Straight talk about grief

October 27, 2020 | 2 comments

For those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus, we hold a high value on showing up for other people, especially in their pain. My hope is that this desire would be present for ourselves, for those close to us, and those in our surrounding influences. 

As Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; and cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13

We have talked about what grief is, when grief is complicated, and when grief is re-stirring. Today we are going to narrow our focus from loss in general to one specific type of loss: when someone dies.

Grief displays itself in many ways, in part because each person is unique. Consider a compilation of each person’s experiences, their specific relationship to the person or situation, and the particular makeup of each individual. All of these factors are critical to consider as you walk beside someone. 

However, there are common threads that are true to grief as well. When a person close dies, to varying degrees it shatters the inner world of those left behind. The grief and mourning process is hopefully one of reconstruction, but either way the structures have been wrecked. Think of a remodeling project taking place; loss is the wrecking ball knocking down the existing structures and in grief the wrecking ball is unwelcome. 

After the wrecking ball hits, dust, debris, instability, messiness and vulnerability are all present. God gives the kind gift of numbing after this “wrecking” takes place in order to help us in the most acute stage of our grief. Without this kindness, loss would be too much to handle, therefore the numbing “medication” is “dispensed.” With this, our memories and cognitive function are often blunted, which has its own implications. Grief is complex, multi layered and messy. 

In general, we underestimate the impact of a loss. We expect ourselves and others to be up and running within days, weeks or months. Did you know that losing a close person changes the fabric of who we are? Our identities are changed in the midst of loss. 

Talking about death and pain, as well as dealing with it, is uncomfortable, especially in cultures that try to push the reality of death far away. In the United States, I have heard endless stories of doctors avoiding the word dead when someone has died. Why do we say “passed away” or “passed on” or “no longer with us?” What does that even mean? 

Even many Christians want to avoid the reality that we will all one day die. Often until we have to face this in some way, we try to lighten the reality of our death with softening statements or other forms of avoidance. I have found that in this matter softening statements are normally used to make me feel better. In actuality, the person who has lost someone to death is already in the thick of the uncomfortable. Therefore, what is meant to be a kindness—my softening statements—are generally harmful to others. Then why are we so driven to continue to use them? 

Two things are in play: comfort and awkwardness. Acknowledging and talking about death is so uncomfortable and awkward, and most do not want to accept the reality that someone or something has died. We think we are being kind by softening the blow to a person. 

Delaying the understanding of this reality or not acknowledging a person has lost someone close to them, is similar to delaying at best, or at worst putting one in a more vulnerable position. It is key for a person to understand what has taken place. Grief has many similarities to trauma, and the reality of what has taken place is key to understand in order to recover from the injury. Because numbing is one of the first responses, processing information and understanding what is actually being said is a challenge. With this in mind, it is key to use straightforward, yet compassionate words. This is why I believe using the word dead or died or death is important. Whatever the stage of grief, using this word can help bring us a bit closer to acceptance, which is what brings freedom and healing. 

So how in the world do we venture into showing up for people in this awkwardly painful, yet important issue of grief and loss? On Thursday we will explore the importance of showing up and some practical tips that can help you feel more confident as you show up in the midst of their grief.


Marriages are not meant to be endured. They are to be enjoyed! In this workshop, Jonathan and Elizabeth share four practical tools that you can start using today to experience more connection and joy in your marriage abroad. Invest in your marriage today with this month’s workshop.

Photo by Hugo Ramos on Unsplash

Katie Brown

Katie Brown

Wife, Mama, Counselor, Friend, Grief Specialist

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you. I have realised that I usually say that my sister is dead, not anything softer. I thought it was linguistic, but maybe it’s more than that. I am still trying to accept that awful fact, and maybe the words themselves will help me.

    Reply
  2. Katie Brown

    Phyllis thank you for your comment this is a great point.
    I have thought about this as well and I think it all fits. Why is this the proper linguistic use? I believe it is holistic. That it brings us to understand just a bit more the reality of the death and help move us just a bit more to the acceptance of it. Peace to you.

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