file0001394095753I just came back from my monthly friendship triad meet. (Three of us meet once a month to share our lives and to encourage each other in our walk with Christ.) As we shared about the key events that had happened to us since we last met, I shared about the death of my mother-in-law. As I talked I found myself feeling increasingly tired and sad. I knew what it was. Grief.

Grief is the universal response to loss.

Grief is a normal response to the loss of any significant person, object, or opportunity. It is an experience of deprivation and anxiety that can show itself in one’s behavior, emotions, thinking, physiology, interpersonal relationships, and spirituality. (Gary R. Collins, Christian Counselling, 3rd Edition, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007, 485.)

Collins goes on to list the circumstances that may complicate grief.

The loss was not anticipated.
The loss was traumatic, unexpected, or violent.
The mourner has no spiritual resources.
The mourner has an inflexible personality.
The mourner’s cultural, ethnic, or social group discourages healthy grieving.

(Gary R. Collins, Christian Counselling, 3rd Edition, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007, 486.)

Mum-in-law’s death was completely unexpected. Bernice’s parents had just moved in with us. They were in reasonably good health with no health problems that were life threatening. We were expecting to be living with them and caring for them for many years to come. And then she fell and died.

She had made a decision to follow Christ the year before. We are confident that she is with the Lord. We know we will meet again. Nevertheless we will not see her again this side of heaven. And so we grieve.

Paul puts hope and grief in balance. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 he writes:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (NIV)

Paul does not forbid us from grieving. But followers of Jesus grieve with hope when they lose loved ones who are also followers of Jesus. We will meet again.

This side of heaven, in a fallen world, grief is the universal response to loss. It is a valley, but it is a valley that we have to walk through if we are to emerge on the other side.

The grieving process is a natural, innate, God-given means for humans to accept, adjust to, and live on in the light of the death of loved ones. (Sharon Hart May, “Loss and Grief Work,” Caring for People God’s Way, eds. Tim Clinton et al., Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005, 364.)

The only way to “overcome” grief is to go through it. When we do not allow people to grieve we do them a great disservice. We slow down or even prevent their healing. There is such a thing as pathological grief and that will require special help. But healthy grieving for the losses of life is part of life this side of heaven. Unfortunately we live in a grief-denying society. When I lost my first wife to cancer, some key Christian leaders told me to get over the loss as soon as possible and to “get back on my horse.” In other words, do not grieve. And because the symptoms of grief overlap with the symptoms of depression, grief, even healthy grief, is increasingly seen as something pathological.

Leeat Granek, a psychologist told McGill Daily (March 3, 2011), “We already live in a culture that is intolerant of grief and loss in general. The message is often, ‘You need to move on, you need to see someone.'” The real problem, he maintains, isn’t mental health, but the erosion of community structures — family, friends, churches — that can help us bear the pain of losses. (Joseph Hart, “Mourning in America,” Utne Reader, Nov-Dec 2011, 59.)

Jesus has promised that there will be a time and place when there will be no more tears (Revelation 21:1-4). We long for that day. Until then, grief will be part of human experience and we are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV). I am grateful to the friends in my friendship triad and many others who are doing just that. Thank you.