A Ministry of Care by Dr. Daniel G. Bagby

Pastoral Care Guidance for Deacons, Stephen Ministers, and the Congregation of River Road Church, Baptist

Grief Following a Significant Death or Loss

There are several grief responses to the loss of a loved one, and each person grieves in their own way (we tend to express our grief as our families did). Grief can be anticipated, arrested or delayed. Grief occurs in major changes: miscarriage, divorce, moving, retirement, etc.

  1. Shock: The stunning reaction to the news of a sudden loss leaves us in disbelief; we say little, express little, feel little, appear dazed, disoriented. Denial may set in for a while (“it didn’t really happen—it’s a bad dream”).
  2. Numbness: We go through the routine of necessary chores, mechanically doing what we have to do; feeling is distant; there is a protective “anesthesia” to our pain and loss.
  3. Flow of emotions: We eventually “let go,” cry, and release stored-up feelings. The tears may come unexpectedly, and for long periods of time. Weeping may surprise us by its suddenness—or length.
  4. Depression: Feelings and emotions are often internalized as a “flat” feeling and depression, a listless and dreary sense, and a withdrawal into private pain (and often very negative “internal” conversation).
  5. Bouts with Anger, Guilt, Shame: Normal reactions to death next involve struggles with anger (at ourselves if we think we could have prevented it/at others, for unrealistic expectations about their actions/at God, for allowing the death). Guilt usually focuses on things we did, did not do, said or did not say, as lack of control and lack of closure haunt us; shame often prevails in families after suicide—as if they could have prevented it.
  6. Stabbing memories: Unpredictable moments of sudden “flashback” returns to the memory of a conversation, an event, a gesture, a habit, an experience shared with the deceased; flow of strong emotions, heavy “emptiness.”
  7. Selective reflections: Quiet, difficult moments when we tend to “go back” and reflect on either all the “bad” memories, or only the “good” memories, so that we dwell on what seems unresolved or unforgiven in the wake of the sudden interruption of contact and death of the person. Idolatry can set in (“everything they did was right,” “they were perfect”, etc.).
  8. Return to a routine: We take up our schedule and our daily routine, doing what has to be done, with little joy or excitement, but performing required tasks and necessary behaviors “to keep going”; feelings are “flat” and joy is rare.
  9. Recovery of hope and joy: Tears & depression fade slowly; interest and commitment for new develop emerges—like healing a wound (over a year).