Help for Those Who Grieve

Jan 16, 2012, 9:25 AM |

“Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart.”—Psalm 34:18.

AFTER the death of a loved one, you might be confronted with a number of overwhelming emotions, including shock, numbness, sadness, and perhaps even guilt or anger. As mentioned in the preceding article, not everyone grieves in the same way. Therefore, you may not experience all of those feelings, and you may not display your sorrow in the same way that others do. However, when you need to express your sadness, it is not wrong for you to do so.

“Let Yourself Grieve!”

Heloisa, the medical doctor quoted earlier, tried to hold in her feelings after her mother’s death. “I did cry at first,” she says, “but soon I was suppressing my feelings—just as I would when I lost a patient. My health has suffered considerably, perhaps as a result. My advice to those who have lost a loved one is this: Let yourself grieve! Get it out of your system. It will relieve you.”

However, as the days and weeks elapse, you might feel as did Cecília, who lost her husband to cancer. “At times,” she says, “I’m disappointed in myself because it seems that I haven’t met the expectations of some who think I should be over it by now.”

If you have had such thoughts, try to remember that there is no “correct” way to grieve. Some are able to move on with relative ease. Others cannot. In such cases, the process cannot be rushed, so do not feel compelled to meet some “deadline” at which point you think you should feel better.*

But what if your grief is like a bottomless pit and you are becoming worn out by your despair? Perhaps your experience is similar to that of Jacob, a righteous man who, when told that his son Joseph had died, “kept refusing to take comfort.” (Genesis 37:35) If that is how you have responded, what practical steps can you take so that you are not overwhelmed by sorrow?

An elderly father comforting his grieving adult son

At times, a grieving elderly parent must comfort a grieving adult child

Take care of yourself. “At times, I feel terribly tired and I realize that I have exceeded my limits,” says Cecília. As her comment indicates, grief can exact a heavy toll, both physically and emotionally. Therefore, you would do well to pay particular attention to your physical health. Get proper rest, and eat nutritious foods.

Admittedly, you may have little desire to eat, much less to shop and to cook. Nevertheless, neglecting nutrition can leave you prone to infection and illness, and that will only aggravate your distress. At least try to eat in small amounts to maintain good health.#

If possible, engage in some form of exercise, even if it is only walking. Physical activity can get you out of the house. Furthermore, moderate exercise triggers the release of endorphins, chemical substances in the brain that can make you feel better.

Accept help from others. This may be particularly important when a spouse has died. Perhaps there are a number of tasks that he or she cared for, and now those tasks are left unattended. For example, if your spouse handled financial matters or domestic chores, you might, at first, find it difficult to take care of those matters by yourself. In such a circumstance, the advice of tactful friends can be of great assistance to you.—Proverbs 25:11.

The Bible describes a true friend as one “born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) So do not isolate yourself from others, thinking that you will be a burden to them. On the contrary, association with others can be like a bridge that helps you cross over from grief to acceptance. After her mother’s death, a young woman named Sally found association with others to be greatly uplifting. “Many of my friends included me in their social activities,” she says. “That really helped me to cope with the intense loneliness that I felt. I always appreciated it when people would ask simple questions, such as, ‘How are you dealing with your mother’s death?’ I found that talking about my mom helped me to heal.”

A woman writing in a journalA man looking at photographsA young man helping an older woman

Keeping a journal, looking through photos, and accepting help are ways to cope with the loss of a loved one

Allow yourself to remember. Try to recall happy memories of the times you shared with your loved one, perhaps by looking at photos. True, remembering those times might be painful at first. In time, though, these memories may help you to heal rather than cause you to hurt.

You might even try keeping a journal. In it you could write about your pleasant memories and even include the things you wish you could have said to your loved one while he or she was still alive. It may be easier for you to put your feelings into perspective when you see them on paper. Writing might also provide you with a healthful outlet for your emotions.

What about keeping mementos? Opinions on this vary, and that is hardly surprising, since each person grieves differently. Some feel that holding on to personal effects is an impediment to recovery. Others find it helpful. “I’ve kept many things that used to belong to my mom,” says Sally, quoted earlier. “It’s a good way to cope!”%

A woman reading the Bible for comfort

“No matter how bad I felt, I would pick up the Bible and read, even if it was just one verse”—Lauren

Rely on “the God of all comfort.” The Bible says: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22) Prayer to God is not some sort of emotional crutch. It is real and vital communication with “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.

God’s Word, the Bible, provides the greatest comfort of all. The Christian apostle Paul stated: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Thinking about the Bible-based hope of a resurrection can be the greatest comfort while grieving the loss of a loved one.^ That is what Lauren, a woman whose teenage brother died in an accident, found to be true. “No matter how bad I felt,” she says, “I would pick up the Bible and read, even if it was just one verse. I picked verses that were particularly encouraging, and I read them over and over again. I took comfort, for example, from Jesus’ words to Martha after Lazarus’ death. He said to her: ‘Your brother will rise.’”—John 11:23.

“You Don’t Have to Let It Dominate You”

Challenging as it may be, working through grief will help you to move on with your life. Do not feel guilty, as if by moving on you would be betraying your loved one or forgetting him or her. The fact is that you will never forget your loved one. On certain occasions memories may come flooding back, but gradually the distressing symptoms will ease.

You may also be able to recall bittersweet memories with fondness. For instance, Ashley, quoted in the previous article, says: “I can remember the day before my mom passed away. She seemed to be doing better, and she had gotten out of bed for the first time in days. While my sister was combing Mom’s hair, the three of us started laughing at something, and I saw a smile on my mother’s face that I hadn’t seen in a long time. She was so content just to be there with her daughters.”


Perhaps you feel that some neglect on your part contributed to your loved one’s death. Realizing that guilt—real or imagined—is a normal grief reaction can be helpful in itself. Here again, do not necessarily keep such feelings to yourself. Talking about how guilty you feel can provide a much needed release.

Realize, though, that no matter how much we love another person, we cannot control his or her life, nor can we prevent “time and unforeseen occurrence” from befalling those we love. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Besides, no doubt your motives were not bad. For example, in not making a doctor’s appointment sooner, did you intend for your loved one to get sick and die? Of course not! Then are you really guilty of causing that one’s death? No.

One mother learned to deal with the guilt after her daughter died in a car accident. She explains: “I felt guilty that I had sent her out. But I came to realize that it was ridiculous to feel that way. There was nothing wrong with sending her with her father to run an errand. It was just a terrible accident.”

‘But there are so many things I wish I had said or done,’ you may say. True, but who of us can say that we have been the perfect father, mother, or child? The Bible reminds us: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2; Romans 5:12) So accept the fact that you are not perfect. Dwelling upon all kinds of “if onlys” will not change anything, but it may slow down your recovery.*

*  The text of this box is from the brochure When Someone You Love Dies, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A man reading a comforting brochure

You will also be able to reflect on valuable lessons learned while you were with your loved one. For example, Sally says: “Mom was a wonderful teacher. She gave great advice without making it sound like advice, and she taught me how to make good decisions that were my own decisions and not just what she or my dad said.”

Memories of your loved one can be the very tool you need to help you to move on. That is what a young man named Alex found. “After my dad’s death,” he says, “I resolved to keep living as he had taught me—never to forget to enjoy life. To those who have lost a parent, I would say this: You’ll never truly get over your parent’s death, but you don’t have to let it dominate you. Mourn and grieve as you must, but don’t forget that you still have to make the best of the life that is ahead of you.”

*  In that regard, you would do well to avoid making hasty decisions, such as moving to another home or starting a new relationship. Such changes should be made only when you have had ample time to adjust to your new situation in life.

#  Although alcohol may help dull the pain of your loss, its effects are temporary. In the long run, alcohol will not help you to deal with your grief, and it can become addictive.

%  Since each person grieves differently, friends and relatives should not try to impose their personal view of this matter on the one who is grieving.—Galatians 6:25.

^  For information on the condition of the dead and God’s promise of a resurrection, see chapters 6 and 7 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.