“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
On News Years day 2011 I lost my friend and spiritual mentor of 15 years. It was a great shock, as nobody really understood the severity of his disease. It hit me hard. With prayer and journal writing I seemed to manage the loss, yet continued to miss this wonderful, incredible teacher and special confidant. I will never forget his love, kindness and gentle spirit as he ministered to the brokenhearted. I hope to emulate his cherished legacy in my own ministry efforts.
In April I received news that my same age cousin had died in a single vehicle accident. He died alone late one evening after rolling his vehicle on a lonely stretch of road between town and his home. It is thought he fell asleep at the wheel. Though as adults we were not too close, I attended his funeral and grieved with his family and friends for their loss.
In mid July my phone rang with news that my last remaining uncle had died. I was very close to him, especially through childhood and adolescence, when I spent many weekends on his farm. He was always glad to see and call out, “Hi Tommy!” with a smile. Of his nine children some were devastated, some were “prepared,” and others were in denial. Grief takes many forms and faces in its journey. I was able to bring comfort to some cousins I know. As for my own grief, it was welling to a point of overload.
Then in August the same year I received a phone call that my childhood friend was dying of cancer. He was a wonderful friend with whom I shared many adventures; we discovered life together from age 13 on. His unexpected and speedy death shook me to my core. In a matter of days — before I could reach him to say goodbye — he was gone. I dearly loved this strong, gentle friend. He was incredibly smart and always a pleasure to be with. It still seems strange that he is gone. Two years later I still experience pangs of sorrow, as random memories course through my mind. Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry … but I always wish I could have said “goodbye.” This final loss did something to me.
My spiritual mentor, my same-age cousin, my last uncle and my close childhood friend. These combined losses triggered something deep inside me. Waves of grief thundered and rolled over me. A single loss might have been absorbed and processed over the year. Life usually goes on, and we make it go on. God is always good. But experiencing this many unexpected losses within a short time overwhelmed my normal coping mechanisms. Surprised by unexpected anger and confusion — then a deep sadness flooded my soul. Finally, taking my own advice, I took time for myself and sought out some answers. Though I routinely counsel others about the stages of grief, I hadn’t recognized its iron grip upon me.
Proverbs 4:7 says, “Get wisdom; with all your acquiring, get understanding.” When I realized that grief had taken hold of me, a floodgate of new understanding poured into my soul. None of us are machines; even Jesus wept. We can be so caught up in the torrents of life that we never take time to sit on the shore. That is what many of us need. Time to sit and weep. So in my understanding this is what I learned: If we don’t take time to manage our grief, our grief will manage us. And grief is not always kind. It will have its way with us — whether we invite it or not.
So what can we do with grief?
Grief is a complex set of emotions. Sooner or later we must navigate the painful journey of grief to become fully human. Just like Jesus. The good news is that we are never alone, “God is near the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). And God cares intimately for us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
We are comforted to know that God is with us, and shares in our grief; He knows how we feel in our deepest and darkest moments of pain. Jesus Himself suffered greatly, and was called “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus agonized, sweating drops of blood on the evening of His betrayal. As a Prophet, He knew exactly what was about to transpire. Jesus suffered immense psychological and emotional anguish on the eve of His betrayal. Then unimaginable physical suffering on His way to the cross.
In the book of Hebrews we read that Jesus is our compassionate High Priest, able to sympathize with our pain and suffering. We are not alone in our grief. Our God of compassion feels everything we feel. And with great empathy God grieves with us in our own despair.
Our human frailties can shake us to the core, and wring us out in sorrow. It takes awareness, time and effort to navigate the ebb and flow of grief. This complex and mysterious set of thoughts and emotions will shut us down if we do not recognize it. At worst grief may cause anger, confusion, and a sense of total abandonment. We may find ourselves bargaining to make the pain go away – “If only I had done this; done that; said this or not said that….” Regret can definitely make the heart sick. Or worse yet, a person may choose harmful coping devices that seem to lessen the pain, but alienate us from our own souls.
Sometimes — even with the help of family, friends and support persons — grief can take us apart, or make us feel like we are going crazy. That is when an experienced and compassionate Christian counselor can help. If you find yourself swimming in self-doubt, feeling pain you cannot understand, or compromising your ability to move forward in life, it may be time to seek professional assistance. With personal and professional experience I have great compassion for those who suffer grief. I always integrate prayer, Scripture a listening ear and compassion into my work with grieving people. Given the right circumstances, a person can learn to survive and thrive during difficult times. A confidential guide can be of immense help during these times.
Please call me to arrange a meeting. The emotional and relational cost of complicated grief can be more than one can bear. Remember, you are not alone.
God bless you!
Thomas Isaac Berscheid, MA, LMFT, LPC, Certified Life Coach
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