In the last week, one of my closest friends suddenly lost his father to a pulmonary embolism. His dad was a wonderful man, as healthy as one could be by most standards, a doctor with a beautiful disposition and family. Maybe he had too much stress when he was building his medical practice. Perhaps it was the insurance companies. Who knows? My friend doesn’t care because he lost his dad.
Within the same 24 hour period I heard that we lost a significant part of our side-business that we have been working for 13 years, and a few of my friends in the same industry lost their livelihoods and dreams of grandeur altogether. In fact, a few of them lost so much money that I wouldn’t even know how to spend the interest spilling out of their savings account.
Whether you lose a loved one, lose a job, or even lose your keys, you are still facing loss, which sends you into the grief process.
Grief is a real thing. Pain hurts. Trouble is a journey, and even a bit of a mystery. It affects everyone, yet never in precisely the same way. It has to do with our past, our present, and our future.
The brilliant Greek playwright Aeschylus, who lived from 524-456 BC said,
There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
People don’t want to acknowledge grief because it involves pain. A lot of pain. And it doesn’t go away with an Ibuprofen… or even the entire bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Most people think that grief is just when you lose a loved one, but people go through the process of grieving even when suffering what others consider minor upsets. Pain is relative. One person might lose a job, another go through a divorce, and another might lose at blackjack or maybe get shot. Yet, they all cause an upheaval of expectation and cognitive dissonance that creates the need for change. And it isn’t the kind of change we like.
After the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed,
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.
He also said,
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.
When I lost my first dream business, I had already lost a dream job. I accidentally burned a bridge at the biggest, most highly regarded theater in Seattle and the pain had not even gotten past the shock when I activated my long-running alternate life choice. In 2005 we launched a costly health club and leveraged ourselves to the hilt.
It was a time that you just couldn’t lose.
There was $500,000 worth of beautiful equipment. The location was next to a major shopping center with lots of traffic. That traffic cost us $13,000 a month in rent – before the hot-water bill! Everything looked amazing. People were signing up and coming in. We didn’t see how it would be possible to fail.
Only a year later, I was sitting in my bathrobe, with a 5 o’clock shadow at 5 o’clock! We had accumulated debt to the tune of 2.2 million dollars, which was the combined loss of the gym and our side real estate ventures due to the market crash. Creditors were calling me, and I had the court summoning me, but other than that, nobody wanted to have anything to do with me, including me.
In 2007 I was very depressed. I thought it couldn’t get worse until my cousin committed suicide by drug overdose. As an only child, I liked to think of her as my sister. She couldn’t face reality anymore.
My grandparents passed away within a few years of each other. This is significant because up until this time, I had never really confronted the death of people. Now I received the gift of experiencing the death of occupations, businesses, people, and dreams.
In the act of desperation, I trusted a man with my last $15,000 line of credit. He was starting another business and “shined me on” enough to get me to invest. He left the state, and I never saw him again. He might be in prison now. I don’t know, and it is long past the statute of limitations to get that money back.
Why would I do that? Why would I give that man any money, no matter how good his pitch, because I was losing my gym and was already in deep and troublesome debt waters?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in stage five of the grief process; I was getting panicky over my loss. I thought I needed to do damage control. I needed to try to hold on to whatever success I had, and I had better hurry up and recover before the failure set in and grabbed hold of me.
In 1 Timothy 6:10, the New American Standard Bible has a beautiful wording of the overquoted verse. It says,
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
It was as if I had suffered a line of failures, defeats, and losses and was grasping at any opportunity to redeem myself, even if it had to be manufactured out of something I knew was not good. Things that start poorly are usually destined to end poorly.
It is essential to distinguish between grief and shame. Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Grief is a profound sorrow which can be created by any loss, big or small. You don’t need to associate your pain with either guilt or shame. They aren’t necessarily intertwined.
Debbie Ford said:
It would be impossible to estimate how much time and energy we invest in trying to fix, change and deny our emotions – especially the ones that shake us at our very core, like hurt, jealousy, loneliness, shame, rage, and grief.
In his popular little book Good Grief: A Constructive Approach to the Problem of Loss, Granger E. Westberg gives a reason to understand and navigate the grieving process. He says that we can come out of our grief experience at a higher level of maturity than before and that we become more profound persons because we have been down in the depths of despair and know what it is like. That we come out of it stronger, for we have had to learn how to use our spiritual muscles to climb the rugged mountain trails. Finally, he says that we come out of it better able to help others. We have walked through the valley of the shadow of grief. We can understand.
Although no two persons are alike in their processing of grief, and therefore no-one goes through the stages in the same order, Westberg gives us a powerful tool in understanding what is going on for the vast majority of people, regardless if it is a “little” grief or a major one.
- Stage one: We are in a state of shock.
- Stage two: We express emotion.
- Stage three: We feel depressed and very lonely
- Stage four: We may experience physical symptoms of distress
- Stage five: We may become panicky
- Stage six: We feel a sense of guilt about the loss
- Stage seven: We are filled with anger and resentment
- Stage eight: We resist returning (to a healthy life, routine, the land of the living, a new future, etc.)
- Stage nine: Gradually hope comes through
- Stage ten: We struggle to affirm reality
Westberg says that grief is a natural part of human experience. We face minor trouble almost daily in some situation or another. To say a person is deeply religious and therefore, does not have to face grief situations is ridiculous. Not only is it totally unrealistic, but it is also incompatible with the whole Christian message.
Most of us are not stoics like the Greeks of old. We can’t force ourselves to “Grieve not.” We grieve, not as those who have no hope. We grieve when it is worth grieving about, and it can even be potentially a creative process to start new chapters in life based on faith and renewed dreams.
The Bible is full of illustrations about dealing with grief.
In the book of Job 6:2, it says,
Oh that my grief were actually weighed and laid in the balances together with my calamity! For then, it would be heavier than the sand of the seas.
In Psalms 6:7,
My eye has wasted away with grief. It has become old because of all my adversaries.
In Proverbs 14:13,
Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.
In Ecclesiastes 1:18,
Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
A few years after my big business blowout, I started a new business. It was a fitness boot camp before there was such a thing. It was born out of necessity and creatively spawned from the wreckage of my previous ventures. Perhaps that is what made it wildly successful—at first. After four cities and eight trainers turned it into a behemoth of a small business side-gig, I had some internal conflicts and was forced into a position of losing that one too. I never saw it coming, although perhaps I should have (in light of the patterns, dummy).
It was during this phase of my business career that my parents got cancer. First, it was my dad. He was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and given three months to live. He discovered a procedure in Switzerland that gave him an additional seven years of life. It was a miracle to have him in my children’s lives for a short time while they were young.
Like a Greek tragedy, however, my parents had been targeted by the IRS and had filed for bankruptcy. My dad also lost his retirement. Yes, they always paid their taxes, and then some. They did not deserve what happened to them. To make matters worse, my mom made the unfortunate decision to cancel her life insurance policy on my dad to save a few bucks. After all, she thought for sure she would outlive him, and therefore, the insurance would never be needed.
Then my mom was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. In fact, it was so unusual that scientists and doctors wanted to study her. It was cancer of the bile duct, where your liver drains. She resorted to heavy wine drinking to numb a little of the pain. My dad used to find empty wine bottles hidden in secret caches to be smuggled out to the trash when he wasn’t looking.
At that point, I don’t think it hurt. It didn’t help either.
Sadly, she died within six weeks of diagnosis.
My dad was not a happy person for those last few years that he outlived my mom. We argued a lot, and our previously amazing relationship crumbled. I regret those times. He ran through the remaining cash and died pennilessly. I take solace that at the very end, living somewhere in Florida with my aunt, rumor has it that he painted a picture of God and made peace with his maker.
They were both sixty-three when they died. It’s always too young.
I later realized that my dad has lived a proverbial Job story in his own way. Job was that guy in the Bible that was utterly destroyed, lost everything including his possessions, his livelihood, his family, and even his health. He was being tested. He remained faithful through his demise and passed the test of life. Job was victorious, and it has a happy ending.
Most of us forget about this story because we aren’t faced with so many challenges (or at least not in rapid succession) and we have trouble relating. We start to think we are invincible and we get a bit cocky. If you are being tested, it might be time to review that book.
I am not telling these stories to try to impress you with my own calamity; only to impress upon you that all loss prepares you to handle a more significant injury. You do get stronger, and you do gain wisdom.
In an abbreviated five-stages version of the grief process, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross says,
The five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.
If you have suffered a loss recently, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that it might still be affecting you. It might be altering your behavior and modifying what would otherwise be sound judgment. Sometimes you can’t trust your own emotions.
You can’t read the label from inside the jar.
Accepting that you are going through the stages of grief can help you get to the other side, which is acceptance. It doesn’t make you weak or a loser. In fact, it can make you much stronger.
That which does not kill you makes you stronger…
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian when he had to face the Wheel of Pain as a child and later left for dead on the Tree of Woe with a vulture picking at his eye. Conan did survive and become stronger. So much so, that he was able to win Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia seven times.
Ok, fine. You might not find humor in your sadness and grief. That’s acceptable because everyone deals with it differently. Either way, there are solutions to find your way through the stages at your own pace. Those solutions require having faith in a better future, one that you could never have even dreamed up on your own.
Joel Osteen says,
I think faith is incredibly important because you will become overwhelmed with what’s happening and you will have waves of grief, but when you turn to your faith, I believe God will give you waves of grace to get through it.
You might have to ask for help. Like in Psalms 119:28,
My soul weeps because of grief; strengthen me according to your words.
You might have to trust. From Lamentations 3:32,
For if He causes us grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant loving kindness.
You’ll definitely need faith. From John 16:20,
Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.
Finally, don’t forget that we need each other. In the wonderfully immortal words of the brilliant Mark Twain,
Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.