Healing the Wounds of Grief


Grief is a normal and natural response to the death of a loved one.  Many cultures throughout the world have rituals and traditions that support the grieving process.  Some churches in Costa Rica, for example, list the names of the bereaved in the weekly bulletin and place their names on a wall in back of the church.  Each week, for the first year following a death, family members are called to the front of the church for a special blessing.  This blessing acknowledges the significance of their loss and provides community support for mourning as a sacred process.  In some Native American cultures, people cook for and even help groom the bereaved for several months after a death.  For the bereaved to do these things for themselves is viewed as taking attention away from the important work of mourning.


In the United States, however, we do a very limited job of supporting the bereaved.  We may send cards or flowers.  Perhaps we attend the memorial service and express our regrets to family members.  We may even call a few weeks after the death to ask how the person is doing. When it comes to companioning the grieving person, however, we as a society, as a church and as individuals frequently fall short.  Sometimes this is because we don’t know what to say or do.  Other times it’s because the other person’s mourning reminds us of our own unresolved grief or it makes us aware of the losses that we too will some day experience. 


According to Richard Groves, director of the Sacred Art of Living Center in Bend, Oregon, grief is a significant psychological and spiritual wound, equivalent to the physical injuries one might suffer in a major traffic accident.  The person with physical wounds receives medical attention and the support of family and friends, but the wound of grief often goes unhealed due to the social pressures they feel to “get back to normal”.  Our rush to have people “get over” their grief leads them to feelings of isolation, to question their particular style of mourning and ultimately to repression of the very emotional process that nurtures healing.  In other words, it slows or even stops the healing from taking place. The bereaved never “get back” to the “old normal.” However, healthy mourning provides a way for them to integrate their loss, enables them to move forward with their lives and makes possible the formation of a “new normal”. 


“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” says Jesus in the Beatitudes.  Just as it takes time to heal from our physical injuries, so it takes time to heal from the emotional and spiritual wounds of grief.  Those who companion the grieving along the way make the journey less difficult and lonely.  Let us, as followers of Christ, be the hands, the feet and the heart of Jesus in the world by showing care and compassion for the grieving in their courageous journey toward healing.


In the name of the One who brings us comfort,                
Debbie Kohler