Dealing with Grief

Dear Friends in Christ:

Many are familiar with the Five Stages of Grief of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s renowned book On Death and Dying.  She posits that people dealing with a great loss experience five different stages in dealing with grief:  1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression and 5. Acceptance.  As many, including Kubler-Ross, subsequently have pointed out, these stages do not always occur rapidly nor must they occur in a particular order.  Further, a person can fall back into an earlier stage they have already gone through and there is no set duration of the stage; the stages can all be of varying lengths.  I will leave the rest to the researchers.  From my experience as a pastor, I find that many people do in fact experience these stages when dealing with serious losses in their lives.  What I have found most helpful in this model is that it gives those who are experiencing loss and grief an opportunity to identify what they are feeling and may not be aware of or be able to articulate.   Another benefit is when people see that there can be numerous events in one’s life for which grief and the stages of grief are an appropriate response.  It is not simply for the death of a loved one that we are allowed to grieve, but for any serious loss; a divorce, losing a job, or dealing with substance abuse.  In this category, I would certainly include the trauma of dealing with the hurricane and recent floods.  Dealing with the trauma of losing one’s home and possessions is a real loss and has to be grieved.  The same is true even if our home didn’t flood.  All of us have been affected and are left dealing with the emotional aftermath.

For each of us, as followers of Jesus, as believers in God, as Catholics, is the question of where do we go from here and how do we get there?  St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises proposes that we perform a daily Examen, a daily examination of our lives.  The Examen can be for today or for our whole lives. In the Examen we first acknowledge God, place ourselves (our minds, hearts and souls) in the presence of God and know that he is with us.  Then we pray for:  1. Enlightenment: asking God to let me see with His eyes and not just my own.  I want to see my day, my life, my current situation, from a different perspective, a heavenly perspective, a Godly perspective.  2. Next, we pray in Thanksgiving.  We see that our very life, this day and all of the good things of today, are gifts from God and we thank the Lord for these gifts.  3. We then make a Review.  I look to see how I have acted in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  I honestly face myself to acknowledge the challenges, successes and failures.  4. This review is followed by Contrition.  Acknowledging my faults and failures as my own, I am not only sorry for them but I ask for God’s forgiveness.  5. Then I am ready to make a Resolution.  I ask God where he wants me to be and where he is leading me in my life and resolve to follow God’s direction and not merely my own.  I ask God for the strength and the wisdom to follow him today and tomorrow.

All of us have to deal with the things of everyday life.  That is not in question.  How we deal with grief and failure is important. None of us want to simply wallow in grief or become paralyzed by our grief (or fear).  Grieving is normal and healthy.  More important is not how we deal with loss, but how we deal with life!  Do we just bounce from day to day or do we have a direction, a plan of life.  If we have a plan of life it is good to know if it is a good plan or not.  The Examen helps us to have a good plan for life, not our plan but God’s plan for our lives.

When we seek to follow God’s plan and set our feet along that path, we will always end up in a better place.

In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately