In day two of the workshop being hosted in Hartford, Dr. Timothy Sumerlin spoke on the grief journey and the importance of engaging with our grief. Below are the notes from the workshop.
Notes from the workshop:
Why engage Grief?
“You either engage grief or it engages you”
Grief is something we all have to deal with. If we don’t it can isolate us, it can hurt us, and our relationships.
We have to deal with grief. We can’t just suppress it.
*charting out grief journeys.
We have to engage grief properly to avoid unhealthy cycles –
- Grief breeds vulnerability – you have to be open and honest as you grieve.
- Relationships get restored – we focus on the relationship you have with the loved one you lost (central feature of the group).
- We become pioneers of compassion that can help others.
Q: What is a death that has happened in your life and how did you deal with it?
Jesus engaged grief, will you? – John 11
Jesus engaged loss. We typically do not want to do that. We tend to skate around it.
Jesus was willing to walk into a very emotionally intense situation at lazarus’s death.
Jesus felt how we feel when we walk into a funeral (a lot of emotion, not sure what to say, heavy, ect…). He didn’t shy away from the raw emotion of it all. He engaged grief.
“Bargaining with our Grief” –
Jesus understood how to bargain in his grief. “I should have” “If only I hadn’t done this” “why did this happen”
Martha understood how to bargain in her grief – “if you had been here he wouldn’t have died” – Jesus didn’t rebuke her or give her a hard time.
Job had everything taken away from him. He was mad, but his friends tried to help him. He had a real bad attitude (understandably), but God listened much more than he spoke. God’s response consisted of only 2 chapters of the 42 in the book of Job.
Jesus leaned into his pain. Grief is a very painful phenomenon. Jesus wept – very hard to control. Weeping – this is an uncontrolled sobbing.
Jesus was willing to be uncontrollable in front of other people in his grief.
Q: Are we willing to let our emotions out as we grieve (even publicly)?
Jesus served in his grief – he talked, wept, helped them understand the spirituality behind grief.
When you don’t know what to do, serve. We can serve in our grief.
God has compassion for the griever.
If we engage God – he will show himself compassionate to you.
God knows all about loss. He had to give up his only son. This had to hurt him in that he is capable of loving in a way so deep it is hard for us to understand.
- Mental responses
- Physical responses – Weight gain/loss. Hyper focus on working out or not at all.
- Emotional makeup – begin to be all over the map.
- It can feel like a Tsunami when you first deal with grief, but these waves can become smaller and gentle as we lean in.
- Spiritual responses – either become distant or cling to God
- Social responses – we can either get clingy with people or we get isolated and independent. –Can raise dysfunction that has been there for a long time.
- We are unique in the way we grieve.
Our responses are never right or wrong- allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.
Feelings are never good or bad. They are “value neutral”. It depends on what we do with our feelings.
Practical’s in dealing with the loss:
This one hurts the most: Examining the relationship.
- Share about the relationship with all of its good and bad.
- Important events – make sure we remember these things. Difficult events and good events. Honor the complete relationship.
- Don’t romanticize or be overly critical. Be sober.
- Influenced by their love – how did they love you? What did they feel about you?
- What is your greatest loss? What are you going to miss the most?
- Ex: My mom is not going to meet her great grandchild.
- There are moments when we have to re-process (Holidays, births, weddings, ect)
A Grief Narrative: Saying Goodbye to the hurt – 1 paragraph each
In grief recovery group you you will process and journal the following:
- Laugh and love? – how did they make you laugh how did they show you love?
- Apology – for something you did
- Forgiveness – for something’s they did
- Noteworthy statement – what we are going to miss the most
- Say goodbye – not to the relationships, but to the hurt’s.
(Groups take about 6 weeks)
Enduring relationships: Finding Solace & Joy
We don’t need to “close out” our relationships with our lost loved one’s. We can continue to have an “ongoing, enduring relationship” with them. If we have lost this, we can restore it – a feature of the grief recovery group.
- Memorial stones – different ways to memorialize your lost loved one.
- Decisions of the heart – Their voice can still influence you today in a positive way.
- Living stones –
- Memorial and ritual – Rituals for your loved ones. Actions to remember them. Talk about them.
When Aaron was making current decisions – he went backwards and thought about his heritage. (Aaron and the Ephod). The relationships we have with the ones we have lost can help impact decision we make now in a positive way. -”Enduring relationships” – We can continue to have a relationship with them.
*Keep your loved one alive as is appropriate for you (everyone is different)*
How do we help each other?
What not to do/say:
- Say nothing/goofy – makes people feel isolated. Don’t make a joke.
- “You were lucky to have her so long” – “that’s not too bad”
- “You should be over this by now” – no one has a set time and then they are done.
- Note: If someone is still in a real rough place. – say tell me what it’s been like for you. -encourage communication
- “Don’t feel bad” – “your mom wouldn’t want you to cry”. – don’t put guilt on people.
- “I know how you feel…” – No you don’t
- “Time heals wounds” – Time doesn’t. Time with a process heals wounds.
- “That reminds me…” – Not time to relate.
- Theologian? “Playing theology” don’t talk about someone’s salvation after they pass. – we are not the arbitrators of truth.
—-Don’t hijack a conversation with your story—-
When they are sharing hard things don’t interrupt- don’t steal the moment.
We have to let other people feel and we have to allow ourselves to feel.
Friends you need to help get you through your grief journey:
- Relater – Someone who has walked this path before us.
- Friend – a friend doesn’t do grief with you, they do life with you. – need to have a friend that you can just hang out with.
- Listener – We have got to have someone who will just listen to us. Validate what I am trying to say. People have to deny themselves long enough to listen. — “I have no one else like him, he takes a genuine interest in others” – Paul about Timothy
- Truth teller – We do need someone to help us when we get a little “wonky”. We have to have compassion and love as we do this.
How to help a grieving friend:
- Timing – wait 3 weeks after the grief. Everyone floods you in the beginning but having people beyond 3 weeks to support is crucial.
- Safe and confidential – It is not fair in fellowship or on the go to have these conversations. Go somewhere else, get some time together.
- Listen and Learn – don’t go into a conversation thinking you know what’s going on. We all have our own templates, but others may not. *Take a stance of not knowing*
- Hold the moment – Hold on to the emotional moment that you are in. allow people to cry and just be with them without interrupting. Allow them to feel.
- Faithful questions – asking questions that are faithful. Tell me about your mom. Tell me the things they did that are interesting.
- Love and act – don’t tell other people to let you know how to help. Take some time to think about your friend and offer to help in some way.
- Hopeful heart – Getting engaged is not easy work. When you get with people in their pain it is very hard for you, but stay hopeful.
- “Compassion fatigue” – this is hard work.
For more information on Dr. Timothy Sumerlin and the work he does, check out his website here: