Monday, May 4, 2015

Grief: What's Normal?

           What is normal grief, or normal grieving? What does it look like to you? Can you define it? Can you tell when someone is grieving normally or isn’t going through the standard stages?

            In this post, we’ll return one last time to the Second Samuel story of the death of King David’s baby. I’ll start with the verses leading up to the ones I want to cover today. And we’ll look at normal grieve, along with other important truths.

            “When David saw this his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Then David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’”
            “And they said, ‘He is dead.’”
            So David arose from the ground, and washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes, and went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’
            “And he said, ‘While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

            We’ll enter the scene today where David’s servants voice their shock at David’s behavior: the fact that after the child died, he arose, cleaned, worshiped and ate. In other words, David intentionally returned to life and acted “normally.”           
            But his servants evidently didn’t think there was anything normal about David’s action, considering what had just happened to his baby. They must have thought he should have thrown himself into deeper mourning. They don’t understand it, and they pointedly confront him about his behavior.

            The first takeaway from this section of the passage is: Don’t let anyone around you tell you what “normal” should look like when you’re in the grieving process. You are going to grieve the way you are going to grieve. In spite of psychologists setting forth tidy, common stages of grief, that doesn’t mean that you, personally, will experience all or any of them. And it doesn’t mean your grieving spouse or other family members will grieve in the identical way you do. And it doesn’t mean that if you’ve experienced the same type of loss that someone else has, that you know exactly what he or she is going through. As a speaker told the audience at a recent conference I attended, “I know you’ve lost your momma, too, and you tell me you know how I feel. But don’t tell me you know how I feel, because you don’t know how I fee. That was my momma I lost; this is my momma we’re talking about.”
            Resist letting others set grieving standards for you; and you must avoid setting grieving standards for someone else. While we are called to weep with those who weep, we are not called to “fix” or keep tabs on, or direct people through the grieving process, to make sure they hit all of the stages, work through them, and come out whole on the other side in a set period of time.
            And don’t assume that if a person quickly returns to life after a loss that they did not grieve sufficiently or grieve well, or love deeply. And while David graciously explained his reasons (which end up being for our benefit), do not feel compelled to explain yours.

            The second point is to realize that, under the circumstances, you did your best. David prayed and wept, on the chance that God might be gracious and spare his son’s life. He knew he’d done all he could, and God’s answer was “No.” David faced that answer and accepted it.
            What so many parents are tempted to do, though, is to chastise themselves (for years, even) for not having done something more on behalf of their child. They may be haunted by a fear that they did something wrong, something that caused the death of their baby. They “just know” that if things went differently, that the death could have been averted.
            When we think that way, we neglect to acknowledge God’s providence in the outcome. While our fears and nagging thoughts may have some truth to them, replaying them in our minds, and in our stories, and in our hearts won’t bring our babies back. It won’t change the past. Thinking that way only saps us of our energy for living in the present, and it often robs us of the love we can give others, or the love others can give us. We do not need to go through penance. We’ll never feel better if that’s how we approach it.
            As Dr. J. Vernon McGee wrote in his booklet, Death of a Little Child: “Humanely speaking, you did the best you could. You are not as wise nor as strong as God. You did what you could, and you must lave the results to Him. Do not reproach yourself for negligence or ignorance. Regardless of what you had done, you are still a fallible and feeble creature. You did the best you could."
            David did all that he could at the time; and he never gave up hope, until the end was proclaimed.
            But then his hope really still didn’t die, did it?
            As we see in the last line, and which I have talked about before, David maintained hope. A blessed hope. One built on the promises of God: the knowledge and belief that his precious baby was at home in heaven and waiting for David to come to him.
            As he pointed out: “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
            He knew, and firmly believed in, the end of the story. The happy ending. And there is a happy ending. In spite of all of your anguish, you can be assured of a happy ending.

            And it’s this point that I will explore next week. Knowing you will see your little one some day, and grieving as someone who has hope. You will know the joy that David alluded to: Even though your child has gone on ahead of you, and will not return to you in this time, you will one day go to your child and be reunited with her!

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!