Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting Through Grief

tears tear

(Photo by Julian used with permission only: http://julianluckham.aviewfromhere.com. All rights reserved!)

I learned a lot about handling grief recently from my friend, Kathy Padgett, who is a Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) graduate and minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. What follows is insightful counsel on a subject we will all encounter and struggle with in the journey of life.

Sarah:

Welcome, Kathy! Thanks so much for taking time away from a busy ministry to help us sort through a very difficult topic.

Kathy:

Thank you! It's my pleasure! There's so much misunderstanding about grief that sometimes I just want to explode when I hear incorrect (but well-meaning, I'm sure) statements on the subject. So this is a much better way (versus imploding) to get the information across! Seriously, grief is necessary, though this sounds ironic, grief is good. But we don't understand it and we run away from it, especially in our culture. I hope this helps some people get prepared or deal with present grief.

Sarah:

OK. We're off...

Kathy:

Before we get into specific questions, could I mention a couple things?

Sarah:

Of course!

Kathy:

First, it's important to realize that we all have a life "script." Whether you consciously think about it or not, you have a picture in your mind of what your life is (or should be like one day). But we rarely write into our scripts the possibility of the death of a loved one, or any type of devastation.

Our script is threatened or shattered when we experience a devastating event. Slowly, we realize that the script must be rewritten, and slowly, we accommodate to the reality of the continuing life experience. This is when a person understands what grief truly is.

Those who are reading these words and have already experienced a devastation of some sort are resonating with what I've just said. Those who haven't experienced it yet, will. We will all experience grief in this life, and it is important to know something about it. We can simply not escape it.

Sarah:

Never thought of the idea of a life "script"... but that makes so much sense.

Kathy:

Yes, it's something that we all do! Second, I want people to understand the importance of pain. It sounds weird, but pain is good! The fear of pain comes from a misunderstanding of it. Pain is really an indication that a person is aware of loss and is in the process of assimilating it.

Deliberately facing loss brings a person into the experience of pain, and as pain is experienced fully, it has a way of mellowing instead of intensifying. This is the key to grief recovery!

Think about it this way - if you plug the mouth of a spring with a rock, the water will find another place to surface, and it just might be a place where it shouldn't surface. If a person denies his or her pain, eventually it will surface in places it's not meant to be. When a person chooses to plow into the pain, he or she will find that it decreases each time. This is a truth which cannot be denied: experiencing pain mellows pain, in time. Time, by itself, will do nothing.

Sarah:

So the old "time heals all wounds" adage is misleading?

Kathy:

Yes! The only wound that time can heal is a physical wound! Broken bones take time to heal, but time can never heal an emotional injury like grief. It can change it (usually negatively), but it can never heal it.

Did I say I had a couple things to say?

Sarah:

Think so... but you can keep going!

Kathy:

Actually there are three things I want to mention. Let's talk about crying. CRYING... WEEPING... SOBBING. Crying is a God-given release when we are going through pain. Do not ever tell a grieving person not to cry, including yourself!!! If you will allow yourself to cry intensely when it is needed, you will feel relief afterwards. Babies cry themselves to sleep...God has given us tears for a reason...and the urge to cry for a reason...don't fight it. CRY when you need to. Even if it makes other people uncomfortable. Let them deal with their own discomfort...it is a necessity to cry during grief.

Sarah:

I just blogged yesterday on crying... ran an excerpt from a book by Chuck Swindoll. It was very comforting.

Kathy:

I just get so angry when I hear people tell someone not to cry! "Ohhhhh, don't cry, it's going to be OK..." The reason we do that is because we are uncomfortable - not because it's hurting them! Matter of fact, in grief therapy, if a person never cries at all, I will do everything in my power to make them! It is healing!

Sarah:

Women and men should feel free to cry, right?

Kathy:

Yes! Men really need to cry! Very often they aren't taught to cry when they are growing up (usually because of a father who thought it wasn't "manly") and then they freeze later in life when they really need to let that kind of emotion out. I have seen grown men get violent before they would let themselves cry. That's just not healthy. Jesus cried! He modeled it for all men! It does not mean a man is a sissy if he is real with his emotions!

OK! I'm off my soapbox. Ready to tackle your questions!

Sarah:

That was really good, Kathy. You set the stage for us beautifully. OK. First question: There are "blues" and then there's grief... what's the difference?

Kathy:

Think about it this way - you've heard the word "bereave" in reference to someone in grief, right? The words "bereave" and "rob" come from the same root...when we lose an important relationship, it feels like robbery - like someone has been ripped away from us. That can happen through death, divorce, or a horrible conflict that rips a relationship apart. It is something that is not easily overcome. It takes work to get through grief. With the "blues" usually it just takes some time to get over them, or a change of focus. Time never heals grief - let me say that again: By itself, time never heals grief. Time plus looking grief in the face and pushing into it is the only way to get through it.

Sarah:

Question #2: When I think of grief, I think of someone enduring the loss of a loved one who has died. But is there more to grief than that?

Kathy:

That is the most common type of grief, absolutely. Not much hurts us more than someone we truly love dying. (a side note - the absolute worst grief is the death of a child, and the statistics of divorce among couples who lose a child is astronomical) But I've also done grief counseling with people who went through divorces they didn't want, people who lost their lifelong careers, people who lost the ability to walk or take care of themselves, people who were diagnosed with a chronic illness with no hope of recovery, etc.

Sarah:

Question #3: What does the "cycle" of grief look like? How long, typically, does it take people to recover from a profound loss?

Coming Soon: A surprising answer to this question and more of my interview with Kathy Padgett.



Kathy Padgett is the Women's Lifegroup and Pastoral Care Minister at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, Texas. Prior to joining 121, she served as a hospital and home-care chaplain. Kathy is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).

2 comments:

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Sarah Onderdonk said...

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