In the last blog, we covered the first three stages of grieving—denial, anger, and bargaining. In this post, we will talk about how those second and third stages combine with the classic stage 4 of depression to finally help us get to the place of acceptance.
The anger is related to injustice. It's natural to feel an injustice with a great loss. Anger is a reaction to a perceived injustice. Bargaining is when I'm trying to work something out more logically, but depression is the truest form of grieving. So let's talk about depression.
Some people don't understand that depression in its purest form, is simply grieving. It's crying the tears that I need to cry in order to embrace a loss. Sad is a reaction to a perceived loss. As the loss becomes more and more real, I grieve it in various ways. Crying is perhaps the most classic way to grieve the loss but it's not the only way. There may be silence, at times but "away from it all". There may be grieving your mourning with others. The Bible says we should weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15— “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
It's important to differentiate between “pure depression” and counterfeit depression. Pure depression is grieving a real loss for a specific period of time that varies according to many factors. Counterfeit depression is depicted as a “spirit of heaviness” in Isaiah 61:3. It may not be connected to a real loss at all, but it mimics grieving and may remain indefinitely until its searched out and kicked out. James 4:7—“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
So the goal of the fourth stage of grieving is the cry the tears and stick with it until you can move naturally towards acceptance. We actually grieve as we are triggered and reminded of our loss. Many people want to minimize the triggers, thinking that will help. The triggers take us back to the loss so we can get to the stage where the grief is released. We should embrace the triggers without necessarily forcing the triggers.
We have a historic event—a loss that needs to be grieved. When we are triggered we go back to this historic event and have a Primary Emotion. This primary emotion is often intense but more short-lived. After the primary emotion, we have a time of cognitive evaluation. In this step we can MAXIMIZE and have thoughts like “ this will never end”, “I can’t make it through this” etc. Or we can “MINIMIZE” by thinking “I don’t need to cry” “I’ve been grieving long enough” etc. We have to find the middle ground with thoughts like THIS: “this hurts but God is helping me.” “I'm going to get through this grief.” “I need to cry for a few minutes.” “I need to take a little time for this.”
If I can take that middle ground during the cognitive stage I can avoid maximizing or minimizing and when I get to the step after cognitive evaluation, I enter the Secondary Emotion stage that lasts longer and is typically less intense than the primary stage. This is the stage where I will gradually come down from the intensity of the trigger. In this way, we cycle through each trigger that we experience. I tell my clients that with each loss we need to grieve, we have a certain amount of “bitter water” we have to drink. The bible says Jesus was a “man of sorrow acquainted with grief.” Isaiah 53:3— “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” This means Jesus was “intimate” with grief. He embraced it in every way that it came to him.
I have seen so many people walk through the grief process. You can too, but don’t do it alone. Pray, read the scriptures, turn to your support system. May God bless you in your grieving process. It is something very reverent in God's eyes. “You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.” Psalms 56:8b
There are many reasons that people don't start or continue to fully grieve at the time of a loss. One of these reasons could be family background. If it wasn't normal to grieve in the family or culture you grew up in, your grieving may be inhibited simply because it's not normal for you—it’s written on your heart that way. Another reason we can be inhibited is shame. Many people are ashamed to grieve freely and fully. I have found that shame (“I’m bad if I do this or did that”) comes in many forms. A dad could have taught his sons that real men don’t cry. A parent could have told their child, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” Someone who was abused could have finally vowed: “I won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry.” There are other reasons grief is stifled, but I hope you get the point. Many things can hinder or block crying and grieving, and this is a vital part of living a healthy life.
There was a study back in the 1980’s where a group of people were given onions to chop up, and most or all of them cried. They analyzed those tears and found them to simply be salt and water. The same group were shown a sad movie and those who cried had tears collected. These tears were full of toxins—things the body needed to expunge.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. — Psalms 126:5
The Bible teaches “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NLT). I often tell people that another way of saying this is looking at it from the OPPOSITE perspective: “God does NOT bless those who DON’T mourn, for they will NOT be comforted.” Remember, Jesus came for those who NEED Him and seek Him. When we acknowledge our need, He is there for us. When we deny our need for help, we are turning away from Him instead of toward Him.
In further posts we will talk about how to break through some of those barriers, but we need to identify and define what grieving is first. I have found that the five classic stages of grieving do teach us a lot. They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is—I came to understand a few years ago—rebellion from reality. It's very natural when a tragedy occurs to resist the reality of what has happened at first. This can come in the form of numbness, not wanting to talk about the loss, putting pictures away, or other forms of denial. In the beginning of grieving, denial can serve to help me slowly move into the next stages of grief, but ultimately denial delays the inevitable need to progress through the stages of grief.
Anger is the next stage, but think of these next three stages as a circle you have to move through and in and out of to finally get to the purest stage—the sadness or depression itself. You may be angry at the people involved in the loss, angry at yourself, or angry at God (though many are reluctant to acknowledge this last one especially). Remember, anger is a reaction to a perceived injustice. As you process this anger, you need to come to discern the hurt and any lack of forgiveness you may have. Sooner or later you need to release this, forgive, and often accept forgiveness for yourself.
Bargaining can be a confusing term, but it simply means you are trying to “bargain” with yourself, others or God to figure this loss out in a logical way. You are trying to make sense of something that you often are not be able to make sense of—think of Job from the bible. We try to make sense of the timing, the diagnosis, the “why’s and the why nots?” Bargaining is part of the process of integrity coming into the grieving process. If I’m honest, I have these questions, doubts, confusion, blame, guilt, etc. that I need to own and get out in the open, but it’s not the end of grieving. Bargaining won’t ultimately bring me peace. And remember, the mind is only 1/3 of the soul.
Please come back for Unfinished Business Part 2.
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