Dealing with Grief in the Church

Religious Bereavement Counseling

grieving man
Grief is a part of the lives of all our lives. Death, whether expected or startling, affects all of us at one time or another, and the Church often plays an important role in helping us cope with our loss. During their times of need, people in your congregation will turn to you for comfort and guidance.

People don't just "get over it" -- they have to learn how to live with the pain of their loss, and this can be incredibly difficult. Knowing everything you can about the ways in which different people grieve will make it easier for you to provide the right kinds of counseling and consolation.

Grief and Major Depression
Grief is normally thought of a response to bereavement -- the loss of something, whether it be a job, a pet, or a loved one. It is also related to depression, feelings of intense sadness and despair which last for more than a month. Grief can sometimes trigger major depression, and it's important to be familiar with the symptoms of the latter. Those who suffer from grief and depression are at a greater risk of illness, divorce, and suicide.

If someone is having:
- trouble sleeping due to recurring thoughts or nightmares about a tragedy
- marked changes in appetite
- feelings of sadness, irritability, anger, or resentment
- memory problems and a hard time concentrating
- emotional "numbness," feelings of detachment, despair, disconnect, and hopelessness
- spontaneous crying fits
- difficulty in taking care of themselves day to day, feelings of low energy
- recurrent thoughts of suicide

If these symptoms have lasted for more than a month, they may be signs of major depression, and the person should be referred to a psychotherapist or other mental health professional immediately for their own safety.

Practical Ideas for Dealing with Grief
There are a number of practical ways to help those who are depressed or grieving. Some may seem like common sense, but for those in the grip of a strong depression, even simple steps such as these can be extremely difficult to take. Offer these suggestions in the spirit of guidance, comfort, and helping your congregation to help themselves.
- Surround yourself with people. Even if you don't want to talk about your problems, being in the company of others takes some of the burden off of your shoulders.
- If it helps to talk about it, talk about it.
- Daily routines can be a great comfort. If you've let go of them, try your best to reestablish them.
- Eat healthy and get some exercise. Try to go for an hour long walk every day in a park or other natural setting, and look to the horizon during your excursion.
- Get enough sleep, but don't sleep too much. Oversleeping and undersleeping are classic signs of grief and depression.
- If you're feeling overwhelmed by your schedule, begin to give up the nonessentials. Simplifying your daily activities may help to clear your mind.
- Find something positive to do, like volunteering. Helping other people may help you to feel better about your own problems.
- Take the time to grieve, in your own way and on your own terms. Bottling emotions can have drastic consequences for your long term mental health.

Many times, feelings of grief and depression are accompanied by feelings of helplessness. Practical suggestions such as those listed above may be the bottom rung on the ladder that leads to happiness and peace of mind for people who are feeling hopeless.

Schools of Thought
There are a number of different schools of thought concerning grief and the ways in which we deal with it, but there are two primary ideas -- one says that we move through particular stages of grief, and the other focuses more on the different kinds of grief we may experience during the process, in no particular order. Below, we'll outline both ways of thinking about grief.

The Five Stage Model of Grief
The Ebb and Flow Model of Grief

Written by: Bob Robertson