AM I OK? // Loss and Grief
So, how is everybody doing?
Let's practice those self-check questions:
- Have you been sleeping well?
- How has your diet been?
- Have you been active and having any fun lately?
- Have you connected some way with people who love you?
- Have you spent time connecting with God lately?
Think about what we've been saying. You cannot love others fully unless you are also loving and taking care of yourself. Right now we have an opportunity to practice self-care for the sake of others. Staying home and keeping your distance from other people is one of the most loving things you can do right now.
But let's be honest. It's really hard. This has been a really difficult week for most of us.
In our series on mental health, I was going to spend this week discussing the stress and anxiety of life caused by busyness, demands, and pressures of life. But now all that is gone. We went from 60 to Zero in no time flat. We're all suffering from a kind of social whiplash. What a difference one week can make!
So instead of talking about busyness and stress, we thought it appropriate to talk a bit about Loss and Grief.
We are all going through loss right now. Every one of us has lost something. And globally we are mourning the disruption to daily life.
When we lose a loved one or go through a breakup or lose a job, that loss rocks our world. We don't know how we're going to carry on. Daily tasks feel impossible. Life as you know it will never be the same.
That's called grief. And we are all feeling it right now. Concerts and events have been cancelled. The school semester might not even happen. Sports seasons are cancelled. Championships, tournaments, plays, vacations - gone. Every single one of us has something we were looking forward to that is either not happening or won't happen for a long time. We can't make plans because the future is so uncertain. We can't go anywhere because everything is closed.
It's hard to have hope.
It's hard to be ok.
And that's ok.
As I've said many times, your "now" is not your "forever."
But in the meantime, it's ok to grieve the loss of all the things you love, enjoy doing, and were looking forward to. Here's what that might look like.
Maybe you've heard of the five stages of grief. You may not experience all five. You may not experience them in any certain order. You may experience the same stage more than once. But this probably explains a lot about what you may be feeling right now.
(from the website <https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/>)
1. Denial & Isolation
"Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain."
Maybe you've thought it's really not that bad. Maybe you're trying to be cautiously optimistic (or naively optimistic) and doubting the truth behind the news reports. That's ok for a while, but there comes a time when we need to be realistic about what's happening so we can face reality in a healthy way.
"As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family."
I know I've found myself overly irritable lately. I let little things bother me more than they usually do, and I end up lashing out at the ones I love the most. I'm angry that schools are closed and concerts have been cancelled. I'm mad that I can't get outside because it's cold and rainy. Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's ok to feel anger. But we must remember that no one person is the cause of our anger and no one deserves to be treated badly because of our bad mood. (Talking to myself on this one!)
"The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as:
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
This is an attempt to bargain. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, and the accompanying pain. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality."
I see a lot of blame being thrown around. We can't play the blame game anymore. The virus is here. This is happening. And it's up to us to deal with it in the best way we can. However, bargaining can be particularly dangerous for Christians. We may be tempted to bargain with God. By all means - pray! Pray that God will bring healing to our country and the world. Pray that God will intervene to slow and stop the spread of the virus. But don't bargain with him. Don't try to make deals with God. Don't "put the Lord your God to the test" as Jesus said.
Let's take a page from the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were facing their deaths. The knew that God was able to deliver them. But even if he didn't....they wouldn't bow to the king's idol. God is able, but even if he doesn't... Let that be our prayer.
"There are two types of depression that are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
"The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug."
It's ok to be sad. It's ok to cry. If you need a hug, ask for one. One of the hardest parts about this time is the need for social isolation and distancing. We are being told to stay away from each other. And that's good advice for slowing the spread of the disease, but it's really terrible for our mental and emotional health. Not only are we mourning the loss of all our favorite things, we can't even really be around our friends to talk about it. Reach out. Be sure to keep those connections alive as much as possible. Hug your parents. Hug your siblings. Do things together. Talk through your grief together.
"Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression."
You may hear the phrase "new normal" quite a bit. And that's true. This will be our "normal" for a while. But again - your "now" is not your "forever." We will eventually come to accept the changes of life for the time being, and we will settle into a routine. We will reach equilibrium, but it will take time. We will probably bounce back and forth between denial, anger, bargaining, and depression like a pinball some days. And that's ok. Just keep doing the next right thing.
There is the concept of "wilderness" all throughout Scripture. The wilderness is a place of loneliness, isolation, threat, uncertainty, survival, testing, and more. Nobody wants to go through the wilderness - physical or metaphorical. But that's where we find ourselves. The wilderness can be really hard and challenging. But it can also be a time of reconnecting and reforging. When we disconnect from the rest of the world, when our schedules are cleared out, when we have nothing but time on our hands, that's when we can hear God speak.
God may be trying to get your attention during this wilderness experience. He may be trying to tell you that you take your grades way too seriously. He may be trying to tell you that you are working too many hours. He may be trying to tell you that you say "yes" to too many things. He may be trying to tell you that your sport isn't as important as you think. He may be trying to tell you to spend more time with your family.
I am in no way implying that God caused this virus. I don't think God often causes people to experience the wilderness. But God can and does use wilderness experiences to reach out and reconnect with his people. It can be a time of transformation and reevaluation.
Nobody knows what comes next. The future is uncertain. But we know that God's got this.
Peace, perfect peace
Our future all unknown
Jesus we know
And he is on his throne