Expect the Unexpected

“So I’m not going crazy!” say members of grief support groups after reading a list of normal responses to grief. Hearing from others and learning about the variety of reactions to loss typically helps normalize the often frightening experience of grief. Without that reassurance, we may feel alarmed by and concerned about our feelings, thoughts, and physical symptoms. Learning what to expect after a death can provide some relief and comfort. Here are some—but certainly not all—possible responses to loss:

  • Having more questions than answers
  • Eventually finding peace with the questions
  • Crying, weeping, wailing, sobbing
  • One day catching yourself smiling (for real) and even laughing
  • Being knocked down by a wave of grief when you least expect it
  • A holiday or other day you dreaded isn’t as bad as you anticipated
  • Feeling like your heart truly has broken
  • Someday realizing that, while you still have scars, your heart is mending
  • Experiencing headaches, nausea, and other physical symptoms
  • Feeling your pain intensify before it diminishes
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning or to climb back in at night
  • Losing your appetite or turning to food for comfort
  • Wishing you could go back and change what happened, or at least say once more, “I love you”
  • Replaying conversations with your loved one and finding comfort in hearing their voice in your mind
  • Shaking your fist at God
  • Reaching your hand out to God to carry you on this arduous path
  • Reliving the pain of previous losses
  • Finding hope in remembering ways you have healed from past losses
  • Feeling like your grief is unbearable
  • Being surprised that strength from within and support from without are enabling you to survive and heal

Today’s Dose of Comfort

List some of the responses you have experienced so far on your grief journey. If any symptoms concern you, consult your physician or counselor. Also consider talking with or reading the stories of others who have experienced loss. Doing so can help normalize your own experience.

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, which contains further suggestions for the holidays and throughout the year. Available in print or on Kindle at Amazon.com.

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Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Anna knew there was no way around that first holiday season without her husband, so she determined to get through it by being intentional. Some family traditions were maintained; others were put aside, at least for that year. Discussing priorities together and preparing for the holidays helped Anna and her family reduce their stress and manage their grief.

Becky’s father had died three months before Christmas, and her mother’s health was failing. She had hoped that her siblings could set aside long-standing differences and celebrate the holidays together. Other family did not feel the same way, so Becky consciously chose to lower her expectations. She moved beyond her disappointment and found freedom in focusing on enjoying her husband, adult children, and mother.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, consider the following suggestions for the holiday season.

  • Evaluate your traditional “to do” list, which might include decorating, baking, shopping, sending Christmas cards, and/or entertaining. Ask yourself, What can I skip this year? What would I like to revise for at least this season? Which traditions do I most want to include this year? Who could I ask to help me?
  • Permit yourself to change your mind about attending a holiday celebration or to leave early if a surge of grief. You may wish to write an explanatory note ahead of time, which you can leave on the counter or give to your host as you excuse yourself.
  • Give yourself the gift of TLC. Listen to your body and meet your needs for rest, refreshment, nutrition, and nurture. Also give yourself time to release your emotions through tears, talking, journaling, exercising, looking at photos, or engaging in other healing activities.
  • When you notice your heart is feeling lighter and you catch yourself laughing, savor the moments without guilt. Your loved one would want you to delight in family, friends, and life as often as you can.
  • Remember your loved one by giving a gift in their memory; buying a special ornament; hanging a Christmas stocking for written memories or expressions of love; and/or lighting a memorial candle, which you might place by a framed photo.

It is natural to miss loved ones, especially during the holidays. However, by planning ahead, evaluating your needs, and taking care of yourself, you can find comfort—and even joy—during this season.

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, which contains further suggestions for the holidays and throughout the year. Available in print or on Kindle at Amazon.com.

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Encouraged by Their Legacy

A few months after my dad died, our family went camping. As I sat near our tent, gazing at the lake, I heard voices nearby. A high school team was using the campground as a track. When the first runner crossed the finish line, I heard a few cheers. The volume and energy steadily increased as she and those who finished behind her lined the road to urge on every last runner. “Come on! All the way through!”

I smiled as they called out to their weary teammates. How wonderful to be supported like that! I felt like even I could run a great distance with such camaraderie. Then I remembered that we have an even greater number cheering us on from heaven as we continue on life’s journey.

In November, All Saints’ Day is an opportunity to be encouraged by the lives and lasting legacy of those who already have finished the race of life. Consider taking time to reflect on family members and friends who loved, served, worked, persevered, and trusted in God. Whether or not you are a Christ-follower, you can be inspired by saints from the Bible—Noah, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, Mary, and Paul—as well as more recent saints, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Theresa.

Imagine if you could hear their voices, cheering you on. What would they call out to you? On All Saints’ Day, and any day, the legacy and memories of your loved ones can encourage you to run “all the way through.”[i]

[i] “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, available at Amazon.com .

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Blessings on the Journey

This morning I was reflecting on 22 years ago, when our infant son’s heart stopped and ours broke.  I admit, the pain was excruciating and the healing felt slow. Yet now, as I look back, I can more clearly see the blessings we’ve experienced throughout the journey, including…

  • The kindness and compassion of those who cared for Darren during his 4 days on earth
  • The love and support from family and friends after his death
  • God’s loving and comforting presence, which I sensed when I needed Him most
  • God’s grace for our family when our individual pain made it difficult to support one another
  • Hearts enlarged by our loss and filled with the Lord’s compassion
  • Increased sensitivity to the sorrow around us
  • Insights and resources to help support those who cross our paths
  • A heightened awareness that we’re all just passing through this earth—it is not our home

So today we again thank God for bringing Darren into our lives and hearts, and then welcoming him home to heaven. We also pray for God to be near to and comfort those who are on a journey of grief and healing.  And may He bless them with hope.

(Doses of Comfort and Finding Comfort in God’s Embrace offer additional insights into grief and suggestions healing. Both are available at Amazon.com.)

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Facing Fear

Especially when someone dies suddenly or much too young, we tend to feel vulnerable. The world no longer feels as safe. Death has heightened our awareness that we cannot control everything in our lives or count on others always being there. We also face our own mortality.

We can move toward healing by expressing any anxieties and considering what has helped us face our fears in the past. We ultimately can find peace in God, who cares about everything that concerns us. God does not promise that we won’t experience pain and loss, but He does offer us strength and peace through His presence. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” Jesus told his friends as he faced his own death. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).

The world tries to offer us comfort and assurance; Jesus–who experienced death, came back to life, and offers us eternal life–provides true peace as we draw close to Him.

To find additional spiritual comfort, consider Finding Comfort in God’s Embrace. General insights into grief and suggestions for healing are available in Doses of Comfort. Both resources are available at Amazon.com.

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Losses Come in Various Shapes and Sizes

When we hear the word “grief,” we usually think of the pain experienced after someone we care about dies. Yet we probably can name other losses and changes in our lives and relationships that have caused us to grieve. For example, since my brother’s divorce, I miss seeing his ex-wife at family gatherings. When my husband’s new job meant moving to another state, I grieved the changes in my friendships with neighbors. We no longer could share our hearts on morning walks or load all our kids into one of our minivans to take them on an outing.

We also can experience loss when we or our friends leave our workplace, organization, school, or religious community. Even if it was our decision, we may find ourselves grieving the relationships and the part of our identity left behind. While we might keep in touch through social media, texting and phone calls, we miss the intimacy of face-to-face interaction and the bond of a shared purpose.

Other sources of grief include infertility, physical ailments, disabilities, or financial challenges, which may dash our hopes and dreams. Unemployment, natural disasters, or betrayals can steal our sense of security. Even celebrated changes, such as graduations, promotions, and marriages, can include elements of loss, as the ushering in of a new season means the conclusion of a previous one.

Whatever the source or depth of our pain, our healing begins with acknowledging any losses and finding productive ways to express our feelings. Then we can begin to adjust and, down the road, even recognize and consider new opportunities resulting from the changes in our lives.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

List the various losses that you have experienced during your lifetime, including moves, betrayals, divorces, unemployment, physical ailments, and other changes that have caused some degree of grief. Underline, circle, or put a star by the ones that have been the most painful. Can you identify ways that you’ve healed from and grown through your previous losses? What helped you through the process? If your pain has not diminished, consider reading and applying the principles of Doses of Comfort to your previous losses, as well as to your more recent ones.

Excerpt from Doses of Comfort, available on Kindle and in print at Amazon.com


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Traumatic Death

I once met a widow who lost one husband suddenly and another after a long illness. She readily admitted that both experiences were excruciatingly painful, yet also had some distinct differences. Others agree. When death is anticipated, we generally enter the grief process earlier and have time to reach out and try to repair any breaks in the relationship. We also may have a chance to say good-bye…. When death is sudden and traumatic, however, we have no time to prepare, so our shock and other reactions tend to be more intense.

Early in the journey, we may go back and forth from disbelief—this is a terrifying nightmare—to being hit hard with the reality of the death. Our grief may include flashbacks of what we saw, if we were at the scene of the death, or of what we imagine happened, if we were not. 

As the reality of our loss settles in, our emotional responses may intensify. If our loved one died by suicide, we might feel angry and even enraged that they ended their life. In our sorrow, we may have a deep longing for more time with them, as well as sadness for the despair that tormented them. Our stomach and neck may be tight with anxiety, as we wonder who else in our world is feeling hopeless and considering suicide. We also are apt to try ourselves in the courtroom of our mind. If so, we owe it to ourselves to make it a fair trial. Rather than just accusing ourselves with our regrets and perceived failures, we also need to cite the evidence of how we expressed love for the one who died. We ought to avoid judging ourselves and others harshly, realizing that, for reasons unknown to anyone else, at the moment the person ended their life they saw no other way out of their pain. It is not our fault.[i]

Yet, as is true for all grief journeys, after a traumatic death, it is vital to find healthy ways to express any of these and other normal responses. Talking to family members, friends, a pastor, a counselor, or in a grief support group can help us work through our pain and find healing. We may need to retell, over and over again, the story of how we first heard about the death. While a death might happen suddenly, our healing takes extended time, conscious effort, and patience with ourselves and others.

[i] For more information about suicide loss, see John Jordan and John McIntosh’s Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors (New York City: Routledge Imprint, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011).

This condensed excerpt is from Doses of Comfort, available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com.


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