How You Can Cope
“I FELT a lot of pressure on me to hold in my feelings,” explains Mike, in recalling his father’s death. It taught him a valuable lesson. So when Mike’s friend lost his grandfather, what did Mike say? “A couple of years ago I would have patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Be a man.’ But now I touched his arm and said, ‘Feel however you have to feel. It will help you to deal with it. If you want me to go, I’ll go. If you want me to stay, I’ll stay. But don’t be afraid to feel.’”
MaryAnne also felt pressure to hold in her feelings when her husband died. “I was so worried about being a good example to others,” she recalls, “that I did not permit myself the normal feelings. I felt that’s what others expected of me. But I eventually learned that trying to be a pillar of strength for others wasn’t helping me. I began analyzing my situation and saying, ‘Pick yourself up now. You’ve wallowed in self-pity long enough. Cry if you have to cry. Don’t try to be too strong. Get it out of your system.’”
So both Mike and MaryAnne recommend: Let yourself grieve! And mental health experts agree. As the book Death and Grief in the Family notes: “The most important thing about grieving is to do it, to go through the process of healing.” Why?
“It’s a release,” one psychologist told Awake! “Releasing your feelings can relieve the pressure you’re under.” Another doctor added: “The natural expression of emotions, if coupled with understanding and accurate information, lets the person put his feelings in proper perspective.”
Of course, not everyone expresses grief in the same way. And such factors as whether the loved one died suddenly or death came after a long illness would have a bearing on the emotional reaction of the survivors. But one thing appears certain: Repressing your feelings can be harmful both physically and emotionally. So don’t be afraid to release your grief. But how?
Talking can be a helpful release. As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” So talking about your feelings to “a true companion” who will listen patiently and sympathetically can bring a measure of relief. (Proverbs 17:17) And if the listener is a bereaved person who has effectively dealt with his own loss you may be able to glean some practical suggestions on how you can cope.
Communicating your feelings can also help to clear up misunderstandings. Teresea explains: “We heard of other couples that got divorced after losing a child, and we didn’t want that to happen to us. So any time we felt angry, wanting to blame each other, we would talk it out. I think we really grew closer together by doing that.” Thus talking out your feelings can help you to understand that another may grieve differently.
Cindy found that talking out her feelings with a close friend helped her to cope when her mother died. She recalls: “My friend was always there for me. She cried with me. She talked with me. I could just be so open with my emotions, and that was important to me. I didn’t have to be embarrassed about crying.”
Cindy touches on something else that can facilitate the release of grief—crying. In many cases the tears flow automatically. But in some cultures people repress this valuable outlet. How so? Explains the book The Sorrow and the Fury: “Society regards as inferior anyone who sheds tears when he feels hurt, angry or lonely. The medals belong to the stoics, pained though they may feel within.”
Especially do men often feel the need to hold back tears. After all, they are taught, a “real” man doesn’t cry. A healthy attitude? Answers the book Recovering From the Loss of a Child: “The honest gut emotion of cleansing the soul with tears of grief is akin to lancing a wound to drain the infection. A man or a woman is entitled to the right of expiating sorrow.”
And the Bible agrees. Thus, we read how “Abraham came in to bewail Sarah [his wife] and to weep over her,” and how David “began to wail and weep” when King Saul and Jonathan died. (Genesis 23:2; 2 Samuel 1:11, 12) And what about Jesus Christ? Surely he was a “real” man beyond compare. Yet when his dear friend Lazarus died, Jesus “groaned in the spirit and became troubled,” and shortly afterward he “gave way to tears.” (John 11:33, 35) So, then, is it really unmanly to cry?
Dealing With Guilt
As noted in the previous articles, some have feelings of guilt after losing a loved one in death. Realizing that it’s rather normal to feel that way can be helpful in itself. And, here again, don’t keep such feelings to yourself. Talking about how guilty you feel can provide a necessary release.
Perhaps you feel that some neglect on your part contributed to your loved one’s death. If so, realize that no matter how much we love another person, we can’t control his or her life. We can’t prevent “time and unforeseen occurrence” from befalling those we love. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Besides, no doubt your motives weren’t bad. For example, in not making a doctor’s appointment sooner, did you intend for your loved one to get sick and die? Of course not! Then are you really guilty of causing that one’s death?
Teresea learned to deal with the guilt after her daughter died in a car accident. She explains: “I felt guilty that I had sent her out. But I came to realize that it was ridiculous to feel that way. There was nothing wrong with sending her with her father to run an errand. It was just a terrible accident.”
‘But there are so many things I wish I had said or done,’ you may say. True, but who of us can say that we’ve been the perfect father, mother, or child? The Bible reminds us: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2; Romans 5:12) So accept the fact that you are not perfect. Dwelling upon all kinds of “if onlys” won’t change anything, but it may slow up your recovery.
If you feel that your guilt is real, not imagined, then consider the most important factor of all in allaying guilt—God’s forgiveness. The Bible assures us: “If you kept a record of our sins, who could escape being condemned? But you forgive us, so that we should reverently obey you.” (Psalm 130:3, 4, Today’s English Version) You can’t move back into the past and change anything. But you can beg God’s forgiveness for past mistakes. Then what? Well, if God promises to wipe the slate clean, shouldn’t you do the same?—Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9.
Dealing With Anger
Do you also feel a bit angry, perhaps at doctors, nurses, friends, or even the one that died? Realize that this, too, is a rather common reaction to loss. Why? Explains one psychologist: “Hurt and anger go together. For example, when someone hurts your feelings, you have a tendency to get angry. Anger is a protective, defensive emotion.”
So ask yourself: ‘Why am I angry?’ If you can’t come up with a satisfactory answer, then perhaps your anger is the natural accompaniment of the hurt you feel. Recognizing this can help. As the book The Sorrow and the Fury explains: “Only by becoming aware of the anger—not acting on it but knowing you feel it—can you be free of its destructive effect.”
It may also help to express the anger. How? Certainly not in uncontrolled outbursts. The Bible warns that prolonged anger can be dangerous. (Proverbs 14:29, 30) But some express their anger in writing. One widow reported that she would write down her feelings and then days later read over what she had written. She found this a helpful release. Others find that vigorously exercising when they are angry helps. And you may find comfort in talking about it with an understanding friend.
While it’s important to be open and honest about your feelings, a word of caution is in order. Explains the book The Ultimate Loss: “There must be a distinction drawn between expressing [anger or frustration], one to another, and dumping it on each other. . . . We need to let each other know that while we are acting out our emotions, we are not blaming each other for causing them.” So be mindful of talking out your feelings in a nonthreatening way.—Proverbs 18:21.
Beyond these suggestions, there is another aid in coping with grief. ‘What is that?’ you ask.a
Help From God
The Bible assures us: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Psalm 34:18) Yes, more than anything else, a relationship with God can help you to cope with the death of someone you love. How?
First, it can help you to deal with your grief now. Many of the practical suggestions offered thus far have been based on God’s Word, the Bible. Applying such principles can help you cope.
In addition, do not underestimate the value of prayer. The Bible urges us: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) If, as we’ve already noted, talking out your feelings to a sympathetic friend can help, how much more so will pouring out your heart to “the God of all comfort” help you.—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
It’s not that the benefits of prayer are just psychological. The “Hearer of prayer” promises to give holy spirit to his servants who sincerely ask for it. (Psalm 65:2; Luke 11:13) And that holy spirit, or active force, can equip you with “power beyond what is normal” to go from one day to the next. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Remember: There is no problem that a faithful servant faces that God cannot help him to endure.—Compare 1 Corinthians 10:13.
A second way that a relationship with God helps us to cope with grief is that it inspires hope. Consider: How would you feel if you knew that it was possible to be reunited with your dead loved one in the near future right here on earth under righteous conditions? A thrilling prospect indeed! But is it realistic? Jesus promised: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:13; 21:3, 4.
Can we really believe such a promise? Well, since Jehovah God created life in the first place, should he not be capable of restoring to life someone who has already lived? Further, since “God, who cannot lie,” has promised to do so, can he not be trusted to carry out his word?—Titus 1:2; Isaiah 55:10, 11.
Mike firmly believes so. With strong faith in that resurrection hope, he notes: “I’ve got to think about what I should be doing to please God now, so that when my dad comes back in the resurrection, I’ll be there to meet him.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses will gladly assist you to learn more about this heart-stirring hope. Such hope makes a difference. No, it doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it can make it easier to bear. That doesn’t mean that you’ll no longer cry or will forget your loved one. But you can recover. And as you do, what you have experienced can make you more understanding and sympathetic in helping others to cope with a similar loss.
a It should be noted that in some cases there may be a need for professional help, especially if the bereaved one has a history of mental health problems or has suicidal symptoms. For guidelines, please see Awake! of October 22, 1981, pages 24 and 25.
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Some Practical Suggestions
Rely on friends: If others offer to help, let them. Understand that it may be their way of showing you how they feel; perhaps they can’t find the right words.
Take care of your health: Your body needs sufficient rest, healthful exercise, and proper nourishment as much as ever. If you’ve been neglecting your health, a checkup by your family doctor might be in order.
Postpone major decisions: If possible, why not wait until you are thinking more clearly before you decide whether to sell your house or to change your job?—Proverbs 21:5.
Make allowances for others: Try to be patient. Realize that it’s awkward for them. Not knowing what to say, they may clumsily say the wrong thing.
Don’t be unduly anxious: You may find yourself worrying, ‘What will become of me now?’ The Bible counsels to take one day at a time. “Living more on a day-to-day basis really helps me,” explains one widow.—Matthew 6:25-34.