Grief and the Quality of the Thoughts

While most people come to know us through our actions, our lives are actually determined by our thoughts. It is precisely in the inner realm of the thoughts that outward action first germinates and later comes to fruition, always supported by the moist or dry, rich or barren, smooth or rocky soil of our thoughts. This is also true for those who are experiencing grief. It is the quality and direction of our thoughts about the departed, about ourselves without that person near us, and about our world in that person’s absence, which ultimately determine the course of our grief and the resolution … [Read more...]

Grief, Grief Work, and Emotions

In exploring the multi-faceted and complex phenomenon of grief, psychologists and therapists often approach the subject matter in the via negativa, that is they will first describe what grief is not before attempting to describe its nature and causes. In so doing, they are quick to point out that grief is not an emotion, although emotions are indeed manifested in the experience of grief. One of the primary emotions expressed in grief is sadness (link: http://ancientchristianwisdom.com/2015/01/08/what-is-the-purpose-of-sadness-in-grief/). Yet, the two are not the same. In grief, researchers … [Read more...]

Grief and Human Bonds

It is so natural for small children to cling to their mothers’ embrace. After all, little ones feel warmth, safety, strength, and security close to someone who feeds them, clothes them, caresses them, and loves them. That is the first relational bond that in the best-case scenario we all form and soon other similar, emotional bonds follow suit. An author writing about grief at the turn of the 19th century, A. F. Shand, once wrote, “The bond, which joy alone forms with an object, would in its absence be quickly dissolved, were there no sorrow to reinforce it.” At any age, the experience of … [Read more...]

Attachment, Grief, and God

Is there anything more beautiful than the image of a little child in his mother’s arms? There is something so sacred about that closeness, so fundamentally good about that intimacy, and so absolutely necessary about that connection. Psychologists have a theory about this closeness that they speak about in terms of attachments that infants must form from the first moments of life in order to thrive. Close to their mother, children feel loved, safe, and acquire the courage to explore an unknown world. And whenever frightened or hurt, they can race back to their mother’s arms, calm down, and know … [Read more...]

Making Death into a Means to Spiritual Transformation

In a 1789 letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Yet, most of us spend our lives doing everything possible to avoid them both. Even when a loved one dies some try to escape this grim reality by holding “celebration of life” events rather than a more traditional wake or funeral service. We are surrounded and inundated by cheery, but inane, messages proclaiming youthful vigor, rejuvenation, and bliss in marketing campaigns. All of this makes the grief process more difficult and a search for meaning all … [Read more...]

Active and Passive Responses to Grief-the Christian Response

There are a  realm of possibilities open to each of us as we encounter those who grieve. Each possibility involves choice, often between active engagement and passive withdrawal. And choices matter irrespective of the amount of thought we put into them, for our decisions determine the course of our lives, influence the lives of those we love, and ultimately determine the quality of our character. The same may be said for those who grieve. There are choices to be made and attitudes to be assumed and these affect how we fare during our long passage across a sea of grief. Elie Wiesel, a … [Read more...]

Grief: Adaptive, maladaptive, and transformational

I think most of us would readily admit that we avoid pain in our lives to the best of our ability. After all, it’s a response that’s built into our very nervous system! However, healthy individuals are also able to accept the fact that some pain in life is inevitable and unavoidable. When it comes to the pain associated with grief, we may sense a desire to rid ourselves of that pain as quickly as possible, but the truth of the matter is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” timetable for grief and there are certainly no quick fixes. When we experience grief or recognize it in others, one of … [Read more...]

Bereavement, Grief, and Mourning

No one should underestimate the importance of the words we use to understand the world around us. In Genesis, we read that “the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof” (Genesis 2:9). According to Saint John Chyrsostom, this was written in order that “we might learn not only of his wisdom, but also in order to show the symbol of dominion through the assignment of names” (Homily 14 on Genesis, PG 53.116). Certainly, it was important … [Read more...]

Knowing the Symptoms and Signs of Grief

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed Intellectually, we all realize that eventually we will lose our loved ones. We try not to think about that too much as if guarding it as a remote notion in our minds staves off this inevitability. After all, as Saint Gregory of Nyssa observes, “There is an instinctive and … [Read more...]

Stages of Grief

Before the dawn of the internet, AAA (American Automobile Association) used to offer its “Trip Tiks” or helpful booklets that would detail one’s journey.  In addition to providing the best route to a given destination, it would also suggest places to stay or visit along the way.  At the time, they were very popular and I suspect their popularity was related to the human need to know beforehand about a journey’s particular details such as what to see, what to avoid, and most importantly, what to expect. If we adopt the journey metaphor to describe the phases or stages of grief, we recognize … [Read more...]