Coping With Grief
“All his [Jacob’s] sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.’ So his father wept for him.”—GENESIS 37:35, The Holy Bible—New International Version.
THE patriarch Jacob grieved deeply over the loss of his son. He expected to grieve until the day he died. Like Jacob, you may feel that the pain of losing a loved one is so deep that it will never go away. Does such intense grief necessarily indicate a lack of faith in God? Definitely not!
The Bible portrays Jacob as a man of faith. Along with his grandfather Abraham and his father, Isaac, Jacob is commended for his outstanding faith. (Hebrews 11:8, 9, 13) Why, on one occasion, he even wrestled all night with an angel to get a blessing from God! (Genesis 32:24-30) Evidently, Jacob was a deeply spiritual man. What, then, can we learn from Jacob’s grief? Deep feelings of grief and sorrow when a loved one dies are not incompatible with strong faith in God. Grief is the normal and natural response to the loss of someone we love.
What Is Grief?
Grief can affect us in various ways, but for many the overriding feeling is one of intense emotional pain. Consider the experience of Leonardo, who was 14 years old when his father suddenly died from cardiorespiratory problems. Leonardo will never forget the day his aunt broke the news to him. At first, he refused to believe that it was true. He saw his father’s body at the funeral, but it all seemed strangely unreal. For about six months, Leonardo was unable to cry. Often, he found himself waiting for his father to come home from work. It took about a year before the full impact of the loss sank in. When it did, he felt terribly alone. Ordinary things—such as coming home to an empty house—reminded him of his father’s absence. At such times, he often broke down and cried. How he missed his father!
As Leonardo’s experience well illustrates, grief can be intense. The good news is that recovery is possible. However, it may take some time. Just as a severe physical wound takes time to heal, so it is with bereavement. Recovering from grief may take months, a few years, or even longer. But the acute pain you feel in the beginning will lessen in time, and life will gradually seem less bleak and meaningless.
In the meantime, grief is said to be a necessary part of the healing process and of learning to adapt to the new situation. There is an empty space where before there was a living human. We need to adjust to life without that person. Grief may provide a necessary emotional release. Of course, not everyone grieves in exactly the same way. One thing, though, seems to hold true: Repressing your grief can be harmful mentally, emotionally, and physically. How, then, can you express your grief in healthy ways? The Bible contains some practical advice.*
Coping With Grief
Many bereaved ones have found that talking can be a helpful release. Notice, for example, the words of the Bible character Job, who suffered the loss of all ten of his children and endured other tragedies. He said: “My soul certainly feels a loathing toward my life. I will give vent to my concern about myself. I will speak in the bitterness of my soul!” (Job 1:2, 18, 19; 10:1) Notice that Job needed to “give vent” to his concerns. How would he do so? “I will speak,” he explained.
Paulo, who lost his mother, says: “One of the things that has helped me is to talk about my mother.” So talking about your feelings to a trusted friend can bring a measure of relief. (Proverbs 17:17) After losing her mother, Yone asked her Christian brothers to visit her more often. “Talking helped to ease the pain,” she recalls. You too may find that putting your feelings into words and sharing them with a sympathetic listener will make it easier to deal with them.
Writing can also be a helpful release. Some who find it difficult to talk about their feelings may find it easier to express themselves in writing. Following the death of Saul and Jonathan, the faithful man David wrote a deeply mournful song in which he poured out his sorrow. This emotional dirge eventually became part of the Bible book of Second Samuel.—2 Samuel 1:17–27.
Crying may also serve as an emotional release. “For everything there is an appointed time, even . . . a time to weep,” says the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4) To be sure, the death of someone we love is “a time to weep.” Tears of grief are nothing to be embarrassed about. The Bible contains many examples of faithful men and women who openly expressed their grief by weeping. (Genesis 23:2; 2 Samuel 1:11, 12) Jesus Christ “gave way to tears” when he neared the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, who had recently died.—John 11:33, 35.
Working through grief takes patience, for you may feel that you are on an emotional roller coaster. Remember that you do not have to be ashamed of your tears. Many faithful individuals have found that shedding tears of grief is a normal and necessary part of the healing process.
Draw Close to God
The Bible tells us: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.” (James 4:8) One of the principal ways to draw close to God is through prayer. Do not underestimate its value! The Bible makes this comforting promise: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Psalm 34:18) It also assures us: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) Think about this. As we noted earlier, many have found it helpful to talk about their feelings with a trusted friend. Would it not be even more helpful to pour out your feelings to the God who promises to comfort our hearts?—2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17.
Paulo, who was mentioned earlier, commented: “When I just couldn’t endure the pain anymore and felt that I could not cope, I would get down on my knees and pray to God. I begged him to help me.” Paulo is convinced that his prayers made a difference. You too may find that in response to your persistent prayers, “the God of all comfort” will give you the courage and the strength to cope.—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Romans 12:12.
The Resurrection Hope
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.” (John 11:25) The Bible teaches that the dead will live again.* While Jesus was on earth, he showed that he is able to resurrect the dead. On one occasion, he resurrected a 12-year-old girl. How did her parents react? They “were beside themselves with great ecstasy.” (Mark 5:42) Under the rule of his Kingdom, the heavenly King Jesus Christ will resurrect untold numbers of people to life here on earth—but under peaceful and righteous conditions. (Acts 24:15; 2 Peter 3:13) Imagine the great ecstasy when the dead come back to life and are reunited with their loved ones!
Claudete, who lost her son in an airplane crash, put a photo of her son, Renato, on the refrigerator. She often looks at the photo and says to herself, ‘We will meet again, in the resurrection.’ Leonardo pictures his father coming back to life in God’s promised new world. Yes, the resurrection hope is a real source of comfort to them and countless others who have lost loved ones. It can be to you too!
For a discussion of how to help children deal with the death of a loved one, see the article “Help Your Child Cope With Grief,” on pages 18 to 20 of this magazine.
For a more detailed discussion of the Bible’s resurrection hope, see chapter 7 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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“The God of All Comfort”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.”—2 Corinthians 1:3.
This Bible verse indicates that God can help his faithful servants to endure any problem or challenge that they may face. One way that Jehovah may provide comfort is through a friend or a loved one who shares the same beliefs.
Leonardo, who lost his father, remembers an experience that brought him strength and comfort. He had just arrived home, and when he remembered that no one was there, he began to cry uncontrollably. He went to a nearby park and sat on a bench, where he continued to cry. In the midst of his tears, he pleaded for God’s help. Suddenly, a van stopped nearby, and Leonardo recognized that the driver was one of his Christian brothers. The brother was making deliveries and had taken a wrong turn. His presence was enough to console Leonardo.
On one occasion, a widower was feeling alone and very depressed. He could not stop crying because everything seemed so dark. He beseeched God for help. While he was still praying, the phone rang. It was his granddaughter. He recalls: “Our brief conversation was enough to give me renewed courage. I could not help but feel that her phone call was the answer to a prayer for help.”
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Bringing Comfort to Others
“[God] comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation through the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God.”—2 Corinthians 1:4.
Many true Christians have experienced firsthand what those words mean. Having received comfort to cope with the loss of a loved one, they find that they are able to give encouragement and comfort to others.
Consider the example of Claudete, who regularly visits others to share her Bible-based beliefs. Before she lost her son, she had been visiting a woman whose son had died from leukemia. The woman enjoyed the visits, but she felt that Claudete would never fully comprehend her pain. However, soon after Claudete’s son died, the woman visited her and told her that she had come to see if Claudete still maintained her faith now that her son had died. Impressed by Claudete’s strong faith, the woman is having a regular Bible study with Claudete and is finding much comfort from God’s Word.
After losing his father, Leonardo decided to learn sign language so that he could share the Bible’s comforting message with deaf individuals. He has found that his efforts to help the deaf have greatly benefited him. He says: “One of the things that has helped me to cope with my grief is my desire to help the deaf to learn about God. I have dedicated a lot of time and energy to helping them. My feelings of sadness turned to joy when I saw my first Bible student get baptized! In reality, for the first time since my father’s death, I felt a deep sense of happiness.”—Acts 20:35.
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Talking about your feelings can bring a measure of relief
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Reading about the resurrection hope can be a real source of comfort
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Writing can be helpful in expressing grief
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Jesus promised a resurrection for those who exercise faith in him