The death of a
loved one is not the only reason people grieve. The
death of a meaningful relationship can also cause
significant grief. Sometimes a treasured relationship is
lost because of a misunderstanding. A grieving person
may find himself pretending it didn't happen,
experiencing anger because it happened, and then
Persons also grieve when their
marriage is dissolved through divorce. In this imperfect
world the biblical ideal of marriage (one man and one
woman for a lifetime) fails. I've know churches that
grieved when they lost a pastor that most folks were
glad to see go! People grieve the loss of imperfect
People grieve the loss of dreams. A
person puts his or her whole life into starting a
business only to have it fail. Grief is sure to follow.
Parents have high hopes for a child only to see that
child destroyed through some action.
Stages of Grief
Grief is not predictable.
Each person grieves in his own way. Persons who have
studied grief do see some common elements to grieving.
Granger Westberg, in his classic Good Grief, listed 10
stages of grieving:
Stage 1.— We are in a state of
shock/denial. "It can't be."
Stage 2.— We express
Stage 3.— We feel depressed
and lonely. "No one understands."
Stage 4.— We may
experience physical symptoms of distress. "I can't go
Stage 5.— We may become panicky. "I can't make
Stage 6.— We feel a sense of guilt about the
loss. "If only I...." or, "Why didn't I?"
7.— We are filled with hostility and resentment. "Why
Stage 8.— We are unable to return to usual
activities. "I don't want to go out."
Gradually hope comes through. "Someday—maybe."
10.— We struggle to readjust to reality. "I'll get on
Grievers do not move through these stages
in a linear fashion. That is, they do not finish stage 1
and progress to stage 2. Rather, they may be in
shock/denial in this moment, but one hour later they're
in stage 10, adjusting to the reality of life. Grievers
bounce back and forth through the various stages of
Three Practical Questions
How long does grief take to finish its course?— Getting
over grief can take as long as one to three years. Often
in ministry to grieving persons, pastors try to rush the
grief process along (probably out of their own
What should you say to someone who has
sustained a significant loss?—The best answer is, very
little. Your presence (both physically and emotionally)
is far more likely to be remembered than what you say.
How can you minister to grieving persons?
yourself that you are a griever. Look honestly at what
scares you about grief.
Be more willing to listen to
the griever than to tell him what he ought to do.
concrete in your ministry to persons in the throes of
Be willing to back off and let your
relationship with the grieving person return to normal
as she adjusts to her loss.
(Adapted, Granger Westberg, Good Grief
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971)