For many years, people with terminal illnesses were an embarrassment for doctors. Someone who could not be cured was evidence of the doctors’ fallibility, and as a result the doctors regularly shunned the dying with the excuse that there was nothing more that could be done (and that there was plenty of other demand on the doctors’ time).
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a doctor in Switzerland who railed against this unkindness and spent a lot of time with dying people, both comforting and studying them. She wrote a book called On Death and Dying which included a cycle of emotional states that is often referred to (but not exclusively called) the Grief Cycle.
In the ensuing years, it was noticed that this emotional cycle was not exclusive just to the terminally ill, but also other people who were affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change. The cycle is generally recognized in five (sometimes seven) stages:
- Denial and Isolation.
At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she’s dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
The person feels numb, although anger may remain underneath.
This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.
Perhaps, now, you are thinking about someone you know (or yourself!) who has experienced a traumatic event and where they (or you) are in this cycle. In one sense, seeing this cycle of grief may seem to diminish the humanity of people by insinuating that there is nothing unique about our pain. On the other hand, there is something incredibly comforting about this, as it normalizes our experience and gives us the support of others who have been down the road before.
While the cycle itself is amazing to me, this morning I am particularly interested in the last stage: acceptance. A person who has experienced a loss and is in this stage has essentially come to terms with his or her loss, but is never the same. There is still sadness and grief, but there is an embrace of the reality that while life will not be the same, it does continue. Life presses forward, but the experience and loss will never go away. This is ACCEPTANCE. This is GOOD GRIEF.
I believe that the passage from the Sermon on the Mount reflects this idea of GOOD GRIEF … this notion of always living with the reality of a loss, and more specifically, the loss of SELF that we discussed in our previous posts.
Rob is Teaching Pastor at Blackman Baptist Church.