When thinking about the process of grief, depression is probably what comes to most people’s minds. Whether someone you care about has died, you’ve lost a job, or a relationship has ended, it’s natural to be sad. But depression is more than just being sad. It can also be feeling irritable and restless. Or it could be feeling “empty” inside, and not enjoying the things you used to do. Sometimes it shows up as feeling guilty about being happy at all after a loss, because you feel as though you should be sad all the time. A lot of times, people just find themselves without hope; they don’t feel like doing the things they used to enjoy, and don’t think they will ever feel better again.

As I’ve written in the last few articles, this doesn’t necessarily happen right after the loss. I remember working at the hospital, talking to a young man whose sister had unexpectedly died. The rest of the family was very expressive, crying loudly in the hallway and the waiting area, but he was just quiet. I walked with him down to the vending machines, and asked how he was doing. “I feel like I should be crying, but I just don’t. Is there something wrong with me?” I reassured him that the tears would come in time, when he was ready for them.  There is no “wrong way” to grieve.

Being sad is a natural expression of loss, and it takes time to find a new “normal.” It can be difficult, but the best way to deal with the sadness is to embrace it, to let yourself feel sad as you are able. It can feel overwhelming, especially at first, but in expressing those feelings, it’s easier to come to terms with them. Sometimes they can sneak up on you. Even years after her death, I occasionally smell something that reminds me of my Aunt Ida’s cooking, or hear a song that my cousin Susie used to sing to me when I was a child – and the tears will return. This is particularly true around the holidays, as we gather together and don’t quite know what to do with the absence at the table. Things aren’t the way they used to be, and it can take a long time to adjust to how things are now.

Grief can be complicated. King David mourned the loss of his son Absalom, even though Absalom had usurped the throne and started a civil war. David ordered his troops to spare Absalom, and when he found out that Absalom was dead he cried out, “My son Absalom! Absalom! My son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33) Despite Absalom’s betrayal, David still lost a son; one might even say that he had lost Absalom more than once, because of the rebellion, and had not been able to properly grieve that loss until after the death. Grief can involve both positive and negative feelings, and we shouldn’t judge ourselves (or others!) for those feelings.

Grieving takes a long time. It helps to talk about your feelings to someone you can trust, either a friend or in a bereavement group, with people who are also coping with similar losses. For some people, writing in a journal can be helpful. I’ve heard some powerful poetry come out of the experience of mourning; even if you don’t think you have talent as a writer, it can be therapeutic to express your feelings on paper.

Being sad after any kind of major loss is normal. However, if the sadness doesn’t seem to start to fade after a few months, and you’re not able to resume your previous activities or begin new ones, or if you have persistent thoughts of self-harm, professional counseling can be helpful and appropriate. Dealing with loss can be difficult and sometimes overwhelming, but you don’t have to go through it alone. In any case, you are covered by the sheltering wings of God as you continue on your journey.

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