Articles - General

Coping with Bereavement

The mortality of man is one of our first principles, but is little spoken on or written about regarding our own experiences. Therefore it is difficult to handle for the bereaved and the mourners.

It is a common Bible subject so we should not avoid thinking about it. It is an emotional event. Any other loss has a similar effect - job, friendship, possession, health.

My personal experiences of death – close friend when I was 20, Mum when I was 22, daughter Alison (aged 22) when I was 47.

The Reality of Death

  • Gen. 3:19 - return to ground.
  • Gen. 4:8 - premature, violent death.
  • Gen. 5:5 - and he died.

Disease, famine and war all reap their harvest.

Trouble is inevitable - Job 5:7; John 16:33; 2 Cor. 7:4-5; 1 Pet.4:12-13.

Many others have had the same experiences as us, in every generation - we are not alone.

Death brings sorrow and pain - Luke 2:35; Zech. 12:10-14.

  • Mic. 1:8 - wail.
  • Isa. 38:14; 59:11 - groan.
  • Jer. 22:18; Amos 5:16; 1 Kin. 13:30 - call out name.
  • 2 Sam. 13:19 - hand on head.
  • Psa. 35:14 - bent low.

This is the price we pay for living, and loving. A new awareness of the fragility of life.

There are two parts to grief:

  1. Loss of part of one's self, something of great value.
  2. We also grieve for unfulfilled dreams, and for the future that will never be. We want them back, we look for them even though we know they have gone.

Normal Grief Reactions

Physical

  • Tightness in throat, difficulty in swallowing.
  • Chocking, shortness of breath.
  • Sighing respirations.
  • An empty feeling in the abdomen.
  • Altered sleep patterns.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Restless activity -disorganised, aimless behaviour.
  • Inability to concentrate, make plans or decisions.

Emotional

  • Depression/emotional pain/weeping.
  • Rapid changes in feelings - from love and grief to anger then to guilt.
  • The thought that things are unreal, a sense of unreality, that one will wake up and find it is just a bad dream.
  • Feelings of regret, yearning and longing to put things right. "I should have." "I should not have."
  • Exaggerated blame of self.
  • A certainty that for a fleeting second, one has seen or heard the deceased.
  • Preoccupation with the deceased and parallel withdrawal of activities.
  • Dread that one is losing faith or going crazy.
  • Nothing seems pleasurable or meaningful. "What is the use?"

Dealing with Death

  • Our sorrow is unique - Lam. 1:2.
  • Whilst each of us mourn differently, many of our responses are similar.
  • What do I do now that it has happened? What am I going to do about it?
  • Our children or partner are a gift from God. Children at baptism are given back to God.
  • The Lord gives and takes away - Job 1:21.
  • If we knew that we would only have them for a few years we would still have them.

A brother wrote to us after Alison died - "One thing we know and are assured of is that the loss you suffer is felt by our heavenly Father, for Alison was His daughter also. Likewise our Lord Jesus Christ who had compassion on those he healed in the days of his pilgrimage will have the same compassion towards his brethren and sisters now."

  • Display more photos, keep annual remembrance - Jud. 11:40.
  • They bring sadness but the fact of death must be faced.

Funeral

  • OT customs - Ezek. 24:16-17.
  • Relatives - Gen. 23:2; 25:9; Job 27:15; Mark 5:38-40; Luke 7:13.
  • Follow coffin to cemetery - Luke 7:12.
  • Kiss head - Gen. 50:1.
  • 7 days mourning - Gen. 50:10.
  • See the body - know the reality of death.
  • Relinquish our hold on the dead.
  • Celebrate a life, say goodbye.
  • Thanks for memories.
  • Eulogy - 2 Sam. 1:17; 3:33; 2 Chron. 35:25; Lamentations.

The Grief Process

  • An unchartered trip - zigzag/circle, not straight forward.
  • A series of firsts.
  • No timetable, a time consuming process, one day at a time - Matt. 6:34.
  • 1½ to 2 years before emotions change.
  • Takes from 1 to 3 years if grief is resolved or uncomplicated.
  • There are good and bad ways to grieve.
  • You do not honour the dead by dying with them.
  • Time alone does not heal, you choose to heal, it takes hard work, a great deal of effort.
  • Grieving mends the spirit and heals the heart.
  • Let you emotions out, let them run their course, don't fight them.
  • Not letting them out hinders the healing process, it leads to bitterness if unresolved.
  • We are overcoming when we stop focusing exclusively on our own hurt.
  • New life (birth) gives opportunity to care intensely for someone else.

Tears

  • Gen. 23:2 - Abraham for Sarah.
  • Gen. 37:35 - Jacob for lost Joseph.
  • Gen. 50:1 - Joseph for Jacob.
  • Deut. 34:8 - Israel for Moses.
  • 2 Sam. 1:12 - David & men for Saul & Jonathan.
  • 2 Sam. 3:32 - David for Abner.
  • 2 Sam. 12:21 - David for Bathsheba's son.
  • 2 Sam. 13:36 - David & men for Amnon.
  • 2 Sam. 18:33 - David for Absalom.
  • Matt. 2: 18 - women for children.
  • Acts 9:39 - women for Dorcas.
  • 1 Thess. 4:13 – 'grieve, not as others......' It is OK to grieve.
    • Don't say "I'm fine" when you are not.
    • Grief is not inconsistent with faith.
    • Mixed emotions can exist - laugh/sad, believe/doubt, joy/pain.

Prayer

  • At times it is difficult, hard. Tell God our needs, not what He should do.
  • God is not a subservient magician or a high powered errand boy. Do God's will out of love, not self interest.
  • Shows we cannot do it alone.
  • God loves us enough to turn us down, no "tyranny of the urgent" with God. Ask for help and strength to cope - Heb. 4:16; Gen. 32:9-12 (Jacob re Esau).
  • He is hurt when we complain-
  • Knowledge of the coming kingdom may not help us immediately. We know the verses, but they don't seem to ease the hurt.
  • Concentration is lost, it is difficult to read and study, singing is painful.

Helping the Bereaved

  • Visit the bereaved - Job 2:11; John 11:19; attend the funeral.
  • Your presence says more than words, avoid avoiding the bereaved, don't be put off you are not wanted, try and try again. You won't feel good about going, but go.
  • The bereaved needs company, they gain comfort from your presence, your acceptance of them, your consolation, they need warm affection and encouragement.
  • Demonstrate that you do want to share their burden. Don't be ashamed of tears, they are a healthy release of emotion, weep with them that do weep - Rom. 12:15.
  • Say "I care" and "God cares", say what the dead meant to you, mention their name, reminisce, this gives the bereaved "permission" to talk if they want to. Say "What help can I be?", "How are you going?" No cliches such as - "He had a good life", "He is out of pain", "She would not want you to grieve", "You must keep up for the children's sake", "You are young, you will find another partner if you pray about it."
  • You don't need to say anything special. You don't know how they feel.
  • Listen, learn how to be a good listener.
  • Encourage the bereaved to talk, it helps them to clarify their own feelings, release emotion and receive reassurance. Be warm and friendly in good times so that your help will be more readily received in bad times. Be patient and understanding, do not judge.
  • You can't make them feel better, there is no comfort.
  • Send messages -cards and letters - 2 Sam. 10:1-2, write of your love and respect, of your memories of the one who has died, by name.
  • Telephone or write at later times, especially anniversaries and birthdays.
  • Give food -not able to think about cooking and shopping.
  • Bring flowers to brighten and beautify.
  • Go for walks with the bereaved.
  • Pray for them, and tell them you have.

Learning from Grief

1. Expectations/anticipations

  • Job 2:10 - good and evil.
  • God doesn't owe us anything, no promise of a life free from pain and disappointment.
  • John 11:35 - Jesus wept.
  • Crisis inevitable - Job 5:7(trouble); Gen. 3:19.
  • Expect the unexpected, unsettling, irritating, confusing experiences.
  • Don't expect to be an exception.

2. God Cares

  • God is totally in control, He is never disinterested.
  • We are ever in God's vision, God is with us - 1 Pet. 5:7.
  • He promises we will not be alone - Psa. 23:4.

3. Trial of Faith

  • Faith is our life raft, we have nothing else.
  • God will never do anything to undermine our faith, to destroy the need for faith.
  • God tests our faith because it is His first priority - Heb. 11:6.
  • Faith is not unchallenged for long.
  • Opportunities for faith to grow are many, use these experiences to grow in faith.
  • God permits is to experience struggle - James 1:2-3; Rom. 5:3-4.
  • He permits difficulties to occur.
  • We have proven that faith is sound at other times - Psa. 77:11.
  • Trial has a purpose, not a cause - Job 2:3; Heb. 12:10-11.
  • We should be exercised thereby - Heb. 12:11.
  • God will not intervene to take away our freedom of choice do good or evil.

4. God's Sovereignty

  • Accept Him as the unchanging God.
  • He works though a chaotic history.
  • Learn to trust - Phil. 4:4-7; John 20:29; Psa. 34:18.
  • God never makes mistakes, so be content, never give up our basic faith - Job 42:7-8;
  • 2:10.
  • There is no theology of a helpless God.

5. Preparation

  • We are now in training for the rest of our lives and for the kingdom.
  • Difficulties are to be worked through not avoided, cultivate an attitude that will help us through.
  • God won't let you down, or off!
  • Study the subject of Providence, have a "worldview" that has God in every part.

6. Future

  • Scars never disappear, loss is always there, private cries of grief continue.
  • We are forever changed, we are different people, we will never be the same person as we were.
  • The resurrection becomes more significant.
  • Rev. 7:17 - no tears.
  • Rev. 21:4 - no tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying, no pain.

Coping with Bereavement - a Bibliography

  • ABC tapes - Step by Step.
  • Del Bene, Ron - A Time to Mourn, The Upper Room, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
  • Dobson, Dr. James - When God Doesn't Make Sense, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, lllinois, USA.
  • Finlay, Lois - Make Glad the Heart, Adelaide Christadelphian Ecclesia.
  • Peddy, Elaine - If You Can't Understand Me Just Love Me, Gillingham Printers, Adelaide, SA.
  • Scriptural Wisdom & Practical Help for Surviving Troubled Times - Resource Manual. Developed for a Christadelphian Seminar, 5 June 1993, Toronto, Canada.
  • Strommen, Merton P. and A. Irene - The Five Cries of Grief, Harper Collins, New York, NY, USA.
  • Thomas, Joan - Coping with Bereavement, The Christadelphian, Birmingham, England.
  • Westburg, Granger E. - Good Grief, The Joint Board of Christian Education, Melbourne, Victoria.
  • Whittaker, Harry - Through Patience and Comfort of the Scriptures, Christadelphian Action Society, Palatine, Illinois, USA.
Stephen Hill, Aberfoyle Park Ecclesia, South Australia

 

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