How to Deal with Grief?
Encouragement for the journey through loss

How do we learn to deal with grief on the road through loss? Encouragement from others who have traveled the road before us is indispensable. This page offers such encouragement. It is also open for you to share your story to help others on their way.

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My own story of grief revolved around repeated early pregnancy loss. My faith provided the biggest source of strength as I walked the lonely road of miscarriage grief. The encouragements I share are drawn from my experience but the principles apply to any grief experience. I hope they will offer you hope as you travel your own difficult road.

1. It really is true that the pain will subside over time.
When grief enfolds you in pain, your world becomes small as your energies are applied to surviving. You may ask the question, like I did, "What do I do with my pain?" In the midst of my grieving process, the pain seemed so big and insurmountable that I wondered if I would ever experience joy again.

A compassionate friend responded to my cry: "I haven't begun to understand the workings of God in the pain and the passion of his children. It seldom appears to be immediate, as it might be if we ran to an earthly parent for comfort. Rather, it appears to be a soothing over time…when one day we notice that the wound isn't quite as raw."

The pain will eventually subside as you learn to deal with grief, but first it is important to allow yourself to grieve....

2. Give expression to the pain.
Honour your loved one or lost dream by allowing the pain and agony, the anger and outrage to find their voice. Allow yourself to mourn, deeply and thoroughly. This is difficult if you live in a society which expects you to quickly move on and 'pick up with life'. Yet you know that life will never be the same, and you need a way to express that reality as you deal with grief.

I found that having just a few trusted friends with space in their lives to lend a listening ear created a safe place to express my pain. They were a tremendous source of strength which helped me to keep myself together in less safe settings where such emoting would have produced regrets and additional stress.

My journal became my safest place to be real, a place of honest prayer where much inner healing took place.

3. Seek out support to counter the inevitable loneliness.
The solitary experience is known to all who are forced to deal with grief. The very private losses of infertility and early pregnancy loss carve out especially lonely roads. I wondered how colleagues and family members could stay silent, seemingly indifferent to my pain. It helped me to understand that they felt unsure about how to bridge the privacy of the experience, and uncertain about whether they were welcome into it.

Value the companions who are there for you and honour their willingness to do what they can. At the same time, extend grace to those who aren't able to be there for you at this time. (Their lack of presence does not necessarily say anything about their love for you.) Seek out sources of help such as a grief group, a counsellor or a spiritual director, for some structured support will go a long way to provide what your friends and family are unable to offer.

4. Release the hurtful comments you receive.
Well-meaning comments sometimes feel like sledge hammers to the soul. The anger and hurt you feel will subside less arduously if you are able to recognize the good intent in spite of the clumsiness, inadequate thinking or beliefs you cannot accept; and if you are then willing to release the person with forgiveness.

In the case of comments which cause inner dissonance within your belief system, search out answers for your questions as you are able. Many who have walked this path before have grappled through the same questions fruitfully. You'll find an excellent booklist and other resources for learning to deal with grief at Janelle Hertzler's Journey through Grief website.

5. Ask why but don't get stuck there.
Even the biblical character Job, honoured for his patience and faith, asked why. Though Job's initial response was to worship (Job 1:20), it wasn't long before he set into a tirade of questions. Asking our 'whys' is normal and necessary as we deal with grief. But if we get stuck there bitterness will easily settle in.

I encourage you to wrestle, talk, read, pray and study so that your questions can find a landing place. As a person of faith I found great solace in the Psalms which lent me words when I had none. Promises of Scripture instilled hope in my heart to believe for better days and even, as I progressed, to hope for good things on any particular day. The Scriptures also spoke meaning into my pain, assuring me that it could be redeemed by the work it did refining my personhood and allowing me to extend comfort to others.

6. Expect a roller coaster ride.
Emotional outbursts will likely show up in waves for a long time to come, though the frequency and intensity will decrease as your ability to deal with grief grows. You'll be able to anticipate some of these but some will hit at the most unexpected times. I learned to anticipate and prepare myself for the waves when I could. In my case, anniversary dates, baby dedications and Mother's Day were days which I could brace myself for, or avoid as appropriate.

When hit by the unexpected, I learned to give myself permission to grieve afresh. Beating myself up by thinking 'I should be over this by now' never helped. Being gracious with myself as I learned to deal with grief was much more helpful.

7. Give the loss a place in your life.
When the pain of loss was still front-and-center in my life, a dinner conversation opened a new door for me. The prop was a coaster. My companion picked up the coaster from the table and put it in front of his eye where it dominated his line of vision. When pain hits it's like that. We can't see much else. Next he placed the coaster under his placemat to illustrate that many of us try to put our pain out of sight by ignoring or denying it. Finally he returned the coaster to its normal place on the table where it was present but not the object of our attention. He invited me to apply this to my pain.

I mulled this over as I headed to work the following morning. I didn't want my loss to continue to dominate my vision, but neither did I want to hide it away by ignoring or denying it. How could I give my loss an appropriate place in my life? I would tuck it next to my heart, carrying it with me and sensing its presence. I could take it out when I needed to, or when it compelled me to, but normally I would carry it next to my heart as a new dimension of who I am. This released me to feel the sadness of my lost babies while honouring them as a part of my life from here on out. This was one of the choices which helped me to deal with grief and pass through to the other side.

When I shared this lesson with an online support group for women who had experienced multiple miscarriages, one woman shared that this advice was the most helpful and empowering she had ever heard in her journey of learning to deal with grief!

8. Engage in a life-giving activity.
Elizabeth & GĂ©rard In the wake of our final loss, a hiking vacation in the Canadian Rockies offered glorious restoration to Gérard and me. Back around Christmas this trip was the only thing I looked forward to. Researching hikes and piecing together a plan and training our bodies for the challenge renewed our energy. In July, the month when our baby would have been born, it gave us a tremendous sense of satisfaction to do the strenuous and spectacular, to be rewarded with sights which are only available to those who earn them.

In the mountain grandeur we feasted on God's beauty and bathed in his love. It was incredible to feel God's love again rather than just to believe it. I remember clearly the day when I was able to say to the Lord, "This summer is not what we had hoped for, but this too is very good." And with that came the hope that I could come home and follow a new path that would also be good--not leading to the future we had hoped for but still good. I returned home with a spirit of thankfulness, peace and joy which had escaped me for a long time.

9. Practice gratitude. While a joy-giving trip is an exceptional and unusual gift, the possibility for engagement which imparts joy is all around us every day. One of these is learning to practice gratitude. Thoughts of entitlement will always zap our joy, but expressions of gratitude stimulate a positive spirit. I gradually learned to replace my grumbling about what was lacking in my life with expressions of thanks for what I have been given. That opened my vision to be able to see that I have been given so much!

John Eldredge helped me with this change of perspective through his book The Journey of Desire. Psalm 145:18 declares, "You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every little thing." A broken heart will cry out, "Does God really do that?!", but Eldredge reflects, "Not always, not on demand, but certainly more than we deserve." The goodness of God goes so much deeper than our pain. May his goodness sustain your heart and restore your joy as you learn to deal with grief and journey through to the other side.

Return to
Recover from grief
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My story of loss
Proceed to Benefits of spiritual direction

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