Loss. At the mention of this word I feel butterflies in my stomach, my heart sinks and I find myself quickly looking for a way out. Most of us react to loss something like this, yet, in the past few months this pandemic has not allowed even one of us to escape it.
Loss has come in many different forms: the loss of a job; loss of finances; loss of freedom to spend; changes in relationships; loss of connection (honestly, Zoom doesn’t quite cut it); loss of routine; loss of our normal and what was comfortable or predictable; and sadly, some have experienced the loss of a loved one, and with it, the inability to grieve with family.
I must admit that I have never liked the feelings that loss brings. As a child, I remember the pain I felt saying goodbye to friends who moved away. Another time, I cried when our beloved dog died. At age 11, I still remember the pain I felt after realising that the ambulance at my grandparents’ home meant Grandpa had died suddenly and I felt the emptiness of losing someone very special in my life. As an adult there have been numerous times we moved as a family leaving our church, family, friends, jobs, our home and familiar routine.
This life seems to be a journey full of losses: changing schools or friends; changes in health; kids leaving home; graduation from college; changing jobs; unfulfilled dreams; ageing and the loss of youthfulness; moving from your family home; recovery from natural disasters – to name a few.
All too often, I have seen loss as a hindrance to joy and something I must quickly move past or get over. In his Emotionally Healthy Leadership podcast, Pete Scazzero calls us a “society that is grief phobic.”1 We despise pain and, often without knowing it, we work to avoid it because we believe that our lives depend on it. However, what I have come to discover is that through loss, God can do some of his most profound work in me.
The antidote to the pain of loss is grieving. Amazingly, God designed pathways to healing but too often, instead of embracing grief, we have learned to avoid pain through things like comfort eating, watching Netflix or just being busy. For some, when the pain’s too great, turning to a substance may be the answer to relieve the pain. These actions may bring temporary relief, but not one heals my wounded heart. Instead, they keep me stuck in the sadness and grief, and a loss not grieved only increases the grief with the next loss.
So how can we walk through loss and grief in a way that leads us to health and wholeness? With the deepest respect and sensitivity for your loss, I give these points:
Acknowledge the loss and the feeling
No matter what the loss is, whether it is a job or a loved one, we feel great pain. Feelings such as grief, disappointment, isolation, hopelessness, regret, sadness, guilt, feelings of failure, or fear are now a part of life. Instead of ignoring them, attempting to stuff them down or getting rid of them, I invite you to embrace the feelings, and name them. “I am feeling . . .” Like a small hole in a helium balloon, the act of acknowledging the feeling can begin to release the pressure.
Focus on the truth and Truth
When you feel hopelessness settling in, remind yourself of the truth or the facts: I do not know what life will look like now, but this is not the end. This is just a season. I will get through this. I have overcome other challenges. Better days will come. My heart will heal. Joy will come. Then, take time to focus on the big “T” Truth, or what God would want to say to me: God is with me and will never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:6). He loves me and his love surrounds me (1 John 4:15; Romans 8:37-39). He is my healer and provider (Psalm 6:2; Psalm 103). He promises to take care of me (Philippians 4:19).
Care well for yourself
This is challenging when sadness threatens to overwhelm us or there is very little personal space but let me encourage you to stop and plan ways that will encourage your health: physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Take those walks. Pour out the emotion through tears, or words. Spend time with God, in his word and in prayer. Be aware of what you are thinking about and adjust the thoughts from negative to positive. As I care for myself, I find myself able to care well for others.
Take time for relationships
When we grieve, it is tempting to isolate. Take time to connect with others. If you have lost your job, talk to others who are in the same place and encourage each other. If you have lost a loved one, set up a family online memorial service where each person can share a story or a favourite memory of your loved one.
Find others to support you
When we’ve been self-isolating and are still physical distancing, it makes it difficult to connect with others, but a call, or an online face-to-face chat can be so life-giving. If it is the loss of a job, find a trusted other to talk to and share your feelings with. This could be a friend or pastor, or a counsellor.
Honour your heart
Grief is unpredictable and cannot be put on a timeline. Your heart does not know time and it cannot be ordered to heal. Listen to it. Care for it. Wait well for it. And while you wait, create a beautiful place for yourself while you heal. People will want to tell you to “move on,” “get over it,” or “aren’t you past this yet?” Only you know your heart. Listen to it and validate what it is feeling. Then, allow it the time and space it needs to heal.
Begin to dream
This may take time, but as I allow myself to dream of what I desire and could do or be, I find hope grows within me. The Bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). When I think about what could be, I find God meeting me and even leading me into better things. It may in fact be the opportunity for God to do something new in us, through us and for us.
As we continue to move past this pandemic, we are more aware that life has changed, and in many ways, we have all lost. Still, before us is a beautiful invitation to embrace the healing God has designed for us through grief. When we give ourselves permission to grieve, we find that it empties the pain to make room for something new. May this be the beginning of our new story.
- Scazzaro, P. (Producer). (2020, March 24). “Leading through loss through the coronavirus pandemic: part 2.” [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from Emotionally healthy Discipleship