There is an old saying that “time heals all wounds”. In my opinion this is too simple a statement. Why then do grown adults cry at painful memories from their childhood?
The passage of time without the processing of pain will not magically heal wounds. The passage of time simply allows us the room necessary to process grief that we may have experienced in the past.
Grief can be described as our response to loss. Loss can take many forms. We can lose family members to death, jobs to a bad economy, spouses to divorce and possessions to natural disaster. Each situation triggers an emotional response that we must process.
Grief is not simply an uncomfortable emotion, but a process that we must enter into if we want to maintain wholeness and emotional health.
Swiss Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has described what she calls; “The Five Stages of Grief”. I have found that understanding and intentionally employing these five stages are helpful when processing loss. This list of stages can serve as a type of emotional road map at times, helping us to see the next turn, rather than getting lost in the midst of our pain.
Denial – This stage is characterized by the phrase, “I can’t believe it.” During this stage we often feel like we are living in a bad dream and just need to wake up. Once we realize that we are not dreaming, we often begin to feel angry.
Anger – When we enter into this stage of grief we become angry because we have a goal that is being blocked. Often times our goal is to return to the way things were, before we experienced loss. Sometimes our goals may be more specific.
Bargaining – This is one of the most frustrating stages of grief. When bargaining, we often think, “If only I had done things differently,” or, “I would do anything to have him/her/it back.” This is our last grasp at trying to control the situation that we find ourselves in. Once we realize that we are not in control, we may feel depressed.
Depression – At this stage we begin to realize that things are not going to be the same as they once were. We sink into a mild depression when we realize that our goal of returning to the way things were is unattainable.
Acceptance – While we need to accept that loss prevents life from being the way that it was, loss does not prevent life from moving on, or even improving. While things may not be the same, they do not have to be worse. There is a future and life continues.
If we are able to identify which stage we are currently in, it can help us move toward the next stage and eventually arrive at acceptance. Acceptance does not mean that we have “gotten over” the loss or that we will never feel any pain again. Acceptance simply means that we have decided to move on and continue to rediscover what life will be like without that which we have lost.
Often times we choose to suppress grief because we think it is too painful to deal with. We often hide our negative emotions so that we do not burden those around us – ironically we still burden those around us with our unexpressed pain. Unfortunately, when we decide not to process grief we forfeit healing.
While at times painful, processing grief can actually be considered a blessing, as it eventually brings comfort, healing and acceptance.
Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming. You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.