This week, my dear friend, Lottie Mitchell, went to be with our Lord and with her life-long best friend, husband and sweetheart, Bill. For me and many others in the San Antonio area, it’s been an emotional week filled with ups and downs. It has seemed unusual the last couple of days not to be praying for Lottie as my wife and I have done in our morning prayer time for years.
My mind and heart have bounced back and forth between having happy memories of our times together, to thoughts of profound gratitude for our assurance of heaven, to deep feelings of loss and grief. I’m happy for Lottie. At the same time, I’m already missing her greatly.
Lottie was the kind of friend who could make me laugh over things that would normally cause me to cry. She was a thoughtful, sensitive kind of Christ-follower who took her faith seriously, but not herself. She was unusually humble and strong at the same time. She was never afraid to tackle a tough job. And yet, she was gentle, compassionate, and so tenderhearted she would tear up when you hurt. Lottie was every pastor’s dream-friend. I’m going to miss my Lottie.
We’re all acquainted with, and often bothered by, this strange task of grieving while being so joyful. Somehow the two feelings just don’t seem like they should go together. Have you noticed how we experience these opposing emotions often during the most joyous events?
With the joy that comes with the holiday season around us, like me, you or someone you know may be experiencing the mixed emotions I’m talking about.
Over years of ministering to people during these times, I found a few helpful hints that have helped people handle their grieving in a healthy way.
1. Grieve like you do rehab.
Don’t rush grieving. There is no set timetable for your grief. It’s like rehab, and you cannot rush it. Rebuilding muscles and strength is a process. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling sad. It takes longer for some than others. Only you and God know the time your mind, heart, and body need to get going again.
2. Accept your emotions as normal.
Healthy grief is unashamedly emotional. When you experience important losses, you should feel and express strong, painful emotions. That’s what normal people do. If you did not feel some disorientation, sadness, and anger, you should be more concerned. When Jesus, the very son of God, lost his friend by death, Jesus cried so much that the crowd noticed.
3. Slowly let go of control.
Healthy grief lets go and lets God. Allow God to control the process. Anytime we lose anything or anyone, we feel we have lost control. Give yourself permission to accept your loss as part of this life. You are a follower of Jesus. You do not fully understand why this loss has happened, but you do understand whom you trust, and you are giving him control of your future and your loved one’s future.
4. Share your loss.
Healthy grief opens up. Share your honest grief with those you love and trust. Open up and let the pressure of your feelings out. Do not bottle them up so they come out later in unhealthy ways. Even though no one’s experience is the same as yours, listening to someone who has been through grief can give you some helpful objectivity.
5. Keep moving and connecting.
Healthy grief has community. If you are not careful, you will stay alone most of the time. Being alone too much feeds your negative feelings of anger, resentment, fear, confusion, and bitterness. Get out of your private world and mix with others. Start reconnecting with you pre-loss life.
6. Postpone big decisions.
Healthy grief is cautious. Some say we should not make any major decision for at least one year after a major loss. I don’t agree. For some it should be longer, for others shorter. People are unique, and there is no one-time-fits-all for healthy grieving. However, there is one rule that does fit all of us—wait to make big decisions until you and your trustworthy loved ones agreed that the time is right.
7. Learn all you can.
Healthy grief is a good teacher. We learn more from hard times than easy ones. Take advantage of this painful experience to learn all you can about what counts most to you in this life, what adjustments you need to make, and what your Lord is saying to you about his purposes for you, his presence and your eternity.
8. Prepare for your end-of-life decisions.
Healthy grief prepares. Families rarely talk about end-of-life issues until it is too late. Toward the end of your grief process, while your sensitivity about eternity is still heightened, take time to have an honest discussion with those you love about your hopes, plans, medical choices, and desires for you and them.
9. Rejoicing is important in grieving.
Healthy grief includes joy. It looks back and expresses joy and gratitude. You’ll want to remember the good times, laugh about the fun times, day-dream about the sweet times, and to appreciate the contributions your loved one made to people’s lives. Healthy grieving also looks forward. You need to be committed to carrying on a legacy, being responsible to those who have gone before you, and showing appreciation for God’s provisions.
I’m grieving over the loss of my dear friend Lottie. As you guessed it, I wrote this brief list to talk to myself.
If you are grieving, I encourage you to use these healthy hints as a check-list for grieving in a healthy way. If you fall short, just get up and go back to work and make the changes you need.
If you know someone who is grieving, share this list with them. They will be grateful, and you may be giving them an important gift.
Bill Nichols, PhD