Last week I attended a seminar about on grief and mourning put on by Glenn and Roslyn Crichton, founders of The Coping Centre. In 1982, their lives seemed idyllic – they had a great marriage and three young children. But one Monday, their four-year-old daughter developed swollen glands and seemed a little lethargic. On Tuesday they visited the doctor and had a blood test. On Thursday, their daughter seemed to be doing better but the doctor said that her white blood cell count was high and suggested they run some more tests. By the end of the day they heard the diagnosis, their daughter had lymphoblastic leukemia. After several days of treatment and worsening symptoms, their daughter died early Monday morning.
Like most people, they never imagined that something like this could happen to them. But their journey to address their own feelings of grief eventually resulted in a ministry to provide support to grieving people, which they run from a centre in Guelph. They shared, among other things, some of the myths surrounding grief that can become obstacles in a person’s recovery. Let me share some of those myths with you.
Myth 1: Grief and mourning are the same thing. Jesus talked about the blessing and comfort that comes to those who mourn (Matthew 5:4), but grief is different than mourning. Grief is what we feel. It’s the internal response to loss. Mourning is how we outwardly express what we inwardly feel. Grief that’s never expressed in mourning can be destructive.
Myth 2: There is a predictable, orderly progression to the experience of mourning. Many people have heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and assume that they ‘have grief figured out.’ This isn’t helpful. They said that in fifteen years of ministry, talking with hundreds of grieving people, they have concluded that no two people mourn in exactly the same way. Understanding typical patterns is fine but humility is needed.
Myth 3: People should cry more/cry less. This myth is related to Myth #2. It’s based on the assumption that everyone should mourn in the same way. Holding in tears is never helpful but if the tears aren’t there, the grieving person hasn’t done anything wrong. People mourn in the context of their personalities and so a person’s tears or lack of tears is often a reflection of how they process grief not a sign that they’re not grieving or not mourning properly.
Myth 4: People need to move on and get over their grief as soon as possible. You can’t short-circuit the process of grief and mourning. To get to the other side, you have to go through it. Otherwise, grief has a way of following you. There are many things that can be learned and should be learned in the grieving process, but when mourning is rushed or ignored, the lessons are lost.
Myth 5: If you have faith, you shouldn’t grieve. Sometimes, Christians are so eager to show their confidence in the hope of heaven and the strength of their faith that they’re more interested in ‘looking strong’ than they are in mourning. If Jesus could weep (John 11:35) at the death of a friend whom He would soon bring back to life (John 11:44), it would seem unnatural to expect that our faith should eliminate our need for mourning. Our faith doesn’t take away our grief; rather, it gives us the strength to confront our grief. The promise of heaven, our confidence in God’s will and the reality of God’s comfort are all real, but they don’t take away grief or eliminate the need to mourn.
Myth 6: God will never give you more than you can handle. With regard to temptation, the Bible does say that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But in describing his afflictions, Paul could say, “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). If the apostle Paul faced trials beyond his ability to manage, chances are that we will also. But Paul gives hope in explaining the reason. He says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). God sometimes gives us more than we can handle so that we learn to rely on Him and experience His sustaining grace.
At the seminar, I realized that I have much to learn about grief and mourning. But their words helped me to understand some of the dynamics a little more.
In awe of Him,