A BEREAVED person writes: “As a child in England, I was taught not to express my feelings in public. I can remember my father, an ex-military man, saying to me through clenched teeth, ‘Don’t you cry!’ when something had caused me pain. I cannot recall whether my mother ever kissed or hugged any of us kids (there were four of us). I was 56 when I saw my father die. I felt a tremendous loss. Yet, at first, I was unable to weep.”
In some cultures, people express their feelings openly. Whether they are happy or sad, others know how they feel. On the other hand, in some parts of the world, notably in northern Europe and Britain, people, especially men, have been conditioned to hide their feelings, to suppress their emotions, to keep a stiff upper lip and not wear their hearts on their sleeves. But when you have suffered the loss of a dear one, is it somehow wrong to express your grief? What does the Bible say?
Those Who Wept in the Bible
The Bible was written by Hebrews of the eastern Mediterranean region, who were expressive people. It contains many examples of individuals who openly showed their grief. King David mourned the loss of his murdered son Amnon. In fact, he “wept with a very great weeping.” (2 Samuel 13:28-39) He even grieved at the loss of his treacherous son Absalom, who had tried to usurp the kingship. The Bible account tells us: “Then [David] the king became disturbed and went up to the roof chamber over the gateway and gave way to weeping; and this is what he said as he walked: ‘My son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O that I might have died, I myself, instead of you, Absalom my son, my son!’” (2 Samuel 18:33) David mourned like any normal father. And how many times have parents wished they could have died in place of their children! It seems so unnatural for a child to die before a parent.
How did Jesus react to the death of his friend Lazarus? He wept on nearing his tomb. (John 11:30-38) Later, 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 inconsolably, as some do who do not have a clear Bible basis for their beliefs regarding the condition of the dead. But as a human with normal feelings, the true Christian, even with the hope of the resurrection, does grieve and does mourn the loss of any loved one.—1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14.
To Weep or Not to Weep
What about our reactions today? Do you find it difficult or embarrassing to show your feelings? What do counselors recommend? Their modern views often merely echo the Bible’s ancient inspired wisdom. They say that we should express our grief, not repress it. This reminds us of faithful men of old, such as Job, David, and Jeremiah, whose expressions of grief are found in the Bible. They certainly did not bottle up their feelings. Therefore, it is not wise to cut yourself off from people. (Proverbs 18:1) Of course, mourning is expressed in different ways in different cultures, also depending on the prevalent religious beliefs.*
What if you feel like weeping? It is part of human nature to weep. Recall again the occasion of Lazarus’ death, when Jesus “groaned in the spirit and . . . gave way to tears.” (John 11:33, 35) He thus showed that weeping is a normal reaction to the death of a loved one.
This is supported by the case of a mother, Anne, who had lost her baby Rachel to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Her husband commented: “The surprising thing was that neither Anne nor I cried at the funeral. Everyone else was weeping.” To this, Anne responded: “Yes, but I have done plenty of crying for both of us. I think it really hit me a few weeks after the tragedy, when I was finally alone one day in the house. I cried all day long. But I believe it helped me. I felt better for it. I had to mourn the loss of my baby. I really do believe that you should let grieving people weep. Although it is a natural reaction for others to say, ‘Don’t cry,’ that doesn’t really help.”
How Some React
How have some reacted when desolated by the loss of a loved one? For example, consider Juanita. She knows how it feels to lose a baby. She had had five miscarriages. Now she was pregnant again. So when a car accident forced her to be hospitalized, she was understandably worried. Two weeks later she went into labor—prematurely. Shortly afterward little Vanessa was born—weighing just over two pounds (0.9 kg). “I was so excited,” Juanita recalls. “I was finally a mother!”
But her happiness was short-lived. Four days later Vanessa died. Recalls Juanita: “I felt so empty. My motherhood was taken away from me. I felt incomplete. It was painful to come home to the room we had prepared for Vanessa and to look at the little undershirts I had bought for her. For the next couple of months, I relived the day of her birth. I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone.”
An extreme reaction? It may be hard for others to understand, but those who, like Juanita, have gone through it explain that they grieved for their baby just as they would for someone who had lived for some time. Long before a child is born, they say, it is loved by its parents. There is a special bonding with the mother. When that baby dies, the mother feels that a real person has been lost. And that is what others need to understand.
How Anger and Guilt Can Affect You
Another mother expressed her feelings when told that her six-year-old son had suddenly died because of a congenital heart problem. “I went through a series of reactions—numbness, disbelief, guilt, and anger toward my husband and the doctor for not realizing how serious his condition was.”
Anger can be another symptom of grief. It may be anger at doctors and nurses, feeling that they should have done more in caring for the deceased. Or it may be anger at friends and relatives who, it seems, say or do the wrong thing. Some get angry at the departed one for neglecting his health. Stella recalls: “I remember being angry with my husband because I knew it could have been different. He had been very sick, but he had ignored the doctors’ warnings.” And sometimes there is anger at the departed one because of the burdens that his or her death brings upon the survivor.
Some feel guilty because of anger—that is, they may condemn themselves because they feel angry. Others blame themselves for their loved one’s death. “He wouldn’t have died,” they convince themselves, “if only I had made him go to the doctor sooner” or “made him see another doctor” or “made him take better care of his health.”
For others the guilt goes beyond that, especially if their loved one died suddenly, unexpectedly. They start recalling the times when they had become angry at the departed one or had argued with him. Or they may feel that they were not really all that they should have been to the deceased.
The long grieving process of many mothers supports what many experts say, that the loss of a child leaves a permanent gap in the life of the parents, particularly the mother.
When You Lose a Spouse
The loss of a marriage partner is another kind of trauma, especially if both led a very active life together. It can mean the end of a whole life-style that they shared, of travel, work, entertainment, and interdependence.
Eunice explains what happened when her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. “For the first week, I was in a state of emotional numbness, as if I had stopped functioning. I could not even taste or smell. Yet, my sense of logic continued in a detached way. Because I had been with my husband while they were trying to stabilize him using CPR and medication, I did not suffer the usual denial symptoms. Nevertheless, there was an intense feeling of frustration, as if I was watching a car go over a cliff and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Did she weep? “Of course I did, especially when I read the hundreds of sympathy cards I had received. I cried with each one. It helped me to face up to the rest of the day. But nothing could help when I was asked repeatedly how I felt. Obviously, I was miserable.”
What helped Eunice to live through her grief? “Without realizing it, I unconsciously made the decision to go on with my life,” she says. “However, what still hurts me is when I remember that my husband, who loved life so much, is not here to enjoy it.”
“Don’t Let Others Dictate . . .”
The authors of Leavetaking—When and How to Say Goodbye advise: “Don’t let others dictate how you should act or feel. The grieving process works differently with everyone. Others may think—and let you know that they think—you are grieving too much or not grieving enough. Forgive them and forget about it. By trying to force yourself into a mold created by others or by society as a whole, you stunt your growth toward restored emotional health.”
Of course, different people handle their grief in different ways. We are not trying to suggest that one way is necessarily better than another for every person. However, danger arises when stagnation sets in, when the grief-stricken person is unable to become reconciled to the reality of the situation. Then help might be needed from compassionate friends. The Bible says: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” So do not be afraid to seek help, to talk, and to weep.—Proverbs 17:17.
Grief is a normal reaction to loss, and it is not wrong for your grief to be obvious to others. But further questions need answers: ‘How can I live with my grief? Is it normal to experience feelings of guilt and anger? How should I deal with these reactions? What can help me to endure the loss and the grief?’ The next section will answer those and other questions.
For example, the Yoruba people of Nigeria have a traditional belief in the reincarnation of the soul. So when a mother loses a child, there is intense grief but only for a short period, for as a Yoruba refrain says: “It is the water that is spilled. The calabash is not broken.” According to the Yoruba, this means that the water-bearing calabash, the mother, can bear another child—perhaps a reincarnation of the dead one. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not follow any traditions based on superstitions that spring from the false ideas of the immortal soul and reincarnation, which have no basis in the Bible.—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Ezekiel 18:4, 20.