Why I felt like a ‘grief fraud’—and how I got over it

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By Jessica Brodie

I’d been expecting my dad to die for so long that when it finally happened I was surprised. He was in awful health, always in and out of the hospital, and yet when I got the news, it felt surreal.

“No—I just talked to him yesterday,” was the first thought that flashed through my head.

It couldn’t be true. But of course, it was. I traveled to Florida, laid him to rest, prayed for his soul, set him free… or so I thought.

Then came grief. And yet, somehow I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be grieving his loss. I lived far away from him, I knew it was coming… so many reasons made me feel like a fraud for wearing the mantle of grief. I’d get emails from the funeral home about how to cope with grief and hit “delete,” sure they weren’t meant for me. I set books on grief mailed to me by my pastor on the shelf to give to "a friend who’d truly need it."

And yet I was grieving, though I didn’t know it. Had I stopped to really think about my feelings I would have realized I was clearly knee-deep in the five stages of grief: denial (it can’t possibly be true!), anger (that doctor should have kept him in the hospital longer), bargaining (if only I’d gone to visit at Christmas), depression, and acceptance. Finally one day, kvetching to a coworker about how tired I was feeling, she reached over and touched my arm. “You know,” she said softly, “you have to give yourself permission to grieve.”

Her words shocked me. We hadn’t even been talking about grief. But I was even more shocked to realize she was right: I was grieving. And I was getting in my own way by not allowing the grieving process to really happen.

Grieving isn’t just for spouses and best friends. We experience grief whenever we lose something or someone close to our heart. And we can’t move on from grief until we deal with it.

I thought about this again earlier this month when I attended a United Methodist mental health symposium, “Clothed in My Right Mind: Mental Illness Prescriptions for Healing and Wholeness,” which I was writing about for an article. One of the speakers, Jeremiah Page, was a board-certified clinical chaplain and pastoral counselor, and he led a session on how to help people through grief and trauma.

Grief doesn’t just come from death, Page explained. It can come from divorce, job loss, even loss of physical health and ability. But the important thing is that grief be dealt with fully and properly.

“Grief is like a bill—it’s not going anywhere till you pay it,” Page said. “But embracing the grief will allow you to move through the process and get to your new normal.”

As I listened to his words, I realized how right he was. I didn’t experience the final stage of grief—acceptance—until I acknowledged and embraced my grief.

We need to give ourselves permission to feel. Grief means we loved. As Christians, just because we understand we will see other believers in heaven one day doesn’t mean we don’t have strong feelings about their loss. Just because we have mixed emotions doesn't mean we're not "allowed" to grieve. And those feelings of grief aren’t going anywhere until they are dealt with.

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything, including “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NIV).

If you’ve lost something or someone, let yourself feel. Let yourself grieve. It’s part of life.

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