Yesterday evening I attended Southwest Christian Care’s (SWCC) annual memorial service for those who had died during the past year. Southwest Christian Care, located in Christian City, Georgia, provides hospice, senior services, and respite care for special needs children. Last year, SWCC’s amazing staff ministered to 125 souls who spent their last hours and days in their care, all at no charge to them or their families.
The service was celebrated at Lester Road Christian Church, as it has for many years, with Senior Minister Tony Sullivan offering encouraging and comforting words to the families and SWCC staff and volunteers. I would like to share with you his main points, with comments of my own thrown in. This is a longer than normal post, so please settle in for a few minutes.
It is Okay to Grieve! Our culture teaches us to be strong with statements like “You’ll get through this, you got this, you’re strong.” When I hear these phrases I often wonder what is “this” anyway? And, why can’t we just say what “this” is? It is as if naming the loss is too frightening, so we contain it by not naming it.
And, what do these statements do for those who are grieving? In a word, nothing. Many people are uncomfortable with sad or difficult emotions, so they encourage you to stuff your emotions away for their comfort not yours. I remember when my mom was close to death and I began to cry. The respiratory therapist gave me a quick hug and told me to be strong. I truly believe she thought she was being helpful, when in fact, she shut me down at a time when what I most needed was to cry and be comforted.
Suppressing or ignoring your feelings can be harmful to your emotional, physical and mental health. As hard as it is, resist giving into the pressure to put on a happy face. You are grieving. Grief is not an illness or something to hide. It is a natural reaction to loss of any kind.
Engaging with your feelings allows you to process them. There’s an old cliché, if you can feel it, you can heal it. Also, if you can name it, you can claim it. You then have the power, which means you decide how to respond to your feelings in private and in public as well as to move through grieving at your own pace and in your own way.
It’s Okay to Cry! If you feel like crying, cry! Crying is good for you and helps to heal your broken heart. Dr. Judith Orloff explains why:
“Our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex (laughter), continuous (eye lubrication), and emotional (response to emotions). Each kind has different healing roles. Emotional tears have special health benefits. Biochemist and ‘tear expert’ Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears are 98% water, whereas emotional tears also contain stress hormones, which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and ‘feel-good’ hormones. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.”
Some people worry that if they start crying they will never stop. Don’t worry about this. You will stop crying when you’ve cried enough. How much is enough is different for each of us.
It’s Okay to Laugh! Laughter, like crying, is good for us. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers helpful insights:
“Laughter may help you feel better about yourself and the world around you. Laughter may be a natural diversion. When you laugh, no other thought comes to mind. Laughing may also induce physical changes in the body. After laughing for only a few minutes, you may feel better for hours. According to medical research, laughter may provide physical benefits, such as helping to enhance oxygen intake, stimulate the heart and lungs, relax muscles throughout the body, trigger the release of endorphins. ease digestion/soothe stomach aches, relieve pain, balance blood pressure, improve mental functions, such as alertness, memory, and creativity.”
It is not only okay to laugh at yourself, a funny joke or situation, but it is also okay to laugh about the loss you’ve suffered. If your grieving the death of a beloved family member, friend or pet, it’s okay to laugh about things they said or did during their lives.
It’s Okay to Ask for Help! Pastor Sullivan stressed that it is okay to turn to Jesus for help. As Jesus is fully human and fully divine, He too, felt the pain of grief. As the physician of our souls, Jesus heals those who turn to Him. Jesus’s birth brought God’s light into the world, and He can bring light back into your heart. Jesus also defeated death, through his death and resurrection. I encourage you to spend time in prayer, and if you feel up to it, attend worship services.
You also may wish to attend grief support groups, such as GriefShare or The Grief Recovery Method®. Both programs dispel cultural myths about grieving and offer helpful strategies for navigating through a very difficult period in your life. GriefShare is biblical, offered only by churches, and focuses solely on those who are grieving a death of a family member or friend. The Grief Recovery Method is secular, offered by Certified Grief Recovery Specialists, and focuses on those who are grieving any kind of loss, such as a job loss, divorce, loss of a pet, estrangement from a family member or friend, health issues, or moving to name a few examples. Many local churches offer Grief Share, as does SWCC.
Christian spiritual direction also may be beneficial. It is a contemplative, holy listening ministry, in which directors serve as trusted companions on their directees’ spiritual journeys. Spiritual direction is not counseling, therapy or problem solving, but rather a way to reflect on God's presence in your life, to find your spiritual direction toward God, and to find meaning and purpose in life’s most difficult trials. Click here for more information.
There are also other support groups for those who are dealing with divorce, addiction, suicide, serious illnesses, or many other difficult challenges. Google the search terms, “support groups, your city or county” and many options will be listed. You can also include a specific type of group, such as suicide survivors, depression, alcohol, addiction, ADHD, autism, teens and so on. You will be amazed at how much help is out there for the asking.
You are Not Alone! Above all, please remember you are not alone, even though it may seem that way. It’s true no one can know how you feel. Your grief is unique to you, but that does not mean others cannot be with you and support you as you grieve. For those who are offering support, remember it is more important to be harmless than helpful. In other words, make sure what you are doing or saying is what those grieving actually need or want, not what you think they might need. You can inadvertently leave grievers feeling more isolated than ever if you rush in without taking their specific needs and desires into account.
If the Grief Recovery Method and/or Christian spiritual direction is something you would like to explore or you have been in spiritual direction and are looking for a spiritual director, please call me at 404.771.9335.
May God bless and protect you.
Christian Spiritual Director
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®
Volunteer Chaplain, Southwest Christian Care
© Ekteleo Ministry, 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Orloff, Judy. The health benefit of tears: learn how tears can benefit you and improve your health. Posted July 27, 2010. Psychology Today. Available online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-freedom/201007/the-health-benefits-tears.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Laughter therapy. Available online at https://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/.