Ways we can cope with grief

A supportive friend or family member can help ease the overbearing weight of grief.

By Vivienne Mountain

My little granddaughter was in high distress. Her girlfriend had come around to see her two baby guinea pigs. In the small enclosure, while feeding the mother, the friend accidentally stepped on one of the babies. There was blood, it was squashed, suddenly dead.

We all know the grief of death, life has gone, there is sadness, something we value is lost. Grief was real for my granddaughter. Grief is real for all of us at different times in our family life.

Grief is the normal response to loss, and today as well as private experiences of grief, there are many aspects of communal life that cause similar pain and distress.

We are living with COVID, we experience lockdowns in our cities, there is longing to have freedom again. A longing to enjoy parties, meet friends, play in the park and continue with studies and work.

We don’t suffer alone, this is worldwide communal grief. The pandemic is affecting us with uncertainty, suffering and death. Loss and grief are real, having an impact on physical and emotional life, as well as mental health.

Our churches and people of faith should be prepared, first to face grief and loss personally, then to support others coping with the escalating and complex situations of grief.

Grieving is a task; it involves thinking and action. Human connection and honesty are important.

The best support for grief is to have someone with you to move into the chaos without trying to change it.

We need:

  • Reality and talk. Tell the story again and again, draw pictures, go through photographs, create rituals to recognise the loss.
  • This provides a safe sense of continuity.
  • Our helplessness is OK.
  • Permission to be yourself. To cry or not cry.
  • Transitional Keep something to help remember.
  • Allow time, don’t rush, remember anniversaries.
  • Find balance in life. Exercise, worship, fun and lightness.
  • Professional help as needed.

The Christian world view has a focus on God as creator, Jesus as redeemer and the Holy Spirit with us.

There are important stories to inspire: God hearing the cry of the slaves in Egypt; the lament of God’s people in the Psalms; the confrontation with injustice in the Prophets; the suffering of Job, the “righteous” one who suffers.

There is grace shown in Jesus through encounters with the outcast and the sick.  Forgiving and healing. Calming the storm. Feeding the crowd. Welcoming children.  Changing water into wine. There are signs of divine connection and human compassion, culminating in trust, as he refuses to turn away from death on the cross.

Many Christians have favourite texts from scripture that can be used as a mantra to calm the mind and act as a reminder of positive possibilities while they grieve.

Some of these might be:

  • “The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33: 27).
  • “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in Spirit, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29)
  • “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, if there is any virtue and anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things” (Phil 4:8).

Linked to scripture, prayer is also found to be helpful in the work of grief. Prayer need not be in words, but in feelings and “groaning”. The book of Romans (chapter eight) presents a vision of faith in the midst of grief. It envisages the whole Creation groaning, as in the pains of childbirth. The chapter continues, speaking of ourselves groaning, as we wait for relief. Finally in this section, we see the Holy Spirit coming to help, praying for us with groaning in prayers too deep for words.

 The best support for grief is to have someone with you. Pastoral care reminds us of the presence of a loving God, the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and the wider human connections with family and the faith community.

There are many other ways to help cope with “the dark night” of grief – music, communal worship, exercise and movement, dance, art, craft, bush walking, gardening, cooking, the list is endless.

People often rediscover creative hobbies enjoyed in the past.  Practical projects help to bring the mind into the present, giving a space of calm.

Grief is a harsh teacher; we cannot ignore it or run away. Grief forces us to change.   There is an internal change of heart and understanding from which faith and hope emerge, allowing action towards wider external social change. We find new energy to work for the good, in the Spirit of God.

Vivienne Mountain PhD is a clinical counsellor and professional supervisor, and a member of St Leonards UCA.

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