Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Face My Grief?
EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD Jonathan died in a car accident on his way home from Long Island, New York. His nine brothers and sisters suffered different kinds of grief.
Three of Jonathan’s siblings, Howard, Agustín, and Lorna, explained their feelings to Awake! Agustín recalls: “I was in bed at the time. Police and paramedics came to the door to break the news. I got out of bed and could hear what they were saying. ‘What, Johnny dead! I don’t believe it,’ was my first response. Then when the truth sank in, I felt really hurt.”
The eldest brother, Howard, reacted with anger. “I wanted to know why. How did it happen? I was angry with the other driver. But there was nothing I could do. The other guy had died too.” Lorna did not cry but had an attack of nerves. It was a shattering blow for the whole family.
If you have lost a brother or a sister in death, how did it affect you? If you are facing that loss right now, without a doubt you will identify with our question, How can I face my grief?*
Denial—“Maybe It Was the Wrong Guy Who Died”
Bereaved persons tend to deny that the death has occurred. They may even think they suddenly see the dead person on the street, in a passing bus, on the subway. Any fleeting resemblance can spark the hope that perhaps it has all been a mistake.
In other cases, parents sometimes impose an unconscious conspiracy of silence, pretending that the death never occurred. According to the writers of The Sibling Bond, the parents create a setting in which “one must stifle or choke back sadness, anger, or happy remembrances.” The end result is that neither the parents nor the children fully face the loss, and that merely delays the grief process.
Sometimes a family multiplies its grief by hanging on to routines that serve as a reminder of the loved one. For example, at mealtimes the same place is left vacant at the table, perhaps even set as if the dead child were about to come in for a meal. This is another form of denial. How did one family handle that situation? The mother answers: “We never sat at the kitchen table in the same order anymore. My husband moved into David’s chair, and that helped to fill that void.” However, real acceptance of the fact of death may take time.
“If only . . . ”
Guilt is also a frequent reaction when a member of the family dies. Questions and doubts pour through the mind. ‘Is there anything more we could have done? Should we have consulted another doctor?’ And then there are the “If onlys . . . ” If only we had not allowed him or her to borrow my car that day. If only I had been kinder to my brother/sister. And so the accusations and the guilt continue. Yet, these are only natural reactions to the sudden loss of a brother or a sister.
Some years ago in Brazil, an 18-year-old girl died of a heart problem. How did her brother react? “While she was sick, I felt jealous of her for getting more attention than the rest of us. Now I am so sorry that I ever felt that way.” While this guilt feeling is normal, no good purpose is served by carrying it as a perpetual burden.
“Why This Test?”
When her 12-year-old brother died because of cancer, Cleide, in Brazil, felt a tremendous loss. She told Awake!: “We had never been separated before. I asked myself, ‘Why this test? And with four sisters and only one boy, why did it have to be him? Other relatives have sons. Why was it that ours had to die?’”
Grief can also bring on health complications. Doris, Cleide’s sister, had a physical reaction—the worst bronchitis she had ever experienced. The father suffered some heart pains that were diagnosed as resulting from the stress caused by the boy’s death.
Another factor that can affect your reaction is, How many children were there in the family? If one of two dies, the survivor becomes the only child and may feel the loss deeply.
You Need a Shoulder to Cry On
So how can you face the loss of your brother or sister? Therapists recommend that you express, not repress, your grief. Counselor Dr. Earl Grollman suggests: “It is not enough to recognize your conflicting emotions; you must deal with them openly. That is why there is a mourning period. This is a time to share your feelings.” Therefore, it is not a time to cut yourself off from people.—Proverbs 18:1.
Frustrated grief can lead to psychological problems. You need a shoulder to cry on—a parent, a brother or a sister, a good friend, or an elder in the Christian congregation. As Dr. Grollman says: “An emotion that is denied expression is not destroyed. You only prolong the agony and delay the grief process.” So, what does he suggest? “Find a good listener, a friend who will understand that your many feelings are normal reactions to your bitter grief.”
And what if you feel like weeping? Dr. Grollman adds: “For some, tears are the best therapy for emotional strain, for men as well as for women and children. Weeping is a natural way to ease anguish and release pain.”
“I Had Never Seen Dad Cry Before”
Your parents can be a great help in time of loss—and you can also be a help to them. For example, Jane and Sarah, from England, lost their 23-year-old brother Darrall. How did they survive their grief? Jane answers: “Because there were four of us, I went and did everything with Dad, whilst Sarah did everything with Mum. In this way we were not on our own.”
Sarah explains: “My parents were strong, determined to keep going, no matter what. If ever we felt like feeling sorry for ourselves, they would say, ‘Come on! Let’s get going again.’ That does help because really you are feeling sorry for yourself, which is not upbuilding.”
But how could they help their parents? Jane answers: “I had never seen Dad cry before. He cried a couple of times, and in a way, it was nice, and looking back, I feel good now that I could be there just to comfort him.”
Of course, different people handle their grief in different ways. We are not trying to suggest that one way is necessarily better than another. Danger arises when stagnation sets in, when the grief-stricken person is unable to be reconciled with the reality of the situation. Then help might be needed from compassionate friends and perhaps qualified Christian elders. So do not be afraid to seek help and talk. And also weep.
The Bible has many examples of persons who openly expressed their grief. Jesus wept on nearing the tomb of his friend Lazarus. (John 11:30-38) David mourned the loss of his murdered son Amnon. (2 Samuel 13:28-39) Mary Magdalene wept as she neared Jesus’ sepulcher. (John 20:11-16) True, a Christian with an understanding of the Bible’s resurrection hope does not grieve unconsolably, as some might do. But as a human with normal feelings, he does grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one, especially a brother or a sister.—1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14.
A Hope That Sustains
What has sustained many young people who have lost a brother or a sister? Young David, from England, lost his 13-year-old sister Janet to Hodgkin’s disease. He says: “One of the things that benefited me greatly was one text quoted in the funeral talk. It states: ‘Because God has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him, Jesus, from the dead.’ The speaker stressed the expression ‘guarantee’ concerning the resurrection. That was a great source of strength to me after the funeral.”—Acts 17:31.
Yes, the Bible teaching about the state of the dead and the hope of the resurrection is a real comfort in time of loss. The more you realize that the Bible hope is confirmed by historical facts, the more solid will be your faith to sustain you in time of grief.—Mark 5:35-42; 12:26, 27; John 5:28, 29; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
For more information on surviving grief, see Awake! of August 8, 1987, “Facing the Loss of a Child” and April 22, 1985, “When Someone You Love Dies.”
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When we lose a brother or a sister in death, we need someone compassionate