Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Understanding the grief cycle

Good morning. Today’s scripture comes from Psalm 10:14(New International Version): “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.”

Author's note: If you know someone going through a divorce or loss of a loved one, please pass along this blog post. Thanks.

According to the Psalmist, God is the author of grieving, so who better to turn to in understanding how we should grieve. Here's what the Psalmist says God's role is in our grief: He sees our trouble, takes note of it, encourages us while he listens to our prayers and is with us whenever we face our enemies. In other words, we are not alone in our grief: God is always with us.

That was the key message I gave to a hand full of single parents two weeks ago at the Bay Area Sunday School Workers Convention in Castro Valley, California. I learned about the grief cycle after my divorce in 1994. I learned about it through counseling and taking divorce recovery classes, including Just Me and the Kids, which I did with my son because I wanted him to better understand what he was going through, too. In Just Me and the Kids, written by Barbara Schiller, we learned how to remember the grief cycle by the acronym DABDAH: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, anger and hope. The Christian version adds the H at the end for our hope in God and our hope for a better life ahead, a promise God makes to us.

Here's a quick recap of the grief cycle:

Denial: “This isn’t happening to me.” Shock, numb feelings, alarm.

Anger: “It’s the other parent’s fault!” Anger at the other parent, at yourself for letting this happen, at the situation you’re in, and even at the world in general.

Bargaining: “If you come back, I promise I'll change. It’s my fault.” A person takes on unnecessary blame and make promises of change for the return of the relationship.

Depression: “My life couldn't be worse.” Extreme sadness, lackadaisical, lack of motivation, lack of caring, no concern for others. This tends to be the longest stage.

Acceptance: “This is my life right now, good or bad.” Acceptance that the divorce is, indeed, happening to you, and there is little, if anything, you can do to change your circumstances. Forgiveness must take place before acceptance can be reached.

Hope: “I'm going to be OK.” That life is getting better, that they will be OK, hope that God has a plan for your life, even as a divorced, single parent.

Here's a few things single parents have to grieve: Loss of the relationship from the person who promised to “love you, till death do us part;” loss of your confidante, friend, partner in life, etc.; loss of the life you had; loss of sex life; loss of seeing your kids every day; loss of relationship with your in-laws, extended family and friends; loss of physical home; loss of staying at home in order to work if you were a stay-at-home mom; loss of place in various communities (work, church, school, neighborhood, etc.); loss of security (financial, emotional and physical). Plus, children going through many of the same things, but at different times.

By understanding the grief cycle, we are better prepared to grieve the various cycles of life. When my engagement broke off eight years ago to a woman I deeply loved, I allowed myself to grieve and feel my pain. When my dad died four years ago, I cried tears of joy at knowing God has blessed me with a wonderful father and Christian role model. When my son moved out of the house and went to college in Arizona, I felt sad and glad at the same time, and I knew those feelings were normal. By understanding the grief cycle 15 years ago, I could see my son at each stage and not panic or worry. I didn't try to push him into acceptance too son; he had to proceed at his own pace, not mine.

Grieving is a part of life, and God wants us us to grieve, because in our hour of pain, we turn to him. God wants us to lean on him and rest in his loving, comforting arms. But frankly, in my 14 years of working with single adults, I see far too many people who don't know how to grieve and don't want to grieve because its just too difficult. Grieving means peeling away the ugly layers of our life and exposing them to a loving God who wants to transform us into new creations. Grieving means learning from your mistakes, so that you don't repeat them.

My learning about the grief cycle helped me to make better decisions for me and my son while I was a single dad for 13 years. Our lives are infinitely richer because we learned how to grieve.

How does this apply to my life?

Today's prayer: Lord, thank you for teaching me and my son how to grieve 15 years ago. In that process, I found you. For that, I am forever grateful. Amen

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