Answering Questions about Grief and Loss focuses on helpful spiritual and secular approaches to coping with the challenges that arise during times of death and/or tragedy.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Everyone reacts to grief and loss in their own way. There is no absolutely right or wrong way to go about this work. There are, however, some approaches that have proven most helpful which have helped people to cope and eventually heal over time. Approaches and resources used here reflect my professional and ministerial background and work providing pastoral care, counseling and facilitating grief support groups over the past three decades.
Over the years I have supported individuals and families during times of grief and loss in a ministerial capacity, and, as a youth advocate working in the public sector. Hopefully, the questions that folks have raised and my responses will be of use and perhaps some comfort to readers as well.
Answering Your Questions about Grief and Loss from a Spiritual Perspective
My sister died yesterday. I don’t know what I should be doing right now?
Even highly organized and motivated people can feel paralyzed during times of sudden death. It is not uncommon. The only thing that needs to be done at the moment is to be present to the loss, be involved in making funeral arrangements, and, depending on one’s faith traditions, to participate in each established ritual of saying goodbye. It is not easy. But doing so helps people to heal, not just you, but for many others who knew the deceased as well.
My kids want to attend the calling hours (or wake) and go to the funeral. I think that they’re too young. What do you think?
If your children want to attend, then by all means bring them. (In fact, if they express reluctance in attending, be prepared that they may likely change their mind soon and want to go.) As parents and as adults, we want to shield and protect our kids. That’s natural. And parents frequently feel even more protective of their children during times of loss. However, children do far better with handling the emotions of grief than their parents realize.
The religious and social customs that take place whenever someone dies are life events that encompass whole families, sometimes even whole communities, and leaving children out of this experience denies them the opportunity to be a part of the grieving and healing process over time. I have had a number of youthful clients over the years who were left feeling angry and bitter because at the time of a family member’s death, they are not allowed to be present for the services.
Remember that children also experience, and then process grief differently than adults do. Over time, they can move from intense grieving to child-like gaiety and laughter almost instantly, and then back again, that can be jarring and confusing to adults. (See available resources at the end of this article for more on this.)
I find myself praying a lot since the death. What more can I do?
Praying is good! Praying may be all that you need to be doing at this time. If you are a member of a faith community, your clergy person may be a good resource for you to get in touch with. He or she can usually offer you pastoral care in a way that other professionals cannot.
Some people find it very helpful to seek therapy in the months following a death of a loved one. Being a part of a grief support group can be very helpful to some folks also. Be sure to get a sense of the qualifications of the person providing grief and loss therapy, or who the person and organizations that provides support groups.
It’s been two months since my mom died and I still feel like crap. When will I feel better?
Within most modern societies, and especially the U.S., today’s social norms offer little time, inadequate time actually, for us to recover and heal from death and loss. Within a few days time or at most a week, it’s back to so-called “normal” among most friends and certainly within the workplace. Well intentioned comments like, “how are you doing? Feeling better yet?” have as much to do with the friend or workmate wanting you to feel okay, so that they can feel okay, as anything else. All this makes it harder for you to know how and what you should be feeling at this time.
But take heart. You’re likely right where you are supposed to be. I used to tell my counselees that truly recovering from the death of a loved one is not measured in weeks or months, but in years. The first year, still full of working and living with grief, is about getting through birthdays, holidays and family rituals that will take place without that special person present. The second year is a bit easier. Generally though, it’s a one to five-year period before many people can say that they have arrived at a “new normal” that feels like healing. Each person copes, processes and heals from losing a loved one in their own way and in their own time. So it is helpful to keep this in mind.
We have not lived in town very long and I have no idea which funeral home to use for my mother’s funeral services. Any suggestions?
Yes. Professionally, I cannot recommend one over the other, but here’s an approach: Talk with two or three people whom you know live in town and ask them which funeral home they have used and why. It won’t take long to come up with the name of a reputable undertaker. Be aware too that many funeral homes today, though they have different names, are sometimes owned by the same overall company. Funeral homes tend to maintain their local identity even when their bought out by a larger firm.
My family isn’t religious. We don’t do church and all that. So what’s the best way to plan services for my dad who passed away yesterday? Even my father never went to church.
I am very sorry for your family’s loss. Today, funeral homes are prepared to conduct not only preparing the body for calling hours and burial or cremating, they also provide for funeral services on site as well. For many families this works out very well.
Undertakers today do an excellent job of doing their best to help the family with planning and carrying out the funeral and/or memorial service. If a clergy person is requested to conduct some part of the service, funeral directors can also recommend someone for that too.
My aunt, who is 87, is in hospice and is not expected to live much longer. Our family is a mixed bag of several religions. How do we avoid offending one part of the family without overlooking the other part at the funeral?
This scenario happens quote a lot, actually. Consider offering readings and prayers that come from each of the religious traditions within your family. Identify family elders, your patriarchs and matriarchs, and ask if some of these folks are willing to offer readings and to take a part in planning the service. Some will, some won’t, but it’s important to ask them. If you decide on having a clergy person lead the service, you will need to determine the comfort level of the cleric to include pieces from different religious communities. The good news is that many clergy people today are far more comfortable with “mixed” services than they used to be years ago.
I hope that some of these suggestions have been helpful to you. And if you and your family has sustained a loss recently, my thoughts, condolences and prayers to you at this time.
Text by Kevin Lee
Graphic artwork created exclusively for Rise This Day
by Ma. Shayne Krizel Zalameda.