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...]

Finding Meaning in Grief

In the plethora of human experiences, grief is perhaps the most universal and most likely the most difficult with which to cope. The very nature of grief demands that the event that precipitated the grief become meaningful. Yet how can the loss of a person that held together one’s inner world possibly become meaningful? How can a meaningless loss ever become a meaningful gain? Somehow, one needs to find a thread of meaning that can allow one to be grateful for the past, to accept the present, and have hope for the future, but where can that golden thread be found? The philosopher Friedrich … [Read more...]

Is Forgiveness Essential?

I think it should be clear from what we have discovered about forgiveness in earlier posts that forgiveness is beneficial at many levels of human life, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.  Is it at the same time essential to human existence?  This is one of the important questions posed by E. Wayne Hill in his article, “Discovering forgiveness through empathy:  implications for couple and family therapy” published in the Journal of Family Therapy.  Is forgiveness more analogous to an enjoyable sunset or a restful vacation, a beautiful moment that brings refreshment? Or is … [Read more...]

Forgiveness of Wrongs and the Remembrance of Wrongs

Statements such as “I will forgive, but I won’t forget” and “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names” are oft-quoted phrases that remain popular to this day.  They represent a tip of the hat to the virtue of forgiveness while reserving the full rights to nurse the offense well into the future.  While some will view such an attitude as practical in a world where self-preservation is paramount, these sentiments aren’t supported by psychological research and are even further from the spirit of the Church. In fact, holding such attitudes has been found to be detrimental to … [Read more...]

The Way Towards Forgiveness and the Way of Denial

Genuine forgiveness requires rigorous honesty. That is why there is perhaps no greater obstacle to forgiveness than denial, for when we deny that an offense has occurred, when we refuse to admit that the offended is a valuable human being, or when we minimize the consequences of our wrongs, we are denying ourselves the possibility of looking within, of taking responsibility for our actions, of amending our misdeeds, and of changing in a direction that leads to peace and to love. We are denying the very possibility for forgiveness. Why do we give into denial? The primary culprits are a fear of … [Read more...]