How to journey through grief
By Dr. Carol Peters-Tanksley, CHM Board of Directors
The last enemy to be destroyed is death…When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Cor. 15:26, 54 NIV)
The Bible says that death is temporary.
But death doesn’t feel temporary if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Death seems final, dark and endless. Regardless of the length of your loved one’s life on earth, it wasn’t long enough. God did not originally intend for human beings to live a few years—or many years—on this earth and then die. God created human beings to live forever!
Christians intellectually know that because Jesus died and rose again death will have an end. But in the human experience of grief it’s hard to fully embrace that reality. Death hurts—a lot!
The Bible says much about death and grief. When I returned home from the hospital the morning my husband died I sat down with a cup of coffee and my Bible. I opened it to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s treatise on death and resurrection. My head knew all the right stuff, but my heart desperately needed to connect with what God says.
As believers we grieve, but we grieve differently. We do “not grieve as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
The idea that time heals all wounds is incorrect. What makes the difference in your life is what you do during that time. Your journey through grief will hurt, but you can get to the other side. The sun will shine again. Let me suggest three things to intentionally do that will make your journey through grief both effective and meaningful.
1. Give yourself grace.
Grief from the loss of a loved one affects every part of you. Your body won’t do what it’s supposed to, your thoughts don’t know where to land, your emotions can be difficult or impossible to predict or control. You often feel overwhelmed by things that normally wouldn’t bother you and your connection with God may seem all messed up. That’s normal. You’re grieving.
Your body will need extra care during this time. Pay attention to the simple things like drinking adequate water, eating reasonably nutritious food and getting enough rest. A walk outside will help you physically and emotionally. Grief is exhausting because your brain struggles to understand a life without your loved one. Though your sleep may be disrupted, sleep when you can.
Waves of anger, sadness or other emotions may wash over you at unpredictable times. Usually it’s best to let the wave come and then subside. As you do the work of grief your emotions will become more manageable. Don’t let the multitude of things you need to deal with overwhelm you; just do the next thing, one thing at a time.
Even if you already had a strong faith in God, grief will affect your relationship with Him in some way. You may be faced with questions you didn’t realize were unsettled in your soul. God understands and He invites you to come to Him with your questions. He’s big enough to handle them!
2. Do the work of grief.
When my husband died I hated the idea of “doing grief work.” But that’s the only way you can move forward. You can choose to remain stuck in the dark valley of grief or you can choose to keep walking one step at a time, regardless of how confusing or difficult it seems.
Though your loved one is no longer physically with you, your relationship has not ended. The work of grief includes remembering who your loved one was and understanding who you have become as a result of your relationship. Going through your loved one’s belongings, finding creative ways to honor their memory and sharing your memories with others can help with this journey.
You will also need to explore your thoughts and feelings. What did your loved one mean to you? How are you different because of your relationship? How has their death affected you? Feel all the feelings. This “work,” though painful, will help you get to the other side of your dark valley.
3. Take Jesus with you on the journey.
It’s important to connect with others while walking through grief, but it’s most important to take Jesus with you on the journey. He is the only One who can be with you 24/7/365. He knows you, sees you and understands you. He weeps with you. He came to earth as “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Invite Him to be with you as you grieve.
I encourage you to be alone in His presence often. Don’t try to pretend; in His presence just be your messed up, grieving, confused or angry self. Let your emotions roll out. And then stay there a little longer. Get quiet. Cry if you need to cry. In those quiet moments He will speak to your soul.
Remember that Jesus deliberately entered the open jaws of death, walked up to the keeper of the prison-house of the grave and wrested the keys from his hands. Then He walked out of His own grave, holding death’s keys in His wounded hands and leading a train of freed captives behind Him as He declared the death of death.
The same Jesus who wept with Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus is weeping with you now. And one day the same Jesus will wipe away all tears from your eyes—and from your heart.
For Christians, the journey through grief is about embracing unbelievable pain and irrepressible hope at the same time. If you’re walking through grief, keep walking! Someday death will die. Your grief journey will come to an end.
Editor’s note: Dr. Carol Peters-Tanksley, M.D., D.Min., is a board-certified OB/GYN and ordained minister who serves on the CHM Board of Directors. Connect with Dr. Carol on her website: drcarolministries.com.
Dr. Carol’s new book, The Christian’s Journey Through Grief: How to Walk Through the Valley With Hope will help you discover your unique path through grief while embracing hope. The book is available May 7, 2019 wherever Christian books are sold.