Grief 101

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

Grief 101

See, from His head, His hands, His feet Sorrow and love flow mingled down Did e’er such love and Sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown. (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts)

Grief is part of our world. Love and sorrow twist together in our lives.

To love, to open our hearts to others? Is to be vulnerable.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.                              C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Grief takes a toll on us all: Men and women and children. So many of us are responding to this in “Social Isolation.” But how do we experience it? 

Elisabeth Kübler- Ross did extensive studies on grief, and it helps us understand what is happening to us now. She envisioned grief as an inverted bell curve, 5 stages.

Shock & Denial

In this stage we can hardly believe what is happening. It is like nothing we have experienced so we do not have a frame of reference. 

Shock gives way to surprise as news unfolds of the event. In this Pandemic, it is disturbing and unsettling. It is frightening and brings on fear. It is a jolt to our system. Trauma intertwines with distress.

Denial comes hard on the heels of shock. Certainly, these reports cannot be true. The Pandemic may be effecting Europe; but how could it ever reach America? We are a medically sophisticated society, and surely our medical community will stop this in its tracks. The facts and figures coming in from China, Italy and Spain must be exaggerated. And as we examine the statistics on American soil, it seems negligible.

And it can’t be worse than the flu—can it? A bad flu.

We experience this every winter. And this, too, will pass.

Anger

The anger stage is multifaceted. How did this Pandemic get out of control? How can it be happening here? In our Country? State? County? Borough?

The invisibility of this beast adds to out exasperation. Give me a visible enemy, and perhaps I’ll be able to take him on. But this? Just how many times do I have to wash my hands? Studies have shown we wash our hands a total of 6 seconds. So there has been a suggestion of singing verses of “Amazing Grace”, or your favorite rock song or “Happy birthday. Tell me: exactly how many verses do I need to sing? Clever methods calm my annoyance for a short time, but give way to irritation.

I become more irritable as time goes on. Do not tell me where I can go. And the distance I have to stand from my neighbor. And how I have to handle my groceries. Or when I shop.

Irritability gives way to annoyance. I may have never baked bread before, but now I insist on buying yeast and bread flour. How dare the store be sold out! Never mind that there are plenty of Pepperidge Farm loaves on the shelves. And the bread dilemma is national in scope. Yeast cannot be found throughout the land.

I may have lost my job, been furloughed, or reduced hours. My finances will be a mess.

Or, I may be working in the medical field, delivery for UPS FEDEX or supply chain. Can’t I stay home like everyone else? Just how much exposure can I have without exposing my family?

Bargaining

Bargaining is subtle in nature. As if we could bargain with a Pandemic! But we try. It is hard to predict how long this will last. If I pace myself for 2 weeks, perhaps the worst will be over. If the extension of “Social Isolation” is for 4 weeks, I can manage. But no longer. That is all I can promise. I’ll make an agreement for the end of April, but surely not into May.

Let’s make a deal! I promise to stay isolated, but how can I see my family? My children? Don’t tell me we can’t have Easter dinner!

Perhaps all of us can have our own Easter dinner, and meet “virtually” through Zoom. That is the solution. I’ll barter with this Pandemic.

Depression

The longevity of this Pandemic begins to wear on us. 

I want out! I want my independence back and I want my freedom! I feel dejected as my routine has been disrupted. A sadness prevails, as I pace from room to room. There is only so much that I can take of these 4 walls! Cabin fever abounds.

I’ve fallen out of the rhythm of life. I may not get up in the morning, but instead, lounge in bed in despair. After all, why get up?

I am despondent as I look at myself in the mirror. My hairdresser is not open, and my roots are beginning to show.

I’m eating or drinking to console myself, feeling guilty about the comfort foods that try to ease my internal ache and melancholy.

Being “in the dumps” has never felt so real.

The internet is ablaze with jokes:

“If I hold a glass of wine or a beer in each hand, I can’t touch my face.”

“Pretty soon I’m going to need a magician, not a beautician!”

“Breaking news: Wearing a mask inside your home is highly recommended. Not so much to prevent COVID-19 but to prevent eating.”

We laugh at them, knowing there is a deep truth here. We see ourselves. And we know that others feel the same way.

Acceptance

As this Pandemic drags on, we recognize that we have to do our part.

To successfully shelter in place means nothing will happen today. But the decreasing numbers of infections will be the reward of our patience. A commitment to other’s safety will become our foremost concern.

We know there will be a “New Normal.”

Learning to manage the home front, even with humor, helps us through the “daily days.”

There are innumerable sites for parents and children to engage in fun activities.

For adults? Netflix, reading, and perhaps video games. But these all point to being at home. Alone and isolated. 

The ideal: time spent in God’s Word and with Him.

And so we reframe this time: Instead of being stuck at home? We are safe at home.

The end is in Sight

Perhaps you’ve seen yourself in parts of the Grief cycle. Perhaps this is a moment, of “Aha! Me too!”

It is not linear and most often, we take “two steps forward and one step back.”

We offer grace to others, knowing that we are each on an independent journey through this time. There may be similarities. But there are also differences.

“We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.” (Rosaria Butterfield)

We receive this time in faith, being confident that He is at work in us, and in His world.

We trust Him to work in us and through us to accomplish His good will.

And while we may not have a definitive date for this Pandemic to end, we do know that we have a Savior who is doing all things well.

“The tomb, normally a place of endings, became a place of beginnings. Out of if came the new hope of Resurrection life.” (Paul Tripp 4/10/20.)

Let us live in this time anticipating the resurrection He is doing within us.

Loss in a Pandemic

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

Loss

If we name it, we can begin to manage it.
But what have we lost in Covid 19?
When we begin to name the ways, we begin to understand the magnitude of this Pandemic and how it is affecting us.

1. Loss of Security

For most of us, a trip to the grocery store has been part of life. I need lemons for a recipe? No problem. I’ll stop on the way home.
But in the past 6 weeks we have gone from being careful, to being quarantined.
Some places require gloves when shopping.

And now, in PA, we are supposed to wear masks.
Note—it has never been entirely “safe” to go to the store. Germs are everywhere. Bacteria and viruses live in a plethora of places.
But before, washing your hands when you got home would do the trick.
Now, many stores are disinfecting the carts before you go in.

2. Loss of “freedom”

Six weeks ago it was expected that I had freedom to go where I wanted. And do what I wanted to do. With every change in this pandemic, new guidelines have been added to manage its’ spread. This is well and good. It is necessary. But change is hard for us. It sets us on edge.

Now I can’t drive to Delaware without having my license plate examined. And I may receive a fine to drive to another state.
A current post on Facebook puts it succinctly:

We Americans are an independent sort and do not want to be told what to do. Perhaps we may listen when we understand it is for the greater good.

3. Loss of Community: “Social Distancing”

Certainly the word for 2020 will be “Social Distancing.” Stay at least 6 feet away from one another.
No playdates.
No hugs between friends.

No Spring Break in Florida.
Funerals? Not happening, except for very few people.
Births? Only Mom and the new baby. Dads are not allowed in the hospital. Babies still insist on their own arrival date and Dad joins in through Zoom.

4. Loss of Celebrations

There has been noted a real loss for the graduating class of 2020.
Especially those Seniors in high school.It is hard enough to say goodbye to life long friends before we begin our college careers. But now, the passage of time cannot be marked by pomp and circumstance.
Rites of passage: Proms, Yearbook signing, Senior night? Lost in the pandemic.
Students and teachers alike mourn the sweet goodbye and sending forth into Middle School. No parties.
Bridal showers must be done—and it IS done, virtually.
Weddings are even held virtually. Where there is a will, there is a way. And love wins.

5. Loss of events

Don’t even begin to list the sports events on a national level. March has come and gone and the only madness we knew was the Pandemic.
Covid-19 put an end to book clubs, except on a virtual level.
An end to Garden Clubs. An end to Mother’s Markets and rummage sales.

And yet—God Reigns.

There are so many losses. When we begin to look at them, there is an understanding of our despondency and lack of energy, our lack of motivation.
And yet.
He knows us.

He holds us in the palm of His hand.
As we go through these trials, we can be assured of His gentle presence.

Psalm 42:11
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 27:13
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

And because music speaks into our hearts:

I have a maker
He formed my heart, Before even time began My life was in his hands He knows my name
He knows my every thought, He sees each tear that falls And hears me when I call  (Paul Baloche, He knows my name.)

What–in the World–is happening?

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

What—in the world—is happening? These are troubled times. We are dealing with it in different ways. As I talk with people, I find a variety of reactions. These are but a few:

What am I supposed to do? Group 1: Many health care professionals go to work. We pray for their continued health. Those who do work face the concern of exposure to the virus personally. They come home and often strip down to nothing in their garage, including their shoes, so that they do not contaminate their loved ones. But there are also other staff at work: Housekeeping, Garbage disposal, EMT, Police, Septa, Grocery employees, Supply trucks. We see that this is just at the tip of the iceberg.

And we are interconnected in so many ways.

This is exhausting on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

Group 2: Some are able to work from home, or at least cobble together some sort of work. This is not the same dynamic.  Consider that day care is closed. Our son and his wife are in this group.She is a health professional, so she is gone at least 6 hrs/day. He stays at home with the baby, trying to work around naptime, diaper changes, and saving Lila from danger as she explores the home. They tag team responsibilities and work, but this makes for 16 hr days. They are exhausted.

Group 3: Those who are not able to work from home? This is a mixed group. It includes those who have lost jobs, been furloughed, retirees, residents in longterm health care and innumerable more categories. My husband and I are in the retired group. We are used to a certain routine, and rhythm of life. This has all changed. For those who worked, there is a “new normal.” But for how long? 

Will there be a “normal” again? When will I go back to work?  How will I pay my bills?  How will I pay my rent? I can’t go to Starbucks for coffee and hang out with my cronies. I can’t go out for breakfast or lunch with my colleagues.

There are so many “I can’t”s.

And as they lay before me, I am so exhausted.

Group 4: The children. Everyone is at home now, and this adds a whole new dimension of responsibility, energy and even chaos. This deserves a post unto itself.

Exhaustion

The similar theme is exhaustion. But why? A common denominator is the loss of expectations, loss of routine, loss of purpose.

It is so exhausting.

These dynamics are all part of grief.

Grief???

Grief creeps up on us in unexpected ways. None of us are immune to it.  Some of us start the day with “Great Expectations” and plan on painting a hallway, planting the garden, or cleaning out a closet. Some of us actually achieve that goal.

But others? We start on the project only to be distracted. We can’t seem to stay focused. And by lunchtime, I’m ready for a nap. There are only so many times one can walk their dog. I can only reheat my lukewarm coffee so many times. Or I’m exhausted when I wake up and crawl through the day.

Join the club. If you have been feeling “off” but had no words for it? You are not alone.

Join us as we explore these things.

In my next article I’ll look more closely at grief and what it does to us physically, emotionally, spiritually. When we can name a problem, we can begin to manage it. Let’s manage it together.

How Should We Then Live?

Cynthia L. Eppley, MA

How Should We Then Live?

A Pandemic

We are in the midst of a Pandemic: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
It is not the first that the world has endured.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was first reported in 2012.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus caused a severe outbreak in several regions of the world in 2003.

The 1918 influenza pandemic (H1N1)was the most severe pandemic in recent history.

COVID -19 is an infectious disease caused by a new virus. Its scope is broad and international in nature.
This invisible threat is very real, and it is very frightening.

Many of us are scared; even those with faith. Questions remain—

What if I am exposed to the virus? How will this affect my family? Where is Christ in all of this?

Theologian Francis A. Schaeffer asked: How Should We Then Live?

How Should We Then Live?

This is the question before us. Our theology is strong, and we trust in Christ as our Savior and Lord. Our functional theology then comes into question. I confess Jesus as my Savior and my Lord, and yet I may function daily on a different belief system.

Our Only Comfort

The Heidelberg Catechism gives us a foundational answer:

Q. 1.What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong— 
body and soul,
in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
—The Heidelberg Catechism

Romans 8:38-39
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Truth

This rings true to our hearts and spirits. This truth comforts us in life and in death.
How do faith and a pandemic intersect to give us a robust life?
As the Pandemic spreads, how do we understand practical questions as well as spiritual ones?

The series of articles that follow will examine these questions.

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