“Dad, I have cancer.”
It was little over seven years ago when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and usually in that instance, I just let it go to voicemail.
But, something told me to answer this one … so I did.
To my surprise, it was my second oldest son, Jeffry. He had a new number and since we didn’t talk much, he hadn’t bothered to let me know the new number. Issues involving his birth mother and his step mother, my second wife, had created a seemingly insurmountable chasm between us and my being a born again Christian was causing him some real issues. That was about to change.
He told me he had gotten married (news to me) and that he and his wife were expecting. He also told me that his wife is a Christian. She had encouraged him to reach out to me and to try and close the gap between us.
To say that I was totally delighted would be an understatement. We talked a while and I gushed a little and asked when I could come visit. There was a long pause...
“Dad, I have cancer.”
Words no parent ever wants to hear.
What I didn’t know then was that within the year Jeffry would be dead.
Nothing the doctors tried, all the prayer and all the effort that went into trying to stop the spread of the disease helped a bit. It got worse and worse and before any of us were ready, he was gone.
I sat and held his hand as he passed. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.
The only bright spot in those months was when he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
So I write about grief not as a counselor trained in dealing with it. Not as a Pastor speaking Biblical peace and hope into the process. I write about it as a father still reeling after all these years with the loss that still makes me cry from time to time. Grief and I are on a first name basis and I know him well.
Grief can come to us in various ways and through various causes.
The loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or an illness that leaves us struggling to recover. It comes from breakups of relationships or divorce. Grief can also be caused by the loss of a beloved pet. Financial hardship brought on by various factors can cause grief as well.
Depending on who you ask, there are either 5 stages of grief or 7 stages. I’ve always found that the 5 stages pretty much covered the issues. So for purposes of this discussion we will focus on the original 5 stages.
The five stages of grief are:
Examples of Denial
- Breakup or divorce: “They’re just upset. This will be over tomorrow.”
- Job loss: “They were mistaken. They’ll call tomorrow to say they need me.”
- Death of a loved one: “She’s not gone. She’ll come around the corner any second.”
- Terminal illness diagnosis: “This just isn’t happening. Somebody made a mistake.”
Examples of Anger
- Breakup or divorce: “I hate him! He’ll regret leaving me!”
- Job loss: “They’re terrible bosses. I hope they fail.”
- Death of a loved one: “If she cared for herself more, this wouldn’t have happened.”
- Terminal illness diagnosis: “Where is God in this? How dare God let this happen!”
Examples of Bargaining
- Breakup or divorce: “If only I had spent more time with her, she would have stayed.”
- Job loss: “If only I worked more weekends, they would have seen how valuable I am.”
- Death of a loved one: “If only I had called her that night, she wouldn’t be gone.”
- Terminal illness diagnosis: “If only we had gone to the doctor sooner, we could have stopped this.”
Examples of Depression
- Breakup or divorce: “Why go on at all?”
- Job loss: “I don’t know how to go forward from here.”
- Death of a loved one: “What am I without her?”
- Terminal illness diagnosis: “My whole life comes to this terrible end.”
Examples of Acceptance
- Breakup or divorce: “Ultimately, this was a healthy choice for me.”
- Job loss: “I’ll be able to find a way forward from here and can start a new path.”
- Death of a loved one: “I am so fortunate to have had so many wonderful years with him, and he will always be in my memories.”
- Terminal illness diagnosis: “I have the opportunity to tie things up and make sure I get to do what I want in these final weeks and months.”
These are just examples and no, not everyone goes through each of these stages in order.
Everyone grieves differently.
Some people go from Anger to Acceptance without any stops in between. Others take a different path. The point here is simply that there is not a right or wrong way to grieve.
One other point that is very important. If you observe someone grieving and you think that they have grieved sufficiently and should move on, please keep your opinion to yourself.
More psychological harm is done to people suffering from grief by well meaning individuals who seek to push them forward than you could possibly imagine.
You may have suffered a similar loss at some time in your life and recovered. You may think that you have an insight that this person needs to hear and it may well be valuable, IF you don’t try to tell them how they should grieve and when they should be done. By all means, share your story. Empathize with them. Support them and even cry with them. Just don’t try to move them forward until THEY are ready.
Finally there is the issue of how to approach a grieving individual. Simply put, if you don’t know them very well, a simple “sorry for your loss,” or something appropriate to the issue is good. If you are somewhat closer to them, then a conversation about who/what/when/where is appropriate. Just don’t give direction. Let them vent and be sympathetic but don’t try and manage their issue. If you are close friends or related, cry with them. That’s right. Cry with them.
Knowing that you care enough to cry by their side means more than you can possibly imagine.
My oldest son and I held each other and cried over his brother. Now, sitting around the campfire on those Elk hunting trips that Jeff used to go with us on, we raise a glass to his memory. He is gone, but never forgotten.
Are you dealing with grief? It can help to have someone to talk to. Our Encouragers Ministry is here to do just that.