What is the Purpose of Sadness in Grief?

In my introductory post on grief, I wrote that grief “is an utterly human experience filled with emotions that has no correlative. It is not depression. It isn’t sadness. It’s not anxiety. It isn’t melancholy. Yet, it may present itself to the world with these faces and others as well.” That being said, it would be somewhat odd if we experienced grief without sadness as a constitutive element. Such sadness often makes us uncomfortable. After all, we are taught from an earlier age that we are to be happy and to pursue happiness as an unalienable right at all costs. Such a goal leaves little … [Read more...]

Grief and Scripture: “The entrance of Thy words giveth light” (Psalm 118:130 LXX)

In grief, we are sometimes at a complete loss for words to describe the pain we feel and the emptiness we experience. And yet, putting words on our experience enables us get a handle on it, so that we are not subject to it, but it becomes subject to us. Unfortunately, we sometimes do not have the energy or the clarity to find the words we need to bring some order to our disorder and some peace to our unrest. This is where “remedies derived from Scripture” (John Chrysostom, Commentary on Ephesians 21, PG 62.152) can be of great use, taking us on a journey through our own anguish and leading us … [Read more...]

Too Late to Say What Needed to Be Said ?

There are times when a loved one dies unexpectedly or suddenly and important things are left unsaid or undone. Even worse, relationships may be injured by disagreements and conflicts that were not resolved before the untimely departure of our friend or next-of-kin. Either of these scenarios can exacerbate the grief we experienced and leave us feeling not only guilty and full of regrets, but also helpless in terms of anything that can now be done that could anyway alter the situation. In such cases, some psychologists suggest composing a letter to the departed in which we express all the … [Read more...]

Grief and a Smile?

When we are grieved by a loss, we often assume that the only emotions to be felt and expressed are negative ones such as sadness, despondency, and helplessness.  We may even tell ourselves that such an emotional state is commensurate with the depth of our loss.  In some cultures, the expression of negative emotions, through weeping and wearing black, are seen as ways of revealing the love and respect held for the deceased. And while the fathers understand the need to weep and express feelings of sadness, they also indicate that Christians in the throes grief are called, as impossible as it may … [Read more...]

Acceptance and Grief

After a loved one dies, those who grieve often ruminate about what they or others could have done differently to prevent the death or at least postpone the loss. “If only I had seen the signs and brought my wife to a doctor sooner…”, “If only I had kept him from driving there yesterday…”, and countless other variations of the basic idea “If only the past were different, I would not be suffering in this present.” Such responses are a normal part of the grieving process, but at some point we do need to accept reality as is and appropriate it into our life. In her dissertation on grief, … [Read more...]

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...]