We all experience grief, yet many of us don’t know what to do when it comes. Each bereavement is unique, and people are different. Do what feels natural and what you need to get you through.
It used to be thought that grief consisted of stages, like shock, anger, and depression. The final stage was the acceptance that your loved one had departed and feeling able to ‘move on’. Each of these stages was thought necessary for healthy grieving.
We now know these theories were wrong. Research has shown that grief journeys vary hugely. Most people show relatively low levels of distress and high levels of resilience. It’s not compulsory to weep, get angry or feel despair; it doesn’t mean you loved the deceased less. It’s also fine to feel those things all mixed up with other emotions such as relief, fear or worry.
Those early theories also sold us the idea that we have to accept that our loved one has gone forever. Grieving is not so much about saying goodbye or achieving closure, but about coming to have a sense of our loved one as both present and absent. A big part of this is placing or relocating the person, at the burial or in placing the ashes if there has been a cremation. We want the remains to be in a place that is fitting and accessible. We need to know where they are and to be able to visit them, in imagination or in person.
We also need to make a place for the deceased in our minds; a place of fond memories, of thinking about what they would say or do in the situations we face, a place of affection where we rejoice in a continuing – if different – bond with them.
We make these places by remembering well: continuing to talk about our loved ones, carrying out actions and traditions that we associate with them (on special occasions I use my mother’s best china tea set and I always put the milk in last, as she did), repeating their catch-phrases, doing things because they would have been proud of us or delighted for us. We can do this alone and with others.
This is also how Jesus asked us to remember him: ‘Whenever you break bread together, think of me.’; ‘When you pray, say Abba as I do’; ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’.
Above all, because of Jesus’ resurrection we “do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b) for we:
"... Remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one."
Taken from the Bidding Prayer from The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Exploring issues around death
Our Death and Life resources are designed to equip churches to help people face mortality and prepare for death.