
Coping Strategies for Grief During the Holidays: Part 1
Since our love for someone or something does not end with death, separation, or change, holidays may result in a renewed sense of personal grief – a feeling of loss unlike that experienced in the routine of daily living. The symptoms of grief that you thought were nally over or behind you seem to be recycling or reappearing, leaving you thinking to yourself: “Oh, no, not again. I thought I was past this.” These symptoms may include feelings of unreality or a sense of detachment, discouragement, physical dis- tress with heart palpitations, helplessness, abdominal pain, changes in appetite or weight, di culty sleeping, crying, sighing, tense muscles or muscle spasms, shortness of breath, etc.
Society encourages you to just join right in with the hol- iday festivities; while all around you, the sounds, sights, and smells trigger memories. While no simple guide- lines exist to take away the hurt you are feeling, the fol- lowing suggestions may help you better cope with your grief during this joyful, yet possibly painful time of year.
First, remember to be just as compassionate and con- siderate of yourself as you would be with someone else grieving a signi cant loss. Lower your expectations of yourself and of others around you who are also grieving.
Second, do not be afraid to express your feelings of grief, sadness or loss. Find caring, compassionate friends and relatives who will patiently listen without judging you. Let them know how di cult certain aspects of the holi- day season can be.
Finally, determine to: 1) Be tolerant of your physi- cal and emotional limits, because whenever grief revisits, so does its partner fatigue. 2) Anticipate low- er energy. Respect what your body is trying to say to you about being at your peak during the holiday season, when it says “slowdown and stop”. 3) Look for God’s peace and presence a breath at a time, rather than expecting constant peace and a constant sense of God’s presence. 4) Keep your heart and eyes opened to see, as you are able, simple blessings. See these with gratitude and thankfulness.
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This article is based on materials and lectures by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Center for Loss and Life and the book “The Last Dance” by Lynn Ann De Spelder.
Arborlawn’s Prayer Ministry is conducting a Prayer Walk prior to this year’s Hope for the Holidays service. If you would like to participate in the Prayer Walk, please meet in the Lower Commons at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 17.
Coping Strategies for Grief During the Holidays: Children and Grief, Part 1
By Deb Sewell
Because we are encouraging children who have experienced significant loss to attend this year’s Hope for the Holidays service, here are some myths and truths about grieving children, their symptoms, and suggestions for helping.
It is a myth that young children do not grieve. Even an infant, though unable to recognize death, does recognize separation with symptoms that manifest in fitful sleeping and even eating and digestive problems.
Young children experience the same emotions adults experience. However, they do not have the same verbal skills to adequately express what they are feeling. Children grieve the loss of pets, moving from one home or school to another, and other situations. They certainly grieve separation and/or divorce and death. Their grief often shows up in behavior changes, such as crying more or whining. Sometimes they try to pretend nothing has changed, or they may throw tantrums, do poorly in school or refuse to go to school, become cranky and irritable, have tummy aches, experience nightmares, or become overly clingy with family and sometimes new friends. Sometimes children who are grieving revert to talking “baby talk” or bedwetting.
Because young children are “magical thinkers” (make believe and pretend, Santa, tooth fairy, etc.), they may feel that they in some way caused a death. For example, perhaps in difficult moments, they’ve wished someone would just go away or die. The child may feel guilty or responsible.
Because a child’s reaction and understanding of loss is influenced by his or her age and development, here are a few simple breakdowns:
Children 0-2 — Do not recognize death, but do recognize separation.
Children 2-6 — Confuse death with sleeping, believing it is temporary and reversible. “When is mommy coming home from heaven?” They believe their thoughts or actions may have caused a divorce or death.
Children 6-9 — Believe death is a person, i.e. skeleton, monster, ghost. Believe death is final, but that it only happens to others.
Children 9 and up — Acknowledge that everyone dies, it is not reversible, and it is not punishment.
A general fear expressed by most children of all ages is “Who will take care of me?” A child should be assured that he or she is safe and will always be loved and cared for.
Note: This article adapted from AAPM and Pediatric Hospice/Palliative Care notes and The WARM Place (Grief Support Center for Children).
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Coping Strategies for Grief During the Holidays: Children and Grief, Part 2
By Deb Sewell
To recap topic from Children and Grief, Part 1, we learned that children grieve differently than adults. We also discussed the typical symptoms often seen in children who are grieving. They may have physical manifestations (i.e. tummy aches, nightmares, tantrums, be overly clingy or needy, become cranky, whine, even revert to baby talk). In grieving children of all ages, changes in grades and performance and changes in friendships at school are significant symptoms of grief, indicating the child would benefit by the help of a professional counselor.
In addition, children are less likely to experience continuing and intense grief feelings. One minute they may appear to be acting out their grief and the next playing happily like nothing has ever happened. This doesn’t mean they are fine or past their grief. Laughter and play doesn’t mean a child is through grieving.
Small children are incapable of abstract thinking and will look to you for facts to help them understand death. In addition, they may have difficulty putting their questions and fears into words. They will tend to act out their anger, fears, denial, and wishful thinking. They are repetitive in their grief. They may come to you asking the same questions repeatedly because either they want a different answer or they just don’t understand the answer you’re given them.
With every new stage of development, their grief may surface again as their understanding of loss and death changes. This also applies to special recurring events, such as birthdays.
Because children need to grieve as part of a family, they need your willingness to discuss death and loss with them. Here are a few suggestions to help children who are grieving:
1) Speak openly about what has happened, giving short, direct answers to their questions. Avoid using the terms “passed away,” “she’s just sleeping,” or “we lost him,” as these terms cause confusion. Use the words die, died, or dead.
2) Tell the truth at a simple level; don’t lie. Be honest and specific. Children are intuitive and know when something doesn’t add up.
3) Allow the child to ask his or her own questions.
4) Help share memories through talking and even creating a memory book together, filled with pictures, stories, and drawings. This is something concrete that reflects how the person or object is now gone and helps the child cope with the loss.
5) Be available and pay attention to the child’s playtime. When you observe something different, gently approach them and encourage them to talk.
6) Realize that a grieving child may need a place to be alone, whether at school or at home.
7) Even very young children should have the option to attend the funeral. For their choice to be meaningful, you need to provide them details telling them what to expect, including viewing the body of the deceased. A wonderful analogy for a child in this area is to show him or her an empty sea shell, once holding a living creature and now empty; all that is left is the shell. So as they see this body, there is no longer a spirit or life inside the body. Reassure them their loved one is not cold, nor are they sleeping.
8) As much as possible, keep a normal routine for your child.
9) Listen to them. Encourage them to talk about their loss again and again, as talking is the most effective tool for helping children and adolescents (and adults) deal with grief.
10) Share age appropriate books and videos together that discuss death and loss.
Resources: Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, 2008; The WARM Place, Grief Support Center for Children; and “We Were Going to Have a Baby, But Had an Angel Instead,” by Pat Schweitzer..
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Coping with Grief and Loss During the Holidays: Part 1
In search of “trunk or treat” candy, I was walking through a local store and heard carols playing on the overhead speakers. Halloween candy and scary costumes sitting beside Rudolf, who was draped with twinkle lights. The “first” set of holidays are difficult enough, but possibly more so when Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas begin in September and overlap and finally end sometime around January 1st. I can fully understand those who are dreading the holidays wishing they could to go to bed in October and awaken January 15. The sights, smells and sounds are constantly reminding us of what we’ve lost and sometimes they leave us in a cacophony of sights and sounds.
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Patrick O’Malley’s website on grief recovery:
“A few years after our son died I was bathing our dog, and a profound surge of sadness came over me. It took me few minutes to realize that the scent of the antiseptic soap I was using to shampoo the dog triggered the memory of being in the NICU, scrubbing up to visit our son.
We know our loved one in a physical environment of sight, sound and scent. Depending on the length and involvement of our relationship, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of sensory connections to our loved one.
When you wonder how long grief takes, consider the myriad of ways you knew your loved one through your eyes, ears and nose. Often these sensory memories bypass your psychological defenses and go right to the core of your loss.
You are not lingering in your grief. Your senses do not forget.”
I could not agree more. Our senses do not forget. That being said, how do we prepare for the onslaught to our senses in the next 90 days of overlapping holidays?
Here are a few ideas to consider:
Accept that we “cannot NOT grieve”. When we love (something or someone) and lose, we grieve. And, when we resist the emotions, we often become exhausted. So, give in to the idea that we can grieve now or grief can surface in unhealthy ways another time. But we cannot NOT grieve.
Consider planning now how you will deal with the upcoming holidays by focusing only on this one year. Anticipate that the holidays will have sad and emotional times no matter what you do. But they will also have the potential for sweet and tender moments. Possibly even fleeting moments of joy. Sitting down to “make a plan” will also offer the potential for emotions of loss to surface in privacy. (Pre-emptive planning is a term that I have learned from Dr. O’Malley when folks are anticipating a time of loss. I like that term and I think it is appropriate when dealing with grief around the holiday season).
Finally, as a congregation of faith, we are reminded and encouraged by the passage of scripture which reminds us that we do not grieve as those without hope. This means that in the midst of our grief, we believe that life does not end with physical death. (1st Thessalonians 4:13).
In our next article, we will discuss common symptoms of grief as well as other ways of planning the holidays “pre-emptively.”
The articles on Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays are provided by Deb Sewell, lay minister and grief/bereavement support at Arborlawn UMC. This is the first in a series of 3 articles in preparation for Hope for the Holidays.
Each article will include insights from Dr. Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O’Malley is currently writing a new book about grief recovery. More information on Dr. O’Malley can be found at his website: http://drpatrickomalley.com.
Coping with Grief and Loss During the Holidays: Part 2
by Deb Sewell and Dr. Pat O’Malley, PhD
This is the second in a series of articles leading to Arborlawn’s Hope for the Holidays service, Thursday, November 19th in the Sanctuary.
In our last article we discussed the idea that we “cannot not grieve”. When we love and lose something or someone, we grieve. In one way or another, now or later, we grieve. We also discussed the importance of realizing how the holidays often trigger our senses, particularly through sights, smells and sounds, making us more sensitive to our loss and grief.
This week, we will discuss the importance of giving words and descriptions to our loss and making plans now for the holidays.
To quote Dr. Patrick O’Malley:
People who talk about their grief often use similes and metaphors to describe their experience.
“Grief is like being on an emotional roller coaster.” “Grief is like being in the ocean and waves of sadness wash over me.” “Grief is a mountain to scale.” “Grief is shattering.” They also use examples of physical injury to express the experience of loss. They may feel their grief as a deep wound that requires time to heal. A wound implies that as it heals, the pain of grief will lessen and end. Yet for many, grief is an experience that does not end. I also hear the bereaved say their grief feels like the loss of a limb, which suggests that bereaved people must live their lives with a part of themselves always missing. Find words and images that describe your grief experience. Use them to help you navigate your way in this uncharted territory of loss.”
As we move into the holidays, please consider journaling your own unique words and images as Dr. O’Malley has suggested. In light of the rapidly approaching holiday season, you might find it helpful to be specific regarding a family tradition or seasonal event. How does it feel that it will be different? Be specific. Try to keep your focus on the upcoming holidays, rather than future years.
One more thought with regard to beginning now to plan a different kind of holiday:
In general, we don’t usually maintain our typical level of resilience while grieving, indicating you might consider lowering expectations of yourself for the holiday season. Ask a caring friend to help you make a plan in advance, taking into consideration your emotional and physical reserve for that day, week or even the two-month season. Be flexible. Give yourself permission to change that plan. How many school, work or church parties, social functions, etc will you attend, if any? As you are able, include family members (especially grieving children) in the planning of your holidays as well as making changes to plans you have made. Again, the idea is to make plans for this holiday season only.
In closing, the Amplified version of the scriptures captures the final words of Christ before His ascension: “And, lo, I am with you always (remaining with you perpetually-regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion), even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is reminding us that in spite of what we may feel, we are never alone. Never. Not in life. Not in death. Not in our grief.
The articles on Coping with Grief and Loss during the Holidays are provided by Deb Sewell, lay minister and grief/bereavement support at Arborlawn UMC with the collaboration of Dr. Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling for the last 35 years. For more blog posts on grief, please see: http://drpatrickomalley.com
If you or someone you know has suffered loss and is dreading the upcoming holidays, bring them with you, Thursday evening, November 19th@ 7:00 p.m. for Hope for the Holidays, a service of inspiration, comfort and hope. Other information about Hope for the Holidays and articles on grieving the holidays can be found here.
Coping with Grief and Loss During the Holidays: Part 3
by Deb Sewell and Patrick O’Malley, PhD
Editor’s note: Portions of this article are taken from an original Hope for the Holidays post in 2013.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Susan Van Volkenburgh tell her story, based on her book, Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down. Susan’s father was on flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon on 9-11.
During the Q&A session, she was asked what words of comfort and assurance helped their family through this horrific time of trying to recover the bodies of 9-11, interviews with FBI and Secret Service, explaining the crimes of terror to her children, and the grief. She pondered and thought and said that the most comfort was from those who said nothing, but who were present with her in silence and in weeping.
Dr. Patrick O’Malley talks about being a good friend in a recent blog post:
“Learning how to be a good friend to grieving people may be as simple as sitting with them when they are sad.
My friend Fred does this well. During the significant losses in my life, Fred shows up. He gives a great hug and then settles in for the sit. He tends to come early and stay late. Once I had to let him know it was okay to go home, because we needed to get to bed. He has few words, but his presence is always comforting.
I do not know what my next loss will be, but I know Fred will be there to sit with me in those early days of sadness. That gives me great comfort.”
On the flip side, there is a chapter in Van Volkenburgh’s book recalling those trying to help by saying “Just put it behind‚” or “It’s time to move on.” For those of you who have mourned a significant loss, you would do anything to “…just put it behind and move on.” On the one hand you want someone to tell you how to do that because you ache for things to be “normal” again. On the other hand, you long for someone to be with you, be “your Fred” as you find a way through the intense moments.
Another question that follows is: How long does it take to “move on”? How long will they grieve? Just as no thumbprint is the same, no experience of grief is the same. Our life experiences, our depth of love, depth of disappointment, betrayals, complications in relationships, circumstances; all of these play a significant role in the time and work it takes to fully recover. Healing from a deep loss is rarely linear; rather, it is cyclical and often compound.
C.S. Lewis described grief as spiral, meaning you climb your way up out of the pit of darkness and depression. It is exhausting; in weariness, you simply give out and slide back down. Grief is immensely fatiguing. When your strength is replenished, you once again start the climb. The good news is that each time you climb, you typically don’t slide as far down as in previous times.
The other aspect to consider about the length of grief is whether it is compound or complicated. For example, if it’s the loss of a spouse who was also their best friend, they long to talk with their best friend about the loss of their spouse and vice versa; their loss is doubled or a compound loss. Compound can also refer to more than one significant loss in a short period of time.
Complicated grief typically is grief that can have the potential to become chronic – meaning lasting much longer – for it to fully resolve. This can result from a grief that was traumatic – a death that was premature, out of order, sudden, violent, or unexpected. Complicated grief can also be the result of a weary caregiver privately wishing their loved one would pass away. As adult children watch a parent, or a spouse watches their loved one decline over the months or years with a poor quality of life, the pain and exhaustion for the caregiver can become unbearable. They secretly wish to see their loved one pass on. When they do, there is often an associated guilt, which can slow the recovery. If complicated grief does become chronic, it will usually require the attention of a counselor with expertise in chronic or complicated grief.
Rarely will the recovery of a significant loss be less than a year, usually closer to three years or longer or until there is a significant “sense of resolve” regarding the loss. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, noted author and speaker on issues of grief, the term “closure” is far more appropriate finalizing a real estate deal and far less appropriate when discussing a deep loss, but for lack of a better term, says there is rarely closure when you’ve experienced an “out of order” death, especially that of a child or the unanticipated death of a spouse.
If you have been blessed to be a companion with a friend or family member on a journey through loss and grief, consider it a privilege and a calling. It is a high calling. The apostle Paul told the new believers at the church at Corinth that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others and we comfort them with the same comfort God has given us when we needed comfort.
And, the good news is that even though we carry fragments of our loss and grief with us for as long as we breathe, God has created us to be resilient. Most of us really do experience healing and renewal in time; and with work, we will notice tiny seeds of hope begin to take root and buds of life begin to grow gently in the places where desolation existed. The other good news is that, many times the one grieving will sense the presence of a loving God, who never left their side.
In the meantime, be gentle with them, and be gentle with yourself, knowing this isn’t a sprint that lasts just days or weeks; rather, for most, it will last several years. In grief care, the saying is: “It takes as long as it takes and no one wants it over sooner than the one grieving.”
Finally, remember: this is their grief to bear, not yours. It is not your job to make them happy again. The only One to carry this burden with and for them is the One who created them. May we say with thankful hearts: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 Amplified.
Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O’Malley has been contributing to a series of blogs as we prepare for this year’s Hope for the Holidays, Thursday evening, November 19th.