GRIEF LETTERS

Letter One
Dear Loved One,

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus

It’s that vision that we hope to discover, grow, and groom.

Certain phrases are conjured up in your mind as you start to think of your journey in grief such as: I’m going crazy, I just can’t cope, There’s just no light at the end of the tunnel, nobody understands me, I feel so alone.  Your emotions will feel like riding a surfboard on steep waves.

Oftentimes our ability to properly mourn will influence how successful we handle our grief.

Victoria Guthrie has written:
“Grief is not a smorgasbord where you go down the line picking a little of this and a little of that.  Grief is like a jigsaw puzzle.  Some people get all the edge pieces together first and work from the outside in.  Others dump everything out on the table at once and dive right into the middle.  Some never even open the box at all.  They just look at the picture on the lid and wonder why what’s inside the box doesn’t match or make sense.  You meet a lot of people when you start a jigsaw puzzle.  Some are full of advice, or they may try to make the puzzle look the way it ought to be instead of the way it is.  But, once in awhile, you meet someone who shares their own finished puzzle and helps you to make some sense of yours.  Then you find it is not as hard as before.  Some of the pieces fit together more easily, and you sigh with relief…and remember.”

Many “grief experts” suggest that there are 3 phases to healthy grieving.  The first stage is to fully experience your loss and not hide from it.  The second, is to learn to let go of the investments you made in that previous relationship.  Thirdly, start forming new relationships or attachments in life, where you feel that you’re actually journeying  through your grief with some hope ahead.

The greatest relationship you should be focusing in on right now is the one you have with Jesus Christ!  Many at this point, hide from a local fellowship of Christians.  They are like heat-seeking missiles that launch themselves toward the nearest cave.  There are times when it’s OK to hide out, but don’t cut yourself off from the fellowship of believers.

Sincerely,   Don


Letter Two

Dear Loved One,

John Brantner said something worthy of mentioning, "Only those who avoid love can avoid grief.  The point is to learn from grief, and remain vulnerable to love."

Picture a person who is following that yellow brick road to a destination that he or she longs to arrive.  But along that road are detours that sidetrack one them from their intended goal.  It's not unusual for people to chart their own course in grief.  Throughout the centuries many people have dealt with their grief on their own terms.  However, for the inexperienced, there are many pitfalls to surviving personal grief.

Anne Rosberger, executive director of The Bereavement and Loss Center of New York has said, "I don't think most people are aware of the extent of the trauma...it's mental, it's emotional, it's physical, and it's your whole being."  Until one experiences the loss of a loved one, it's difficult to understand how horrific that loss is!  It doesn't matter whether that loss is expected or unexpected; it still is a life-shattering moment that can and often does affect the course of our future!

There are some basic steps you can take when your world falls apart:
1.  Give yourself the grace to be whoever you need to be at that moment.  You don't have to be the strong person that everyone thinks you are!  If you need sleep, sleep!  Need a good cry, cry!  Take care of your body.  Consider what might help you to feel better:  a certain food, a hot bath, healing Christian music?  Treat yourself, pamper yourself.

2.  Seek out your best support system.  Maybe it's a support group at your church.  Perhaps the companionship of a good Christian friend is the best thing for you right now

3.  Make your priorities.  If certain situations are certain to create deeper sorrow for you, avoid them.  Learn how to say, "No," when you need to.  Set boundaries.

4.  Learn how to forgive yourself.  Don't play the "what if" game.  Psalm 139 says that God already knows when the day of some one's death is.  Don't beat yourself up, wondering if you could have done more.  God would have shown it to you if He wanted to extend your loved one's life.

5.  Along with that thought, get rid of imagined guilt.  It's so easy to observe things after the fact.  You don't know what the other path might have produced.  It could have been worse.  Give God credit for leading you in the right direction.

6.  Be gentle with your "why" questions.  Job had a lot of "why" questions but they never got answered the way he wanted them answered.  Instead God went to the other "W" word, "who."  Who is in charge, who created the universe, who among us really knows what they're doing and why?

7.  Put off major decisions for awhile.  Before selling a house, changing careers, etc., wait.  It's never good to make major decisions when you're in the midst of an emotional upheaval.

God bless you,  Don


Letter Three

Dear Love One,

M.C. Richards said, “Perhaps if I had a Coat of Arms, this would be my motto: ‘Weep and begin again.’”

It’s not unusual to experience a myriad of sensations as a result of your grief.  Aside from loneliness, sadness,  perhaps the greatest three are anger, depression, and guilt.  At times, our emotions and feelings will dance around the walls like a metal ball in a pinball machine.  We may act like a totally different person than we were just one hour ago!  Don’t be shocked by these rapid-fire changes in your mood and perceptions.

Anger in some degree seems to get involved in our grief.  You may even be afraid to admit that you have some anger, but it’s healthy to admit it.  God is big enough to handle it.  One often overlooked passage about grief is in the book of Job.  We always talk about Job’s responses to grief, but how about his wife’s.  Remember, she said, “Curse God and die!”  At this very point in the book of Job, we’re waiting for God to hurl His lightening bolts in her direction, but nothing happens.  Later in the story she is blessed many times over.  What gives?  God can even handle your anger against Him.  He loves us through the hurt, discouragement, and rebellion that we sometimes show during this time.

Depression is also a normal response to loss.  One grief expert writes, “Extended depression can block recovery and new involvement with life.”  Depression is normal, but we don’t want to live there forever, because then it becomes unhealthy.  Some of the symptoms may be:  loss of appetite, overeating, insomnia, inability to enjoy anything, anxious or restless behavior, apathy, preoccupation with thoughts of suicide or wishing to be dead, loss of interest in life, not being able to make decisions, poor memory, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, and so the list continues…

As you seek a way out of depression, continue to allow yourself the full range of grief emotions.  Acknowledge them, express them, and release them.  As one writer wrote, “The only negative emotion is the emotion that is not acknowledged and expressed.”

Jesus will lead you out of this depression as you spent more time in communication with Him, in study, in fellowship with other believers, and a positive Christian support system.

Then there is guilt.  This may be a very frequent feeling during your grief journey.  Consider this fact:  The last thing your loved one would want you to do is linger in self-guilt and doubt.  Make an effort to not become historical with your past decisions but rather focus on the special times that you had with your loved one.

It’s always difficult to deal with what many label the “empty chair syndrome.”  Eventually, you’ll become less engaged in throwing all your emotions into the past and more focused investing emotions in the present and future!

Sincerely,    Don


Letter Four

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. said, “My experience has taught me that we as human beings are forever changed by the death of someone in our lives.  To talk about ‘resolving’ our own or other’s grief, doesn’t allow for the growth or transformation I have both experienced in myself and observed in others.  Mourning is not an end, but a beginning.”

There are four goals of grief work:
  1. To move from numbness to successful restructuring.
  2. To honor the place of what has been lost.
  3. To create new patterns of action independent of the loss
  4. To link hope with action.

After a loss we often go through reassessments of our spirituality and belief system.  This is called, “Reframing.”  It is the effort to discover positive values in a negative situation, even though at times that purpose may be beyond our grasp or understanding.

There are three keys to surviving spiritually:
  1. Realize that the pain can be survived.
  2. Resentment can be transformed in to gratitude.
  3. Spiritual fatigue is not spiritual failure.

It is normal to go through doubts about ourselves, and our faith.  Normally, these are companions of grief and mourning.

Through our spiritual journey we are given three questions to tackle.  Once these three questions are answered, we will not only be successful on our journey but will achieve a new vision and hope.  What has changed?  What is still possible in my life?  How do I get there?

Finding the answers to these questions, in Jesus, will help you complete the journey successfully.

Be Blessed! ….Don


Letter Five

Dear Love One,

I know you’re going through a difficult time right now.  I also know that grief can be a painful experience and oftentimes we intentionally or unintentionally practice coping strategies that hinder that healing process.

Let me share with you some healthy coping strategies that promote emotional and spiritual healing:
  • Build relaxation into your day.  Even if you can’t sleep, set aside some time to rest.
  • Simplify your life.  Eliminate tasks that don’t have to be done right now.  Avoid perfectionism.
  • Exercise.  Sustained exercise relaxes the muscle and allows naturally, God-given chemicals to relieve stress.
  • Walk away from stresses.  Avoid high pressure situations, leave the room if you must, take a walk.
  • Limit opportunities for family conflict.  Recognize that this is a difficult time for all family members, and give each other space and support.
  • Schedule at least one enjoyable activity into each day.
  • Don’t set yourself up for a bad fall.  Minimize your exposure to anxiety provoking situations.
  • Make small goals and don’t worry if you don’t reach them all.  Sometimes, living moment to moment, or one day at a time is the rule of thumb.
  • Give yourself permission to backslide.  At times you may find yourself slipping back into the old feelings of extreme sadness, despair, or anger.  These are natural episodes.
  • Give yourself permission to change your mind.  Be sure to let people know you may need room to cancel or change your mind regarding a special function, event, etc.
  • Be prepared and proactive when approaching special days such as anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc.  Make plans for that day.  They don’t have to be your usual plans.

I want to share with you this excerpt from “Louie,”  by Shirley Holzer Jeffrey:

Thank you for sharing with me.
I hurt with you,
Though capable of just a tiny bit of your hurt,
That tiny bit was often hard for me to bear.

There is no doubt that I feel weak…
Yet thankful for the ability to so feel.
For somehow or other,
In the sharing of our vulnerability,
There has emerged a meaning and strength
Never experienced when we were ‘strong,’
With our weakness unable to emerge.

Let me remind you of the words from the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul:
“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (II Corinthians 12:9).

God bless you….Don


Letter Six

Dear Loved One,

”Sorrow cannot be fought and overcome;  it cannot be evaded or escaped; it must be lived with…somehow we must learn not only to meet it with courage, which is comparatively easy, but to bear it with serenity, which is more difficult, being not a single act but a way of living.”  --Elizabeth Janet Gray

You will eventually get to a place on your journey where certain questions will arise:  “Who am I now?” and “Where do I go from here?” 

Hopefully, at this point, you’ve learned how to experience and express your pain with others.  Also, it is my hope that now you have allowed yourself to embrace the pain of that loss, while at the same time nurturing yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

As time continues (and by the way, time is relative to the grieving person), you’ll need to learn to convert your relationship with the one you’ve lost into a healthy, spiritual one.  Your relationship with the one you’ve lost is different now.  I know no one really needs to tell you that.  Focus on the relationship you’ll have with them one day (if they were a believer) in God’s new city and new earth.  Even if I had been given the ability to see this new place, no human words would be able to convey to you how wonderful and enthralling it will be.  You’ll be able to continue that relationship on a new level.  But you’ll first and foremost, be overwhelmed with Jesus’ love for you! 

Also learn to develop a new self-identity if you haven’t already.  Your loss has really forced you to focus on Jesus, even more so than in the past.  The Bible says that you are a “new creation,”  and one day Jesus will also give you a “new name,” that’s just yours, between you and Him.  Focus on these things.

May you reach new heights in Jesus Christ!

God bless you my dear friend…..Don