Caring for people experiencing loss and grief

This blog post comes from Francina de Pater

A beautiful book (in Dutch) about this was written by Belgian Prof. Dr. Manu Keirse. He says: “It is not the passing of time that has a healing effect, but the expression of grief over a period of time, and the support one finds in others. One should not go to grieving people to tell them something, but to listen to what they have to say to us in their grief. ” Mourning consists of four tasks:  

1. accepting the reality of the loss  

2. experiencing the pain of loss  

3. adapting to the environment without the deceased  

4. giving a new place to the deceased and learning to love life again.  

The grieving process is complete when all four tasks are fulfilled. The time it takes someone to process depends on many factors, such as; the relationship with the person who dies, the way the survivor processes, the circumstances of death, the premature nature of death, the support that one has experienced in the processing, the way in which the death was communicated and what one has been able to do for the person before dying. This multitude of factors may make it clear that it is not easy to predict how long the processing can take. A period of 1 to 2 years is not a long time to process a significant loss. And five years is not long at all to deal with a child’s death. A sign of good processing is that one can remember the deceased without experiencing intense pain all the time, although some of the pain of loss lasts a lifetime.  

Sadness after loss goes along with people throughout their entire lives, as the shadow of a person accompanies him or her everywhere.

The shadow of a person is sometimes large and sometimes small, sometimes it is in front of him, sometimes behind and then next to her. Sometimes they can be seen and at other times they are invisible. It can suddenly be full size. The end result of processing is integration,  not forgetting – forgetting is not consolation, it is denial of sorrow. Integration has happened when we can think of the deceased without the physical symptoms, such as intense crying or a feeling of suffocation in the chest. The mourning process is also finished when one can invest back in life and in new relationships. The good outcome of the grieving process is difficult to determine. It contains at least three of the following aspects, which are closely related:  

One feels well again in life most times and one can enjoy everyday things again 

One can deal with life’s problems again 

One is less absorbed by the grief.  

The deceased may otherwise be present in this life as a source of inspiration and strength. 

Time is said to heal all wounds. Nothing is less true. Time does not heal a single wound. Time is only healing in the grieving process if the grieving one uses it to deal with the grief, not if he denies, pushes or postpones. If sorrow is pent up for years, it does not provide pain relief. 

Comfort is listening carefully so that grief can flow out in words and tears. Comforting is being able to remain silent and to let the other feel signals of hope, safety and confidence in a look, through a touch. It is wrestling, searching and hoping together. It is participating in the grief rather than taking away the grief. It is daring to call it sadness. Comforting is helping people to live with questions that have no answers. Comforting is not a dam against sorrow, but rather a bed for sorrow. 

Sadness and grief are much like a broken connection. Only when the wires are reconnected to those of other people, so that the mourner starts living again and can experience a certain warmth in human contacts, only then will the possibility of making contact with the Other, God, revive. 

Francina de Pater

Francina de Pater lives together with her husband and the youngest of 3 children in the beautiful city Gouda in The Netherlands. After a PhD in Medicine and some years working in research in 1998 she started in ministry. First offering pastoral care and help to people in prostitution for 14 years. After studies in coaching and counselling in 2009 she started her own practice Precious Coaching & Training. She offers life coaching/pastoral care and is specialized in topics like trauma, grieve, stress, burnout and depression. Since 2012 she is the National Director for International Student Ministry (ISM) in the Netherlands and since 2017 she joined the IFES Europe Regional Team as their ISM coordinator.

Published by Nay Dawson

Hello and thank you for reading my blog. I'm married to Jon and live in Southampton with our two girls. I work with IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator, training staff and students across Europe. In 2019 I set up Passion for Evangelism a network of creative, public female speakers. I'm a Trustee for the Cowrie Scholarship Foundation raising essential funds for disadvantaged Black British Students. I'm also a Trustee for Friends International helping welcome International students to the UK. In response to the war in Ukraine I helped set up Ukraine Connect matching refugees and hosts across Europe

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