I am all too familiar with grief. It has been a constant companion in the work I do, working with people who struggle with substance misuse, have a mental health diagnosis, the homeless, and marginalized youth, like LTGBQIA+ teens. I have a background in emergency medical care first working as a paramedic and then later in an ER as part of a trauma team. I have also worked on a surgical team that would procure tissue and organs for donation post-mortem. As a counselor working with the population I do, I frequently get the “call” we all dread. Whether it is death, accident, injury, or loss of a relationship, grief is an unwelcome visitor.
I have also experienced grief in ministry. I remember the details of all the student deaths that occurred. I remember specifically talking with students, friends, family members, staff and volunteers and not being able to satisfactorily answer the “why” questions.
Weekly I see status updates from youth ministry friends asking for resources to provide students and families on the subject of death and grief. Many are unsure how to lead a group of young people through the challenging journey of grief as well as how to navigate that journey of their own. That is why we felt compelled to debunk myths surrounding grief.
Myths About Grief:
Grief and mourning are the same things.
Grief and mourning are inseparable, grief is the emotional, internal processing of loss/bereavement and mourning is the expression of that grief. For example, grief is filled with feelings of sadness, anger, and thoughts that contribute to the intensity of those emotions. Examples of mourning are crying, talking about the person who has died, or celebrating special dates related to the deceased. Not expressing the grief through mourning can be a barrier to healing.
Grief and mourning follow a linear and orderly pattern.
The “Stages of Grief” popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross was never meant to be a definitive prescription for dealing with grief where you checked off each stage as you progress beyond it. There is no one way that an individual grieves and mourns. For every individual that experiences grief, there is a unique expression of that grief, based on numerous variables. Don’t get caught up in, “Am I grieving the right way?”.
You should move away from grief, not toward it.
It is toxic to the soul to repress what longs to be expressed. Job stripped off his clothes, scraped himself with shards of pottery, and sat in a heap of ashes that came from everything he had, and he sat there for a long time. He could have immediately started to “put the pieces back together” but literally just sat in his grief. He moved into it. Minimizing grief and avoiding the mourning process tends to lead to isolation and confusion and even deep depression.
The goal should be to “get over it” as soon as possible.
I hear many people say, “I should be over this by now”. I hear others say the same thing about those in mourning, implying that it is bad to feel bad for too long. As we reconcile the loss in our lives with being able to move forward there can be a renewed sense of hope and power surge into our spirit but that does not mean we are done grieving or mourning. We can sense movement but still be in process and that is what many experience when they reach that point. The ever-present, sharp pain in the heart will eventually change into an accepted and acknowledged sense of loss. The sense of loss will likely never completely go away but will dull over time.
I have to be strong = No tears/emotions.
We live in a toxic culture that is repulsed by “signs of weakness”. Tears, strong emotions and general sadness are looked down upon. How many times have you heard a parent say, “Knock that off or I’ll give you a reason to cry”? This implies that there is no reason to cry, so STOP!
Usually, when people try to console a crying individual it is because they are uncomfortable with that expression of grief and often feel powerless to help stop the pain you are experiencing. God stores up our tears in a bottle the Psalmist tells us and knows what is in each one. He values the tears you shed and is likely shedding tears of the same thing because death was never in His plan.
The individual is the only loss.
Individuals who are mourning are not just mourning the loss of the individual who has died but also all the dreams associated with that relationship. Other issues that may contribute to the intensity of the grief could be the financial cost/loss, future plans, memories to be made, etc. The intensity of grief is typically driven by these future-oriented losses as well. Allow time to process and speak about these additional losses as part of the grief journey.
Have you experienced grief/loss in ministry? Have you heard these myths from those you walked with? Have you felt or believed these myths yourself? How will you address these myths looking forward?