Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Do We Say "Good-Bye?....On Death and Grief

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die."       Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2 

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My brother Jeff and I with our Dad.  In front of our Laguna Beach home in 1966

 I'm experienced at surviving loss.  My young, vibrant father died in a car accident when I was just thirteen,  he was only forty years old.  One day he was there, the next he was gone. From that day on my life was drastically changed,  I looked at the world through different lenses then most young teens. Although I have always cautioned myself against dwelling on the thought that anyone we love can be taken away at any time, this is a prevailing message forever imbedded in my mind.  
Being married to a pastor I have witnessed first-hand all kinds of grief and loss, the worst being:  parents tragically losing s a young child; the passing away of an adolescent, a young adult, or a spouse due to an accident;  those long, drawn-out illnesses which consume the heart and the soul of the surviving family until their loved-one finally succumbs to the illness or disease.  I have also seen the death of many marriages and this too is witnessing real grief.   I will ask the question again, "when is it ever easy to say good-bye?" A few years ago I wrote two different pieces on grief.  The first one right after I road-over my dog.  You can read it here.    The second piece I wrote was during my move out of our family home which you can read here.



Grieving publicly is difficult.  My husband was so overwhelmed he struggled to speak.



In the past six weeks I have lost my father-in-law Robert H. Schuller;  a good friend, and our first
marriage counselor, Dr. Frank Freed;  and most recently, one of my mentors and pastors,  David Grubbs.  Are they "lost" or am I the one who is more lost because they are no longer here?  I think the later.

Death is such a natural part of life and as a Christian I believe in the afterlife.  If we are committed to our belief  then why do we still experience such sadness and grief when saying "good-bye" to those we care about?
If you are a normal, healthy person you should be able to travel through a variety of emotions which will not threaten your security as a person of faith or do anything to separate you from the love of God.  And remember grief has a season of it's own and cannot be assigned a time to "get through."


Rarely a private moment in our family's events.


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying" came up with what we now consider a standard description on the stages of grief.  These stages are what a healthy individual should progress through in order to finally accept the loss of a loved-one.  And by the way, they can also be applied to any loss: that of a job, a marriage, or anything which has caused us pain.

1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain. 

2. Anger

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

3. Bargaining

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
  • If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
  • If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
  • If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.

4. Depression

Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell.

5. Acceptance

Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.  

In closing I'd like to suggest some things not to say to someone who has recently lost a loved-one: "He (or she) is in a better place." "You must be relieved that their suffering is over and they are now with Jesus." "You'll be okay, just hang-on to the happy memories." "You're strong so just hang in there." "You are so lucky to have experienced such a great marriage for all those years." "Pray about your loss and God will help you."  Any derivative of any of the above statements are not okay to say to someone who is grieving!
The only things you should say are: "I am praying for you."  "Can I do anything to help you?" "I am here for you." "This must be so very difficult."  "I love you."
 We are the ones who can be uncomfortable when people are grieving. When using words know that less is more.  Do not be offended if your friend does not respond to your wanting to help.  Everyone grieves differently and remember...the stages listed above each have a season of their own and should not be rushed through.

 "Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"     1 Corinthians 15: 55-56
   


 If you need help "getting through what you are going through" please reach-out to someone who can help.  My husband can be reached at:  Robert@RobertSchullerMinistries.org
I can be reached at: Donna@DonnaSchuller.com






2 comments:

  1. Amen! You have covered the question well and advised and opened the door for any of us. I like how you have expressed how you and many of us feel and I can attest you are right on! I read On Death and Dying years ago and it is a good book for all to read in my opinion. I read it in University to get my Gerontology diploma as I was volunteering at a Residence once a week after my business day. The course was a change of pace and relieved any business anxieties. Volunteering and the book and courses helped me deal with my own times when I needed to reflect back to Elizabeth Kubler Ross' book! God is blessing all, always...J-M

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  2. It is true that each person who experiences grief takes their own time to work through their grief. It took me longer to work through my grief when my father died than my sister. He died from an accident.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you as you grieve for those you have lost, Donna.
    Elizabeth

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Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. Please try to stay on the topic and remember also that there are many who are struggling through all kinds of challenges. Let's all be kind and thoughtful with our comments please! :D