Is It Normal to Grieve the Way I Do?
Although this chapter specifically deals with the death of a parent, the principles discussed apply when any family member or close friend passes away.
“When Mom died, I felt completely lost and empty. She was the glue that held our family together.”—Karyn.
FEW things in life will ever affect you more deeply than the death of a parent. Afterward, you may have to contend with a range of emotions that you have never before experienced. Brian, who was 13 when his father died from a heart attack, says, “The night we found out, all we could do was cry and embrace each other.” Natalie, who was ten when her dad died of cancer, recalls: “I didn’t know what to feel. So I felt nothing. I was void of emotion.”
Death affects each person differently. Indeed, the Bible says that “each one” has “his own plague and his own pain.” (2 Chronicles 6:29) With that in mind, take a moment to think about how your parent’s death has affected you. Below, describe (1) how you felt when you first found out about your parent’s death and (2) how you feel now.*
Perhaps your answers reveal that your emotions are, at least to a degree, leveling off. This is normal. It does not mean that you have forgotten your parent. On the other hand, you may find that your emotions are still the same or are even more intense. Maybe your grief comes in waves that seem to ebb and flow and then “crash ashore” at unexpected moments. This too is normal—even if it occurs years after your parent’s death. The question is, How can you cope with your grief—whatever form it takes?
Don’t hold back the tears! Crying helps ease the pain of grief. However, you may feel the way Alicia did. She was 19 when her mother passed away. Alicia relates, “I felt that if I showed too much emotion, it would seem to others that I lacked faith.” But think: Jesus Christ was a perfect man who had strong faith in God. Yet, he “gave way to tears” when he saw those who were bereaved over the death of his dear friend Lazarus. (John 11:35) So don’t be afraid to let your tears flow. It does not mean that you lack faith! Alicia says: “Eventually, I cried. A lot. Every day.”*
Address feelings of guilt. “I always went upstairs and kissed my mom good night,” says Karyn, who was 13 when her mother died. “There was one time that I didn’t do that. The next morning, Mom passed away. As unrealistic as it sounds, I feel guilty for not having seen her that last night—and for the chain of events that occurred the next morning. My dad left on a business trip and wanted me and my sister to look in on Mom. But we slept late. When I went into the bedroom, Mom wasn’t breathing. I felt terrible, because she was OK when Dad left!”
Like Karyn, perhaps you feel a measure of guilt for things you neglected to do. You might even torture yourself with “if onlys.” ‘If only I had urged Dad to see a doctor.’ ‘If only I had checked on Mom earlier.’ If such thoughts plague you, remember this: It’s normal to feel regret over things you wish you had done differently. The fact is, you would have done things differently had you known what would happen. But you did not know. Therefore, guilt is inappropriate. You are not responsible for your parent’s death!*
Communicate your feelings. Proverbs 12:25 states: “Kind words will cheer you up.” (Today’s English Version) Keeping your feelings bottled up inside may make it difficult for you to deal with your grief. On the other hand, discussing your feelings with someone you trust will open the way for you to receive “kind words” of encouragement when you need them most.
Talk to God. Likely, you will feel much better after you “pour out your heart” to Jehovah God in prayer. (Psalm 62:8) This is not simply a ‘feel-good therapy.’ In prayer, you are appealing to “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) One way that God provides comfort is through his Word, the Bible. (Romans 15:4) Why not keep handy a list of scriptures that are comforting to you?*
Grieving is not an overnight process. But the Bible can provide comfort, for it assures us that in the new world that God promises to bring about, “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) You too may find that meditating on such promises will help you cope with the loss of your parent.
If answering those questions is too difficult at present, you might try to do so at a later time.
Don’t feel that you must cry to manifest your grief. People grieve in different ways. The important thing is this: If you feel tears welling up, realize that it may be “a time to weep.”—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
If such thoughts continue to plague you, share your feelings with your surviving parent or another adult. In time, you will acquire a more balanced outlook.
“[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
Keep a journal. Writing out your thoughts about the parent you lost can be a tremendous aid in coping with grief.
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
When I feel overwhelmed with grief, I will ․․․․․
What I would like to ask my surviving parent about this subject is ․․․․․
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
● Why is it good to reflect on pleasant memories you have of the parent you lost in death?
● Why can writing out your thoughts help you to cope with grief?
[Blurb on page 112]
“I kept all my feelings locked up inside me. It would have been healthier for me if I had talked more about it. I could have coped better.”—David
[Box/Picture on page 113]
“My dad had been sick for about five years, and his health was deteriorating. I was 16 years old when he took his life. Afterward, my mother kept me and my older brother informed of everything that was happening. She even let us help make decisions about the funeral. That made it easier for us. I think that children do not like to feel that things are being kept from them—especially huge things like this. As time went on, I was able to speak openly about my dad’s death. Whenever I felt the need to cry, I would just go somewhere or to a friend and cry. My advice is: If you need to talk about it, approach your family and friends. Whatever you have to do to grieve, do it.”
[Box/Picture on pages 113, 114]
“Mom had a massive stroke when I was 19, and she died three years later. After her death, I felt that I had to be strong. The last thing Dad needed was for me to go to pieces. When I was growing up, Mom was always there when I was sick or didn’t feel good. I remember how her hands felt when she checked me for a fever. Often, I’m painfully reminded of her absence. I tend to bury my feelings, and that’s not healthy. So sometimes I look at pictures just to make myself cry. Talking to friends helps too. The Bible promises that those who have died will be resurrected to a paradise earth. (John 5:28, 29) When I focus on the hope of seeing my mom again—and when I focus on what I need to do to be there—the stabs of grief lessen.”
[Box/Picture on page 114]
“I wish I could remember telling my dad ‘I love you.’ I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember telling him, and I would like to have that memory. I was only five years old when he died. My dad had a stroke in his sleep, and he was rushed off to the hospital. When I woke up the next morning, I found out that he had died. Afterward, talking about my dad bothered me, but later I came to enjoy hearing stories about him because that has helped me get to know him better. My advice to any who have lost a parent in death is to savor every moment you had with your parent and to write your memories down so you don’t forget them. Then do what you can to build your faith so that you’ll be there when your parent is resurrected in God’s new world.”
[Box on page 116]
Write Your Thoughts
List some pleasant memories you have of your parent. ․․․․․
Write down what you wish you could have said to your parent while he or she was still alive. ․․․․․
Imagine that you have a younger sibling who struggles with feelings of guilt over the death of your parent. Write down what you would say to comfort your sibling. (This can also help you to put your own feelings of guilt into perspective.) ․․․․․
List two or three things that you wish you could have known about your deceased dad or mom, and then ask to discuss one of these with your surviving parent. ․․․․․
Read Acts 24:15. How does the hope held out in that verse help you to cope with your parent’s death? ․․․․․
[Picture on page 115]
Grief can be like waves that crash ashore at unexpected moments