Loss and Befriending “Good” Grief

I was praying the other day and the Lord brought to mind all those in my network who have passed away in the past couple of months. It was overwhelming. There were several people I’ve known through my ministry who recently died. A couple of days ago, I visited dear life-long friends who lost their Dad. And I had a conversation with my Mom whose friend’s husband passed away.

So much loss!

The Lord moved in my heart. He said, “Doug, bring up the topic of loss and grief; and let your Whole Life Worship community chime in.” 

Especially with the pandemic, I’m sure you have either experienced profound loss or know someone who has. This is an important topic to talk about because loss is one of those things that, if we don’t work through it in good ways, it will work us over in bad ways. I’m convinced that one of the reasons for the uprise in mental health issues these days is that people – even and maybe, especially, Christ-followers – don’t know how to handle loss well.

I’m no expert, by any means. But I want to share the little I do understand about this. And I invite those of you reading this who are more experienced in loss/grief (therapists, grief counselors, etc.) to chime in and share your thoughts by posting a comment (either on Facebook or on my website, for those of you who subscribe).

So, I’ll start by saying:

1. There is a difference between loss and grief. Loss is what we face. One moment we have something; the next moment, it’s gone. While losing a beloved one (spouse, child, parent, friend) is a huge loss, any loss will have an effect on our lives. Losing a job, a relationship, a beloved pet, a prized possession, or a dream are all significant losses.

On the other hand, grief or grieving is a response to loss. And I add, grieving is only one of many responses to loss. When some people experience loss they respond, not by grieving, but by stewing in unacknowledged anger or stuffing their sadness or filling their time with all sorts of activity. I think people do this because they don’t want to face the painful process of grieving.

2. There is a difference between “bad grief” and “good grief.” Not sure if I said that correctly, but there is a sterotype of grieving that does NOT end well. And I think because of that stereotype, many people are afraid to grieve. This is the grief where we let the emotions take over and define our reality. The result is that our world gets smaller and smaller. We fall into an enormous pit that we can’t climb out of. And then we start thinking that no one understands what we’re going through. I think that is bad grief.

“Good grief” (and not the Charlie Brown expression, ha ha!) is when we are open to our emotions and work through them. They don’t define us, but we allow them to be expressed. My friend, Pastor Jack (who recently lost his dear wife), described it like this: “Bad grief is like standing in the ocean and the huge waves of emotion just slam onto you. You end up underwater and you can’t breathe. Good grief is learning to ‘body surf’ the waves of emotion.” This doesn’t mean that good grief avoids the pain or that you won’t get slammed, but that you see it coming and you know to ride it out, instead of drowning in it.

3. Good Grieving involves inviting God and good people to walk with you. I am reminded of Jesus’ profound Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn (grieve) for they shall be comforted.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to go through the Good Grief process without the help of others – especially Jesus. Jesus says to us, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). When we grieve our loss, we need to have the companionship of the One who is “acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3b). We need supernatural power and strength to help us through this long journey.

That includes having godly, good, and safe human companionship – those who rightly represent the hands, feet and heart of Jesus. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one … if either of them falls down, one can help the other pick them up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Allowing good people to accompany you on the journey of grief is vital. It picks us up emotionally, it opens up our lives to good possibilities and it gives us hope that we can and will get through this.

I want to leave by sharing that there are some great resources to help those who want to grieve well. May I suggest “GriefShare?” GriefShare is twelve-week, small-group based program where those who are grieving can get good tools, as well as an opportunity to share and hear from others who are working through their grief. When I oversaw our support groups at church, GriefShare was tremendously helpful for those who experienced loss.

For more info, go to https://griefshare.org. They will help you find a GriefShare group in your area.

Again, I invite you to join in this conversation; especially if you are a grief specialist or therapist or pastor or someone who has gone through the “good grief” process. We need to have this conversation for the sake of those who are overwhelmed with their loss; which seems to be happening more and more these days.

(And, if you are new to Whole Life Worship and would like to receive this weekly blog in your email inbox, go to http://wholelifeworship.com – enter your email address and push the “Subscribe” button)

12 thoughts on “Loss and Befriending “Good” Grief

  1. I appreciate the analogy of the waves / body surfing. It doesn’t minimize the wave of emotions, but it acknowledges the reality that we need to face them. I’ve often seen folks (myself included) try to ignore/suppress the waves, but eventually it always catches up to them. We all find a way to cope with pain, and sometimes we can slip into harmful coping mechanisms that further existing pain and introduce new pain when we aren’t bringing them to healthy community and to God.

    Learning to face the grief and share it with God & community creates a context where real healing can begin. It’s not easy, but I pray that to be so for so many of us who are grieving these days.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ben. I really like what you shared about “harmful coping mechanisms” – an apt and helpful description to what I tried to depict with the clumsy term “bad grief/grieving.” I agree that such coping mechanisms not only further the original pain of loss, but creates new pains that infect us and others around us.

  2. Hey Dr. Doug,

    So interesting. I read this today and then just got a call from Bruce Erickson, who just lost his beloved Teresa a few weeks ago. Thank you for giving us some talking points that were so pertinent and so timely.



    P.S. Please pray for Mike. I had to admit him to San Antonio Hospital this morning with Covid.

  3. Thank you Doug, first off I am praying for you and your ministry on a daily basis, oh don’t forget piano o time. Teri and I have been walking alond side of one of her former coworkers who lost her husband almost two years ago and had fought against our speaking into her about Gods help, she is a christian but has her doubts on how God could let something so bad happen to her, without going into the details of her husband’s death, she had put him up on a high pedestal. She finally coming to grips that this was not her fault, she tried to get him to get help and he went on living his life like he didn’t ha e a care in the world. Hopefully our speaking into her is doing good.

    • Thanks, Dennis. I’m so glad you and Teri can come alongside this dear woman. That means a lot. It’s good to help process her thoughts – her doubts and guilt. While speaking into her life can be good, I find that God uses the loving act of listening, seeing her and just grieving with her to her even more powerful. As James writes, “Be slow to speak and quick to listen.”

      Oh, and thanks for the reminder to practice! I just got off the piano and worked on “Spain” by Chick Corea. It was just 30 minutes, but it felt GOOD! How about you, bro? Have you hit the horn, yet?

  4. What a great way to describe grief – I’m sure you could have written so much more on this subject! I love that you described the difference between grief and loss as I think it helps to separate the two and how we respond to them. I agree that community is everything while walking through grief, we are not meant to face it alone! Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom on such a relevant topic now more than ever.

  5. Hey Doug,
    When my father-in-law died two years ago just before Covid hit I had the gift to be at his bedside. He was a man of God through and through and a wonderful father to me. I struggled with how others handled his death, some blamed others, some shut down and still others just ran away and chose not to face it. I am aquatinted with death and was lucky enough to understand that the true life is on the other side of this life. In this year beginning in March I had 3 family members and one friend pass away, none were Covid. Three were Christians and the grieving process was different than the non believers. It made me realize that no one should die alone and that this is the greatest opportunity to pour out the love of Christ on others. It reminds me of Bethel music’s song, you make e brave. I just keep letting Christ wash over me wave after wave. I will say that worship in the midst of any crisis is the greatest healing formula for me. Thank you for the message blessings to you and Letty!

    • Thank you for sharing, Diane. You bring up an important point: knowing Jesus Christ – who conquered the power of death – is the Rock we hold onto when we experience loss. Followers of Jesus have this “blessed Hope” that because Jesus triumphed over the grave, so will we. While we do not deny the emotions of the loss, the main thing that keeps us from drowning in grief is that hope as well as the abiding presence of Jesus with us. And, as you shared, it is through worshiping the Lord (through song, prayer, surrendering ourselves), we gain strength to move forward in our grieving.

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