We express grief in different ways. We either cry openly, weep alone, or show little or no emotion. We may collapse, become hysterical, or give others the impression we’re doing well even if we’re not.
When my friend Judie had cancer, women from her church drove her seventy miles for radiation treatments. She shared about her grief: “I remember lying on the sofa, crying as I waited for someone to pick me up. When it was time to leave, I’d dry my eyes, wash up, put a smile on my face, and go out that door. I tried not to burden the women with my grief.”
Waves of sorrow, guilt, regrets, and remorse wash over us. “A wave of grief occurs when we become aware of the deep emptiness in ourselves resulting from a loss. . . . This mixture of feelings and physical reactions is called waves because, like waves along the seashore, they come with varied frequency and power.”3
Mourning drains our energy, makes us more susceptible to illness, and increases our stress. We overeat or are unable to eat at all. We may be overcome by inner turmoil, emotional and mental conflicts, and irrational fears, especially of death. We feel as if we’re drowning as we struggle to reach the surface and survive our grief.
Sorrow can cause such confusion that we don’t know what we need to do or how to make rational decisions. We don’t even realize that we’re not functioning well. I thought I was handling my normal duties fine after Ron had heart surgery. Later when I prepared to have our taxes done, I discovered that during the time of his surgery and several months of recovery, our check register didn’t make sense. I’d made all kinds of mistakes and written checks incorrectly, and our financial records were a mess.
When Ron passed away many years later, I felt lost, shut down, and barely functioned. Because Ron had dementia, went suddenly blind, and was in extreme pain I was relieved he was now free and home with his Savior. But I longed to have him back in his right mind and to be able to do the things we had enjoyed and hadn’t been able to do for years.
Some people try to escape sorrow by working longer hours or keeping up a frenzied schedule. “It takes a lot of energy to cry or to feel rage, guilt, or frustration—sometimes all at once. Yet it takes even more energy to contain and defend against emotional outbursts when around others.”4
We stifle grief to remain strong for others and complete necessary tasks. Otherwise, we fear they will be so paralyzed by sorrow that they won’t be able to function, meet the demands of life, and maintain a normal routine. If we ever let go and cry, we fear we’d lose control and “act crazy.”
My friend Judie recounted why she needed to contain her grief when she had Hodgkin’s Disease:
“I was facing something so frightening, and I had to hold it together for my husband and daughters. But I was really holding it together for myself because I was so afraid. I couldn’t even let myself know how upset I was. I couldn’t let myself do what I wanted to do when I went for radiation treatments. I wanted to scream, ‘You’re not going to do this to me again!’
“I thought, If I lose control, I’ll never get it back. If I ever start crying, I’ll never be able to stop. The face I had to put on to make it easier on everybody else helped me hold myself together; it kept me from totally coming apart. I felt as if I were made of glass. If I ever broke, I wouldn’t be able to put the pieces back together.”
Grant me the desire of my heart and do not withhold the request of my lips. “Lord, don’t be far away. You are my strength; hurry to help me.” My bones are dried up and my hope has perished. I am completely cut off. I wait in hope for You, Lord; You are my help and my shield. I’ll be patient and wait on You; I’ll be of good courage. O strengthen my heart, and I will wait patiently on You, Lord. (Ps. 21:2 paraphrased; Ps. 22:19 ncv not paraphrased; Ezek. 37:11b nas95; Ps. 33:20; Ps. 27:14 kjv paraphrased)