I have had the privilege as a pastor to walk beside a number of people as they deal with the death of a friend or loved one. It can be a very difficult time and many people have never learned how to go through a grieving process well. Either their families did not deal with death well growing up or they suffered a loss that was so painful they never got over it.
Here are the 4 biggest mistakes I see in people as they grieve someone who has died.
1. You don’t see grief as normal. Grief is a normal process. We don’t like any changes—even good ones. Death is the ultimate change and it is difficult, painful, and represents as total loss of control.
In other places around the world people are expected to take a certain amount of time to grieve, but in the West we expect people to go to a funeral on Saturday and be fine on Monday. It simply does not work like that. And if you don’t let yourself grieve then you will end up slowly grieving the rest of your life. It is normal. It is ok to need some time. It is ok to not be ok.
2. You don’t understand the mix of emotions that go along with grief. People often expect to be sad about a death, but often grief has a lot of other emotions that go along with it. Sometimes the person meant a lot to use and we feel joy and gratitude for their life. Sometimes the person was in a lot of pain or had dementia and were not themselves and we can feel happy or relieved.
I have done one funeral for a suicide in my ministry so far. A man with a history of mental illness waited for everybody to go to the store and then shot himself in the back yard. The family came home to find him in that state. They were more than shocked. They were angry as they had to deal with it. At the same time they were relieved because he had been in a very difficult place for some time.
When you grieve, it can include a lot of different emotions. Often the sadness over a previous death come back, as if your mind is reminding you to be careful and remember how bad this hurt last time. The emotions surrounding death are complicated and have to run their course. Let them.
3. You don’t move on from your grief. This is the flip side of #1 and #2. You have to let yourself grieve with whatever emotions come up. This can take a long time. A part of you might have died with that person and a part of that person’s life may be with you forever.
But the Bible says there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. I love how Psalm 23 says it: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” The key word there is through. We don’t move into the valley. We don’t by a house in the valley. We don’t stay there. I read that verse at every funeral and remind people that death does not have the last word on life. Not for the Christian. At some point, though you may always be sad about the loss, you have to move on.
4. You close off emotionally from others. Sometimes people are so saddened by grief that they don’t want to get close to anyone anymore. After all, if I am not close to anyone then it won’t hurt so much to lose them. So people close off and don’t let anyone close.
But this is not healthy. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said it this way:
The agony is great and yet I will stand it. Had I not loved so much I would not hurt so much. But goodness knows I would not want to diminish that precious love by one fraction of an ounce. I will hurt. And I will be grateful for that hurt for it bears witness to the depth of our meaning. And for that I will be eternally grateful.
Grief hurts, but it is worth the pain to have the joy and meaning of connection with others. Don’t let your grief close you off to great things God has for you in your life.
To hear my sermon titled Death, Where is Your Sting? CLICK HERE.