“Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.” Psalm 31:9-12 NLT
I can remember when my father died after a long illness. I was surprised at how my friends seemed to disappear, not knowing how to cope with it or what to say. The problem was, I didn’t know how to cope with it either. Even knowing what laid ahead didn’t prepared me for the shock of what would happen once that final phone call came. It was incomprehensible.
The loss of a loved one, whether through death, divorce or long term separation, is a nightmare that faces us all from time to time. For the people most dependent on that loved one, the finality and sense of abandonment is particularly traumatic. Death forces us to ask the question, “who am I now that this person is gone from my life?” The readjustment to a new identity and family structure is challenging and takes time.
Each loss is unique, and there is no solution or comfort which will be the antidote to every faced crisis. People have found that having information available on how to cope with the practical aspects to their changed circumstances can help as much as emotional support, and provides some focus for planning their future. This information can cover not only financial and legal aspects, but also coping strategies and family support information.
Children cope differently with loss than adults. The younger they are, the less they will be able to understand what has happened, and how to deal with their feelings. Their sense of security and can be significantly affected. Like adults, they need to be allowed to grieve in their own way, and be given adequate time and patience to do it in.
The National Mental Health Association in the United States has a list of useful suggestions for handling grief on its web site. http://www.nmha.org The most important is to recognize the different symptoms of grief, and allow yourself to go through the emotions rather than shutting your feelings out or denying them rather than make others feel uncomfortable. Other than that, strategies which can help include seeking out caring people who understand and will support you, rather than just putting on band-aids and murmuring meaningless platitudes. Don’t neglect yourself either. You still need a good diet, some exercise and plenty of sleep. It can be hard to remember to get on with such comparatively trivial things during a hard time, but you don’t want to end up feeling sick on top of it either. If you need help, go have a talk with your family doctor.
When you are grieving it is not a good time to make important long-term changes in your life such as moving, starting a new job (unless financially necessary) etc. Be patient with yourself. You need time to recover and decide what to do next with a clear head. Try and look towards the future and getting through each day without becoming stuck in the past, and if you feel trapped in misery or have been depressed for a long time, get yourself some professional help. Most depression is treatable, and just because you have experienced loss doesn’t mean you have to be miserable for months at a time.
If you are supporting a friend or relative who is grieving, be there to listen and help in a practical way. Remember that trite observations and clichés won’t help. Listening and giving long term unconditional love are the best gifts that you can give.
Some people find it helpful to adopt a ritual they can use to remember and honour their lost loved one. This may be keeping a place set for them at the table on family occasions, lighting a candle, or even talking to them occasionally. Don’t dispose of their possessions too fast. What is at one stage a painful reminder can later be a great comfort. Don’t be scared to remember your loved one. Plant a tree, make a donation to a charity in their name, allow them a place to still live on in your heart.
“Love the LORD, all you godly ones!
For the LORD protects those who are loyal to Him,
but He harshly punishes the arrogant.
So be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the LORD!” Psalm 31:23-24 NLT
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