Are you dealing with grief that exists even though an actual death has not occurred? This type of grief is called a “living death.” Living deaths can be just as painful as an actual death. If you are grieving this type of hurt, there is hope and help for you through Christian grief counseling.
What are Living Deaths?
When someone dies, their friends and family suffer the loss and grieve. Yet after some time they have closure. They see the body of their loved one in the casket or the urn of ashes. Attending their funeral service also provides friends and family a formal ending point.
With living deaths, there is no ending point. Once the living loss takes place, there is likely a beginning point for the pain, but no end date for the fallout to stop. Here are several examples of what living deaths look like.
- A baby is born with special needs that will require a lifelong commitment to manage.
- A young girl’s parents get divorced, and they continue to contend with one another as she grows up.
- A teenage child rebels and runs away from home and the parents can’t locate him.
- A woman marries a man who she thinks is healthy, then discovers he has a mental illness.
- A husband is falsely accused of abusing his children in a bitter divorce and loses his reputation.
- A soldier loses his leg in active combat.
- A woman becomes paralyzed after a car accident.
- An elderly man realizes his wife has dementia and is only a shadow of her former self.
- A career or job you worked so hard for laid you off or was not achieved, although you took all the classes or training required.
In each of these cases, there was a reasonable expectation in place. Parents expect healthy babies. Children want their parents to stay together. Parents hope their teenage children will grow up well-adjusted. A spouse wants a fulfilling marriage and a healthy wife or husband.
A man or woman wants a straightforward divorce. A soldier hopes to serve his/her country without permanent disability. People expect to drive without life-changing accidents. People want to age with grace and dignity.
However, life is difficult and often we are faced with unexpected, life-changing events. When our expectations aren’t met, reasonable though they may be, we experience disappointment. When we have great losses that seem to have no end point, the grief process is necessary for healing, and healthy adjustments need to be made to continue evolving as human beings.
The Stages of Grief
You may think that grief therapy is only necessary for those in bereavement. However, unless you grieve a living death like the ones described above, you will not be able to move forward with your life. Many times you can get stuck in pain and sorrow, which can turn into bitterness and resentment. Working through the five stages of grief could help you get in touch with your emotions of loss, learn how to let go of the pain, and choose a new ending for your story.
First Stage: Denial
The first stage of grief is denial. Since the pain is great, it’s natural to not want to face it. You may brush away the problem or minimize its impact. But if you have any of these symptoms, they mean that grief is affecting you and denial may be hurting you.
- Intense, persistent sorrow
- Obsessive focus on the problem
- Feelings of detachment or numbness
- Lack of purpose
- Inability to trust others
- Trouble carrying out daily routines
- Isolation from others
These symptoms may indicate that your grief is seeking release. Stepping past denial of the problem can be difficult, but facing these symptoms is also painful. A compassionate Christian counselor can help you break through the denial stage for healing and personal growth.
Second Stage: Bargaining
Another step of the grief process is bargaining. We naturally do this to mitigate the pain we are experiencing. Let’s look at examples of how bargaining may play out.
- The mother of the special needs baby thinks she could have done something different during pregnancy to prevent the situation.
- The girl with contentious divorced parents acts as a sounding board because she desires at least some type of connection with them.
- The parents of the runaway boy review all their parenting mistakes.
- The woman in the difficult marriage ruminates on her past boyfriends.
- The ex-husband begins questioning his self-worth and purpose after the false allegations.
- The soldier invents many scenarios in which he could have avoided the bomb.
- The paralyzed woman plays the “if only” game of everything that happened before the accident.
- The elderly man blames himself for missing the early signs of his wife’s mental decline.
- The student or employee blames self for not taking the right training or class program for the job or career they aspired for.
We must go through this bargaining step of grieving to begin surrendering control of the situation to God. When we realize we can’t prevent bad things from happening to us, we can start moving out of grief. Your counselor can help you think clearly about what your responsibilities are as you move forward.
Third Stage: Anger
To successfully navigate grief, we must get angry to get over it. Anger helps us deal with our negative emotions surrounding the trauma. You may be angry at a person, an object, or an institution. It’s essential for you to feel this anger and express it in a controlled way so that you can heal.
A counseling session is a safe place to express your anger over a living death. Your counselor will use different techniques to help you release anger and any guilt you may be experiencing as well. After you let go of the anger surrounding your living death, you will be ready to move forward to the next step of grief and loss.
Fourth Stage: Sadness
The sadness part of the grieving process is crucial. You must express the sadness over your situation before you can get well. This includes talking about what you expected versus what you received. As you let your sad feelings show, you can release the hurt and pain you are experiencing in your living death.
It’s normal to cycle back and forth between denial, bargaining, anger, and sadness as you grieve. This process takes time and cannot be rushed. However, it can move forward more smoothly when you have guidance from a grief counselor. Your counselor will help you work through these stages to heal appropriately and find purpose to your hurt and pain.
Fifth Stage: Acceptance
Somewhere deep inside of us, we know that if we process and accept the living death in our lives, we can move forward. But you cannot move forward from the trauma point to acceptance in a straight line. You must walk through each of the previous stages to eventually arrive at the final stage of acceptance and purpose.
Acceptance of your situation does not mean you agree with it. It doesn’t mean you like it. It means that you aren’t fighting it any longer, but it makes room for the living death or loss to be part of your life. The good news is that with acceptance comes peace.
At this stage you begin letting go of all the hurt, disappointment, anger, and sadness to arrive at the beautiful place of acceptance. Only then you can move in a new and healthy direction with purpose. Let’s look at how acceptance plays out in the examples.
- The parents of the special needs baby choose to see their challenges as a divine assignment and look for joy along their journey.
- The daughter accepts that her divorced parents are creating too much toxicity in her life and pursues connections with parent figures in her church.
- The parents of the runaway resolve to pray faithfully for their son while enjoying their life as empty nesters.
- The wife educates herself about her husband’s mental illness, sets appropriate boundaries, and prioritizes self-care.
- The ex-husband moves to a different state where he can start a new life.
- The soldier connects with other wounded veterans and trains for a special marathon.
- The paralyzed woman starts physical therapy and joins an interactive Facebook support group.
- The elderly man hires in-home care for his wife and calls a loved one every day.
- The employee being laid off or graduate student not finding the career or job of his/her dreams looks into a new job opening similar to the original selection.
Despite your own living death, new life and unforeseeable opportunities await for you! You don’t have to feel stuck in pain, frustration, sadness, and anger any longer. With the guidance of a caring counselor, you can receive help in mourning the loss, coping or adjusting to accommodate your own living death/loss, and finding God’s purpose as you manage a living death/loss.
We will assist you to successfully grieve the living death, walk step-by-step with you in a compassionate manner as you heal, and help you reach the acceptance stage, to then learn to live in God’s perfect plan for you and your loved ones. Contact us now to rejoice and discover the purpose behind your pain!
“The Long Road”, Courtesy of David Mullins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “It won’t hurt forever.”, Courtesy of Jennifer Griffin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “A Shoulder to Lean On”, Courtesy of Toimetaja Tolkeburoo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Flowers on the Pavement”, Couresy of Ian Taylor, Unsplash.com, CC0 License