Broadening our View of Grief

Grief is tethered to loss, making it inevitable in this life. One definition of grief captures this: “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Of itself, grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.” Grief is normal and natural in this world because loss and change are normal.

Loss and change are broad categories—pushing us away from a narrow understanding of grief. Working within these categories would require us to develop a broad spectrum of change/loss events that may be catalysts for grief.

The Grief Recovery Institute has identified more than forty potential grief events—each of which include some dimension of loss and change. Here is the list they provide.

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Death of a close family member
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Dismissal from work
  • Marital reconciliation
  • Retirement
  • Change in health of family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Gain a new family member
  • Business readjustment
  • Change in financial state
  • Death of a close friend
  • Change to different line of work
  • Change in frequency of arguments
  • Major mortgage
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
  • Change in responsibilities at work
  • Child leaving home
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Outstanding personal achievement
  • Spouse starts or stops work
  • Begin or end school
  • Change in living conditions
  • Revision of personal habits
  • Trouble with boss
  • Change in working hours or conditions
  • Change in residence
  • Change in schools
  • Change in recreation
  • Change in church activities
  • Change in social activities
  • Minor mortgage or loan
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Change in number of family reunions
  • Change in eating habits
  • Vacation
  • Christmas
  • Minor violation of law
  • Loss of Trust, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety and Loss of Control of my body

Some of these grief events are counterintuitive. We don’t normally identify exciting new life change with the potential for grief. However, most change includes loss of some kind—there is always a transitioning from something to something. Being aware that grief may be one aspect of change equips us to better face transitions

At the End of Safety

Pain, change, two words that regrettably belong together. My life and yours confirm this verbal wedding. When I point to best and worst my finger touches the same event. The transformation I want normally comes from things I do not want. In my journey, the things I would never choose to go through again are those that have left me different….and yet I still wouldn’t choose to walk those paths again, ever.

I suppose this is how transformation works… we don’t choose it, we are far too weak. Change assaults us….it does not ask for permission, it does not listen to our feeble objections. No, it’s author cares far too much about giving us what we truly need. We are divinely placed into the transformational rhythm of death and resurrection. True change always entails conformity to the pattern of Christ, Good Friday then Easter morning. These are two days that painfully, but thankfully belong together.

James Baldwin in a book titled Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son makes a profound point about the devastation that is change.

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free – he has set himself free – for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”