I am no stranger to the loss of a loved one. My grandfather passed away when I was in junior high. One of my cousins was killed in a car accident when I was in college. My dad died two years ago from cancer. The professionals who have studied grief tend to say that there are five stages of grief, known as the Kübler-Ross model, that people go through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These five stages are sometimes simplified to Arthur Schopenhauer’s three stages of the learning process: Ridicule, Opposition, and Acceptance.
Many people believe that everyone who experiences a loss or traumatic event goes through these stages of grief. Some experience the stages faster or more intensely than others, but everyone goes through them. I don’t think that is entirely true. Looking at myself as an example, I was sad when my family members passed away, but I don’t remember going through denial, anger, bargaining, or depression. I think that’s why I have such a hard time knowing what to say to people who have lost someone they love.
Some of my close friends have lost family members over the past month. Most recently, one of my close friends lost her father to a heart attack. I want to say that I understand what she is going through, but she lost her dad in the course of a week while my dad fought the cancer for six months. I understand the sadness, but that’s about where my understanding ends.
I don’t know if I have been desensitized to death or if I’ve been blessed to accept things quickly. Maybe I am just resilient. According to the research of George Bonanno, many people do not grieve, so in turn do not experience the stages of grief. For those people, offering condolences can bring on the grief that they would otherwise not experience. Those who subscribe to the five stage model might say that these people just never make it out of the denial stage. I don’t think I am one of those people. I grieve. It just looks different from the grief of others.
The sting of death only lasts in a moment of sadness for me. I cling to the truth in Scripture that there is victory in Christ.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
2 Corinthians 15:54-55 (ESV)
I live with my eyes focused on the return of The King. He will wipe away every tear and death will be abolished. Mourning, crying, and pain will be no more.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)
My grieving or mourning process may be different from most people I know, but I still want to be there for them if they need me. I can be anything from a person to hug to a shoulder to cry on. I can empathize with their pain or help them laugh again. It’s just that often times can’t find the encouraging words to share with them.