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On grief and grieving: A Christian perspective

Glenn L. Schwanke

In 1969 Elisabeth Kübler Ross published her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families. The book identified five stages of emotional turmoil experienced by the terminally ill: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Decades later, David Kessler joined Kübler Ross to write On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, which applied the five-stage model to those who were suffering from the loss of a loved one.

Through the years, I have often referred to Kübler Ross’s work when shepherding the terminally ill or when ministering to their family after a death. But for the past year, I have been breaking my own ground through Kübler Ross’s work. How so? My dear wife, Terry, went home to heaven on May 14, 2018, after a lengthy bout with cancer. Since then, I’ve been trudging through those five stages of grief, but not in a way you can neatly diagram on a straight line. Rather, I often feel as if I’m at sea in a murky swirl of emotions that can be triggered by the slightest thing.

Depression? If I’m watching a television program that we used to watch together, suddenly sobs I didn’t even realize I had come welling up from a place deep down inside.

Isolation? Some days I fight to find the energy to go to the grocery store or make congregational visits.

Anger? If I’m struggling with a pan of burned bacon, suddenly I’m shouting, “Lord! I was married to the best cook in the world. Why did you take her?”

Bargaining? Well, some have termed guilt “the wingman of bargaining,” and guilt I have felt. “I wish I had been a better husband. . . . If only I had urged her to go to the doctor sooner.”

Why share any of this? Because others are struggling through the same five stages of loss. If you’re one of those people, permit me to throw you my lifeline over the last year.

When I feel as if I’m wading through waist-deep mud, my Father lifts me gently with his guarantee, “My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the rock of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

When I pour out my heartache in prayer, my Father hears every groan: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed” (Psalm 34:18).

When I think, I wish Terry were still here, my caring Father lets me peek at what she already has: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain, because the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

When I’m crushed by guilt, sometimes even by the storm of emotions inside, my Father points me to his Son’s cross and whispers, “Finished!” (John 19:30).

And when I’m lonely, my Father blesses me with Christian family, friends, and neighbors to help in these days and, I pray, in the days to come.

Acceptance is finally settling into the nooks and crannies of my heart and head. But I prefer to call it “trust.” Trust in the One who promised, “As Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, so the LORD surrounds his people from now to eternity” (Psalm 125:2).

Our Father’s lifeline is there for you too. Take hold.

All Scripture references are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.

Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

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This entry is part 30 of 36 in the series editorial-comment

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