WORKING THROUGH GRIEF
The idea of working through grief may seem strange when we consider grief in the usual way. When grief comes, however, we find recovery is work — and it can be as difficult as any work we ever do.
Few general rules apply. Dr. Earl Grollman has aptly written:
"Each death is different. When a parent dies, one loses the past. When a spouse dies, one loses the present. When a child dies, one loses the future. Even though grief is a common human experience, it is as individual as fingerprints — it shows itself in widely differing ways... . There is no magical procedure that will comfort all people, either at the time of death or during that period that follows. . . . People differ more widely in their reaction to death than they do to any other human experience.... While bereavement and grief are the most universal of all human experiences — and the most human — they are also the most painful."
Often, in an effort to bring comfort, we may say, "I know just how you feel." This simply is not true. Though circumstances may be similar, no one feels exactly as another.
In his book Recovery, Dr. Charles Swindoll quotes the Greek physician Hippocrates, "Healing is a matter of time’ The very familiar third chapter of Ecclesiastes refers to "a time to heal." But healing cannot take place until grief is recognized and acknowledged — which can be difficult. Eventually grief will come. It may manifest itself in a number of different ways and, unless resolved, it may bring other sorrows into life.
The pain of grief may be as devastating as a physical illness. My brother Jim died on February 28, 1965. That summer I became terribly depressed and felt the need for help to cope with my depression. I went to talk with Dr. Robert Holley and described to him my deep despair and added that I was unable to determine the cause. He asked how long it had been since Jim’s death. When I told him that it had been six months, he said he most often saw those who were grieving and depressed after this length of time. I had not considered the possibility that my grief over Jim’s death could be the cause of my depression. I thought I was over that. Dr. Holley helped me to realize that I had not let myself acknowledge my own pain and loss. Because of Daddy’s heart condition and because Ava, at 22, was still "my little sister," I felt I must be the strong one in the family. Talking with Dr. Holley and shedding my tears there was helpful and I continued seeing him once each week for quite some time.
Late last August I began to think of Jim almost constantly and I seemed to see reminders of him everywhere. Although I had always been conscious of his birthday. September 4, this past year was different. My thoughts focused on that day. I wondered if we would have joked that his next birthday would be the "big 60!" He had been dead twenty-three years, and here I found myself grief stricken for him. I continued to feel worse each day. It seemed I could not talk with anyone about my feelings. After almost a week of these emotions, I thought going to the cemetery might help. Although I am not inclined to take flowers to the cemetery, I felt I wanted to take something for his grave. I decided on a wreath with a bird and bird nest which reminded me of how he loved to bird hunt. I remembered the photograph we had of Jim training his bird dog, and my thoughts went back to a time when Jim had come to our place to bird hunt. Andy wanted to go and Jim took him.
Much later Jim told me that Andy had begged to fire the shotgun. Andy was a little boy then, and Jim told him it would kick him; but of course Andy felt sure he could handle that. Jim had finally relented and had let Andy have the gun. It did kick —so much so that Andy had a bad nosebleed. Jim said they went to a creek, and he made a cold compress with his handkerchief and they held it to Andy’s nose to stop the bleeding. This incident was Andy and Jim’s secret for some time.
On Jim’s birthday last year as I drove out to Kingdom Cemetery and down the little drive to the southern edge of the cemetery where our family graves are, I thought about this incident. When I got to the cemetery, I took the wreath, put it on Jim’s grave and felt sure I would have one big cry and feel better. As I walked around and read inscriptions and figured some ages, however, I just gradually felt myself freed of my grief. One more time I read the inscription on Jim’s monument, "Only He who knows the secrets of a man’s heart can rightly judge." I left my burden there and returned, restored and re-freshed. I had needed this acknowledgement and confrontation with a time of grieving after these many years.
As we work our way through grief, we should be kind to ourselves. We should take as much time as is needed to find comfort, realizing that our behavior is not bizarre nor are the sensations, thoughts, and actions unusual. These times are normal, and, if we are helping someone else, just being with them is often much more important than what we say.
Blessed is that one who in grief has even one person who can let the grieving one talk about the pain and shed the tears. Many are too uncomfortable with death and simply want to do or say something to "get your mind off of it." This doesn’t help in the least and is an impossibility until time has helped to heal the wound.
At a time when it seems we just cannot survive further, we come to realize that surely we will. We see others who have and this gives us courage to go on. We need to come to the point of listening to that still small voice which, as expressed by C. S. Lewis, "whispers to us in our pleasure and shouts to us in our pain."
I have found strength in the following thoughts by George Matheson which are based on Hebrews 12:1 and are found in Streams in the Desert.
"To run with patience is a very difficult thing. Running is apt to suggest the absence of patience, the eagerness to reach the goal. We commonly associate patience with lying down. We think of it as the angel that guards the couch of the invalid. Yet, I do not think the invalid’s patience the hardest to achieve.
"There is a patience which! believe to be harder — the patience that can run. To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, implies a great strength; but I know of something that implies a strength greater still. It is the power to work under a stroke; to have a great weight at your heart and still to run; to have a deep anguish in your spirit and still perform the daily task. It is a Christlike thing!
"Many of us would nurse our grief without crying if we were allowed to nurse it. The hard thing is that most of us are called to exercise our patience, not in bed, but in the street. We are called to bury our sorrows not in lethargic quiescence, but in active service — in the exchange, in the workshop, in the hour of social intercourse, in the contribution to another’s joy. There is no burial of sorrow so difficult as that; it is the "running with patience."
Last summer Ava asked me when I had read Habakkuk 3:17-19. At that moment I hardly remembered that there was a Habakkuk. Ava began to recite this beautiful hymn of faith:
Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And he will make me walk on my high hills.
(The New King James Bible)
Death is no respecter of persons. It comes to all. It would surely glorify our Lord if during a personal trial or after we have worked through it we could join with Habakkuk in praise of the one who gave us the assurance of life eternal with Him.
Funeral Pre-arrangement: The Thoughtful Act
Pre-arrangement of funeral services is a thoughtful way to free one’s family from unnecessary burdens of indecision and uncertainty at a time of stress.
People prearrange funeral services for themselves or family members for many good reasons. These reasons vary, including situations when no one is left to make arrangements, fulfilling the desire to be helpful, and easing anxieties of the survivors. Prepayment provides protection from inflation and assures adequate funds for payment for funeral services.
Pre-arrangement is a choice that you make. It enables you to specify your personal preferences and wishes concerning services. It would be well to discuss these thoughts with family members, a friend, or your minister.
Our staff are knowledgeable in this matter and are qualified to assist in the pre-arrangement. They can provide guidance in making decisions about services and information about prepayment options. They will be pleased to meet with you either in your home or at the funeral home at your convenience.
We dedicate this issue of SEASONS to those who have died and whose families we have served from May 9, 1989 to August 20, 1989.
Mrs. Bernice Rucker Durham 5/9/89
Mrs. Alice Lockard Farley 5/11/89
Mrs. Gladys Bachman Barlow 5/17/89
Mrs. Mary Hamilton Tatum 5/21/89
Mr. Jesse Robert Mitchell 5/22/89
Mrs. Zula "Dude" Austin 5/22/89
Mr. James Phillip Rikard 5/23/89
Miss Bessie Funderburk 5/23/89
Mr. John Smith Murphey, Sr. 5/24/89
Mr. Robert Lamar Clements 5/26/89
Mr. Drew Emitt Mims 5/25/89
Mrs. Kathryn Littlejohn Prater 5/27/89
Mrs. Iva Johnson Thweatt 5/28/89
Mrs. Stella Sneed Samuels 5/29/89
Mr. William Dexter Starnes 6/1/89
Mrs. Tessie Elizabeth Sumner 6/6/89
Mrs. Hazel Howell Shelton 6/10/89
Mr. Robert Marion Ausburn 6/13/89
Mr. Autry Foster 6/21/89
Mrs. Inez Hale Happ 6/21/89
Mrs. Effie Ray Hollowell 6/28/89
Mrs. Dorothea Bignell Morse 7/3/89
Mrs. Emma Kate Rogers Evans 7/9/89
Mr. Ted Larry Bishop 7/9/89
Mrs. Mary Lynn Gray Byrd 7/10/89
Mrs. Clyde Chaffin Haney 7/12/89
Mrs. Cora Downs Aloway 7/14/89
Mrs. Robbie Vinson Bray 7/14/89
Mrs. Zelma Livingston Sullivan 7/14/89
Mr. William Lloyd Champion 7/19/89
Mrs. Hazel Hunter Santamarina 7/20/89
Mrs. Elizabeth Stansel Goza 7/26/89
Mr. Buddy Gene McLarty 7/26/89
Mrs. Hazel Kendell Jones 7/27/89
Mrs. Inez Briscoe Waller 7/27/89
Mrs. Lillian Jones Steadman 7/31/89
Miss Q’Milla Collins 8/3/89
Mrs. Frances Meek Rowland 8/7/89
Mr. Ivan "Buddy" Tidwell 8/10/89
Mr. Fount Owen Burrow 8/14/89
Mrs. Faye Holcombe Ledbetter 8/15/89
Mr. George Albert Giutta 8/17/89
Help in time of death or other crisis can often be gotten from people who have experienced similar difficulties. The groups help individuals to reach out and share the insight developed through experience. Some helpful organizations are:
Candlelights, 123 C Street, Southeast, Washington, D.C. 20003. This is an international organization of parents whose children have cancer or died from this disease.
Compassionate Friends, P. 0. Box 1347, Oak Brook, Illinois 60521. A support group for bereaved parents who "need not walk alone."
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Foundation, 1501 Broadway, New York, New York 10036. The group
intervenes on behalf of stricken parents of SIDS or "crib death" with professional counseling services for adults and children.
Widowed-to-Widowed Program. Begun at the Laboratory of Community Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 58 Feinwood Rd., Boston, Massachusetts 02115. There are hundreds of these organizations throughout the United States. They bring together the widow and widower in fellowship and help them find a new way of life.
Parents Without Partners, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20014. A nonsectarian organization with a membership of a hundred thousand in over 700 chapters concerned with the welfare of single parents and their children. It assures them that they are not alone. Their motto is "Sharing by Caring." If such an organization does not exist in your area, the clergy person could be instrumental in its formation.
Survivors of Suicide Program, 2808
Swiss Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204
YOU WILL FEEL BETTER
Sorrow comes to all. . . it comes with bitterest agony. . .Perfect relief is not possible except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. . . .And yet this is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.