by Pastor Jon Nelson
A few years ago my mother lost her battle with cancer. While her death was not sudden, it was devastating. Over the following days I walked through a myriad of emotions that affected not just myself but my family also. Grief is a normal response to loss. It is an emotional process that affects people in many different ways. It is normal to feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, that your reactions are out of control. Although it is a normal process, it can be quite difficult to navigate, especially as a student. The grieving process can disrupt routines, impact deadlines, and make focusing on taking care of yourself and completing your assignments difficult. Sometimes it can be hard to disclose your struggles to others. You may not want to “burden” them or retell the same story over again. You may worry that you should “be over it by now” and that others won’t understand why it is still bothering you.
Every loss and every grieving person is unique. Everyone grieves in different ways and at different speeds. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many grieving students feel torn between conflicting impulses. You may feel pressure to get back to “normal” by studying or spending time with friends at the same time that you feel drawn to looking at photos of the person you lost, listening to music you shared, or being alone and crying. The grieving process is not about forgetting, but about learning to live with your loss. It’s normal for certain situations, memories, places, or anniversaries to bring up intense reactions and feelings, even if you thought you were “over it” or had “moved on.” Don’t try to force yourself to be normal and ignore how you are feeling.
There are a variety of potential responses to grief that involve:
- emotions (e.g. depressed mood, anger, guilt, loneliness, numbness, tearfulness, relief, anxiety, fear, feeling misunderstood, or ambivalence),
- physical responses (e.g. changes in appetite, sleep habits, energy level, being more prone to physical illness) and
- behavioral responses (e.g. socially withdrawing, irritability, difficulty focusing, increased substance use, and loss of joy in previously pleasurable activities).
- Stay in touch with family and friends. Communicate how you are doing and that it is ok to talk about the loss with you. Balance social time with time for yourself.
- Be patient with yourself. You may not be 100% for some time. You may not be able to work at your normal level of performance. It is not permanent.
- Get plenty of rest and be mindful of the need to eat, even if you do not have an appetite. Try eating foods you enjoy.
- Talk to your professors about postponing exams and assignments if necessary.
- Express your feelings through writing and art as well as talking—especially if you do not know how you are feeling.
- Some people find meditation, or mindful reflection helpful.
- Take time to relax, listen to music, read a book, exercise, or do something you find enjoyable and relaxing.
- If you feel you need some extra help, please contact us.
Everyone has different styles of coping with painful events. These suggestions may help you think of ideas about things that may be helpful in dealing with grief. You may want to try out these ideas or think of some of your own. Asking friends and family how they have handled grief in the past can be helpful in finding ways to cope, but only you know which coping skills will fit your personality and lifestyle best.
When our grief is debilitating and it feels impossible to function, God does not sit aloof in heaven. He does not leave us to figure out how to handle grief on our own or how to cast about for resources to get through it. He walks every step of the journey with us.
Jesus came and lived as a human in this broken world. He gets it. He knows the tormenting thirst and weakness of life’s final hours. As our High Priest who fully understands our heartaches, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), as does His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). He calls us friends (John 15:15) and promises that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), that His Spirit will dwell in us (John 14), and that He will give us peace (14:27; 16:33) and even joy (15:11; 16:22).
God hates death even more than we do. The wonderful news for us is that when Jesus broke death’s power by dying and rising from the dead, He did it not only for Himself but also for all who are united to Him (Heb. 2:14–15). That means that those who die in Christ are more alive than ever and are experiencing life, joy, and glory beyond anything we can imagine, right now, in God’s very presence. In the midst of grief, it is critical for us to remember that the God who is sovereign and mighty is also Immanuel—God with us.
What we need most in the midst of grief is God Himself. He will meet us, give us Himself, fill the void left by our loved ones, warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the sweet balm of fellowship with His Spirit. As our Father tenderly wraps us in His love, our love for Him will grow, our faith and trust will deepen, and even amid the heartache of grief we will praise Him with deep and true joy.
This is something the Lord does by His Spirit, through His Word, prayer, and the fellowship and love of His people. Those means of grace are not “tasks” for our to-do list—more burdens placed on our grief-weary shoulders. If in your grief you struggle to pray or read the Bible, ask someone to pray for you and read the Bible to you.
Grief is really, really hard. It hurts like crazy, but the Lord has broken death’s power, and therefore His children who have died are with Him and He is with us.
Even in the rending ache of grief, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can hang on to Jesus and grieve with the hope that His death and resurrection bought for us.
If you feel you need some extra help, please contact us by emailing Pastor Jon firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (573) 557-9078