Journeying Through Grief

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Recently I attended a grief retreat where participants were grieving the loss of children, parents, family members, illnesses, family separation, relationships, childhood innocence, dreams they once had for the future, and so much more. I witnessed honesty, vulnerability and self-awareness. I too was grieving.

What is grief?

Grief is an emotion common to the human experience, and we witness the process of grief throughout the Bible. People grieve for many different reasons, including:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Separation or changes in a relationship, including friendship
  • Changes in health or the health of a loved one
  • Changes in way of life, such as transitions

Many people in Sacred Scripture experienced deep loss, sadness, and grief including Job, Naomi, Hannah, and David. Jesus even mourned (John 11:35). When Jesus saw Martha and the other mourners weeping, He also wept. He was moved by their grief and also by the death of Lazarus. The astonishing thing is that, even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He chose to share the grief of the situation. He grieves with us.

If you are grieving or someone you know is grieving, take comfort in knowing that our Lord is right there with you; He knows your heart, He knows your hurt, and He is present in your grief.

How do you grieve?

Everyone grieves in a different way and for different reasons. No matter what your grief looks like, it’s important to invite God into the grieving process. If you struggle with this, turn to the psalms as they contain several prayers that can help you pour out your heart to God as you grieve.

“How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?” (Psalm 13:2)

“Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage” (Psalm 23:4).

As we grieve, it’s important to feel the loss and find an outlet to express those feelings. It can be difficult to process overwhelming feelings, but this challenge is normal; what matters is how you direct those feelings.

Some people like to process grief through art; maybe by drawing or journaling. Some people like to process their feelings with other people, by having meaningful conversations or just chatting over a meal or coffee.

Whatever your preference, remember to attend to your own physical needs and self care. Basic things like getting enough sleep, eating a well balanced diet, and exercising will help you process the loss in a healthy way.

How can you be a friend to someone who is grieving?

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

The Church is designed to ease the burdens of its individual members — believers have the ability to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Often, those who are grieving face the temptation to to isolate themselves. The best gift you can give someone who is grieving is your presence, as much as they’re open to it. While many of us worry about what to say, it’s more important to simply listen. By being present and listening compassionately, we can lessen the grief of those we love. Grief shared turns to grace — God’s life is made present through our love.

How do you overcome grief?

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4)

When the pain seems unbearable, Satan sees an opportunity to try to bring us into permanent bondage. The key to victory is understanding that grief is a process. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and later converted to Catholicism, said that we could survive any “how” as long as we know the “why.” That is, if we could somehow find meaning in our suffering, we could draw strength from it to continue on; to not only survive, but thrive.

As Christians, the “why” is the cross. We believe in redemptive suffering; whatever we do to our neighbor, we do to Jesus. All of the suffering and grief we — and our neighbors — encounter in daily life help build the Mystical Body of Christ. Uniting our crosses with the Passion of Christ gives them a redeeming power, a redeeming value, a share in the fruits of His Passion. This connects the pain we endure as a result of grief to the cross and gives it a new meaning. Understanding redemptive suffering, the role grief plays in redemptive suffering, and trusting in God’s faithfulness can renew our perspective on life.

One of the most beautiful truths to understand — something that resonated with me on my grief retreat — is that you are not alone in your grief. Jesus is with you, and although grief may be ongoing, it’s not forever. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

As we journey with our grief and invite God into the intimate places of our heart, we are able to open our minds to the truth that He loves us, that He is faithful, that He is in control, and that He knows how He is going to work it out for our good.

There is an end to mourning. Grief has a purpose, but it also has limits. Ultimately, we find hope in Christ Christ and trust that He is strong enough to carry our grief.