|Grief can be a complex problem, and its effects can stretch over many months. The first reaction is often shock, with a feeling of numbness and bewilderment. People in different cultures express their feelings of grief in different ways. Weakness, decreased appetite, sleep disturbances, dreams of the deceased, anger (sometimes directed at people who have nothing to do with the situation), denial, imitation of the deceased, and careful husbanding of relics associated with the deceased are all aspects of normal grief.
Grief often works through several stages:
- Shock and numbness
- Emotion release (anger, outbursts, crying)
- Loneliness and yearning. This stage is characterized by preoccupation with the deceased.
- Despair (distress, guilt, hostility, restlessness)
- Readjustment. In this state, the suffering person sets new patterns and establishes new goals for his or her life.
Sometimes grieving persons lose control of the situation. Grief passes from a normal range of activities to a clinical problem. Problems are present if the following reactions are seen in a grieving person:
- Denial of the death of a loved one
- False euphoria
- Physical ailments
- Overreaction to another, relatively insignificant, loss
- Inappropriate behavior on anniversaries related to the deceased
- Symptoms of clinical depression
If the above symptoms are present, a grieving person should seek professional help. Therapy usually focuses on helping a person work through the normal states of grief. Drugs are used sparingly, usually in the form of mild tranquilizers to help a suffering person sleep. Occasionally a therapist will encounter grief reactions that seem inappropriate to a layperson: anticipatory grief, in which a person goes for a long time without exhibiting grief and then breaks down; denied grief, in which a person has not come to grips with the loss.
People who believe in God and an afterlife often have built-in mechanisms for coping with grief. The following thoughts contain an overview of ways that Jesus understands and can alleviate the suffering of those who grieve.
The first benefit for Christian families involved in the death of a loved one is the possibility that death will be accepted by a dying patient. Besides easing the trauma of a terminal illness, this attitude helps loved ones, particularly children, cope with the awful reality. Patients often react to the stress of impending death in a way similar to the way they react to other stresses in life. The reaction will probably be stronger, of course, but in the same general mode. If they have been able to handle stress throughout their lives, and if their faith has remained firm, they will probably approach death in the same way.
Like the patient, family members have a tendency to work through feelings of shock and denial, depression, and then some kind of acceptance. Families that have a Christian orientation have the advantage of being able to confidently speak about God's control of the situation, Jesus' personal understanding of what death is all about, the hope of heaven, and meeting again in eternity. Full understanding of these ideas may not be present, especially in children, but the basic attitudes of Christianity lead to open discussion of death and an attempt to accept it as a part of the human experience.
Strong families are able to stay involved with a suffering, dying loved one. They can work through the situation and help him or her die with dignity and understanding. They are also able to support family members who show anger, denial, or depression after a loved one has died. I find it interesting that Jesus, while dying on the cross, let His mother stay near even though the experience was like a sword thrust through her heart. He knew that she needed to be present. He even asked John to stay by her and support her after His death. He was well aware of the psychiatric principles we are learning in this enlightened age! He didn't just come to earth to comment on mankind's condition - He struggled right through the midst of the worst kinds of emotional turmoil that anyone can face.
Anxiety and fear