Stages of Acceptable Grief

When we think about the journey of grief, we have to think about what shapes that journey, because grief will be different for each person. No one can say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” There are several factors at work.

  1. The kind of relationship with the departed loved one: Some people have a close and dependent relationship while another might be characterized as independent (and both people would be called a “spouse” who died).
  2. The amount of time spent grieving before the loved one passed on: if the death was sudden or a long process of terminal illness, these will shape how your journey progresses.
  3. Your efforts to heal: some people are ready to move on toward healing while others hold on and find it difficult to let go and make progress on their recovery journey.

You will have feels from time to time that grief in unending, but don’t sense the pressure to rush through it. Grieve at your own pace. It may be difficult, but don’t allow others to rush you either. When you think about it, you have lost more than just a loved one. Perhaps the person was your confidante, lover, source of laughter, cook, mechanic, gardener, walking partner. Now, you will discover loss in all of these areas, too. We might call these secondary losses.

Grief manifests itself in ways you might now expect, like feeling too tired for friends. H. Norman Wright calls well-meaning friends who want to care for you, “invaders.” They think they know what you need and invade your life in ways that will often not be helpful: food, companionship, cleaning up, sorting stuff, busyness.

As badly as we may feel, the journey of healing does not mean there will be no pain. Remembering the loved one can always bring back the pain, but eventually we are able to move from “emotional remembering” to “historical remembering.” People want to get back to normal, but realize this will not happen. What we can expect is to create a new normal.

What are the Stages of Acceptable Grief?

The work of accepting the reality of your unwanted loss may consume all your energy, but your efforts will succeed when you focus on being the person God wants you to be through your season of sorrow (see Colossians 3:23).

Accept the Past as Always Being in the Past:

  1. Pray for God’s help in embracing your grief (Psalm 34:17-18).
  2. Recall your losses, and then write about your losses (Psalm 51:6).
  3. Weep over your losses (Psalm 30:5).
  4. Complete each loss by writing the word past beside it and saying, “I will be content to leave this event in the past” (1 Timothy 6:6).
  5. Memorize Psalm 119:28, 50, 101, 156.
  6. Give thanks to God for all He has taught you and how He will use your past in the future (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Accept the Present as Offering Stability and Significance:

  1. Choose to live one day at a time (Matthew 6:34).
  2. Put the Lord at the center of your life (Matthew 16:24).
  3. Go to God with your specific questions; make a list (James 1:5).
  4. Thank God for providing everything you need for life (2 Peter 1:3).
  5. Praise God that though your situation has changed, He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5).
  6. Focus on the joy and satisfaction of helping others; make a list (Galatians 6:2).

Accept the Future as Providing New Opportunities:

  1. Hope in the plans that God has for your future (Jeremiah 29:11).
  2. Know that your sorrow and grief will not be wasted (Psalm 119:71).
  3. Put all your hope in God (Psalm 62:5).
  4. Have faith in God, whom you cannot see (2 Corinthians 4:18).
  5. Know that God will fill the void in your life (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Grief Recovery: Living at Peace with Loss. Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

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