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Good Grief

by Barry A. Thomas


2005 sucked. There is not a much better way to describe my experience of that year. In the beginning of that year I was leading a small group and using the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazerro as curriculum. When we got to the chapter titled “Embracing Grieving and Loss”, I told the group, “I don’t think I know how to grieve, much less embrace it.” Within a few weeks of saying those ill-fated words, I was hit with a series of losses: my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I resigned from serving in a ministry I loved and my spiritual mentor moved away to another state. It felt like big parts of my world were falling apart. This happened during a period in my life when I was doing some intensive soul work. Before this period I would have stuffed my emotions, stayed busy and got on with my life. I would stay calm and carry on (as the Brits say). But not this time. For the first time in my life I was learning to pay attention to my heart, so for the first time in my life I gave myself permission to be sad. I didn’t try to hide it or deny it, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness. This may not seem like much, but for me it was a huge step. I didn’t try to make myself sad; I simply acknowledged the sadness that was there and created space in my calendar to experience it.

So here is what grieving looked like for me:

First, I blocked off time in my calendar for solitude – time to simply get away to think, feel and be with God. This too was a new area of growth for me. I’m a “do-er” and have a difficult time being a “be-er”. Often times I would (and still do) approach a time of solitude asking, “How do I do solitude?” I was nervous at first. I wanted to “do” solitude right. It got easier and I got more comfortable the more times I practiced. I took whole days of solitude several different times. I read. I journaled. I prayed. I slept. The solitude gave my heart the space it needed to feel the sadness, anger and confusion of the grieving process.

Second, a friend of mine recommend I read a book by Sue Monk Kidd called When the Heart Waits. In it the author uses the analogy of a cocoon, the transformation phase between a caterpillar and a butterfly, to describe the dark and unknown experience of grief. She explains what it looks like and feels like to go through times of darkness. God used this book to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was huge. Without reading this, I would have been full of fear. Instead I was able to okay with grief. I didn’t like it. It was not enjoyable, but somehow, deep down, I knew what I was going through was good.

Third, I was given the opportunity to get angry. This was a big deal for me because I usually stuffed anger. I have learned that if anger doesn’t get expressed in healthy ways, it will get expressed in unhealthy ways. I had some men teach me how to express anger in a healthy way and gave me the opportunity to let it rip in a safe, controlled environment. This was the lynch pin for me. By letting the anger flow I believe it propelled me through the grief cycle.

So that’s what it looked like for me. Eight months from the time I told my group that I didn’t know how to grieve, I had taken one full trip around the block.


So here are some of the things I gave earned about grief over the years:

  1. Any kind of loss is meant to be grieved. Obviously, the loss of a close friend or loved one is meant to be grieved; however, less obvious losses are meant to be grieved too. Losses that are not so obvious can be: a change in job; a change in season of life; loss of health; or a change in a relationship. In fact, any kind of change brings some sort of loss.
  2. The amount of grief to be experienced is proportional to the depth of the loss. Big loss – big grief. Small loss – small grief.
  3. People grieve differently. Some are very open about it; others are very private. Some need support; others need space. There is not some recipe book or formula on how to handle grief. It looks different for different people. I have seen several sets of parents who have lost a child. Most of the time, the mother and father have grieved the death in completely different ways. Friction can occur when one spouse expects the other to grieve the loss the same way. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate for parents who have lost a child is near 80%.
  4. Grief is experienced in stages. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from 3 stages to 12 stages in the grieving process. If you were to ask ten different counselors to label the stages of grief, you would probably get twelve different answers. However, the stages look something like this: denial, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, void, hope, imagination, action and order.

The first benefit of embracing grieving and loss is that I have experienced God’s love and favor in new ways. I know what it is like for Him to walk with me through dark times and to have peace in the process. The second benefit is that I have much more compassion for other people. I am able to mourn with those who mourn. There is no doubt my heart has become more alive.

Yes, 2005 sucked. And because it did I grew by leaps and bounds. I now see grief as a good thing and my life and relationships are much richer as a result.




What are some of the losses you have experienced recently?

Which loss feels like the biggest one on the list?

What emotion are you feeling in regards to that loss? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are Those who Mourn


Verse 4:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (The Message)


Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love. (Aramaic)


Grief tells us that we loved deeply and that we are passionate. We are often unaware of the grief that we carry, that has been pushed aside in the rush of life or in the judgment that we should be done with its work. In reality, grief is slow. It rises and falls like a tide. Where in your heart do you experience a grief that lingers, that is calling for some attention? Notice the thoughts and feelings that respond, and be present to this experience. (The Artist’s Rule, Christine Paintner)



Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the four versions do you resonate with the most? Why?

Where are you feeling grief in your life; relationships, work, pets, loss of a vision?

How do you feel God guiding you through this grief process whether old or new grief?

How can grief be a blessing?

Dear Friends,

Today I had to put my beloved 16-year-old gentleman cat to sleep.  I had it done at home with a vet which was the wisest decision I could have made. It was hard but quite sweet. Thanks to my friend, Tamie, who was here with me to help him leave with grace. (see So for all you pet lovers out there, especially cat lovers, here are a few poems to make you smile in remembering your pet.

Mr Nelson

Mr. Nelson’s my gentleman cat

My helper my angel my friend

He’s named for Nelson Mandela

A dignified icon he’s been


My helper my angel my friend

I love his stance his purr

A dignified icon he’s been

Lap time the sweetest refrain


I love his stance his purr

He’s named for Nelson Mandela

Lap time the sweetest refrain

Mr. Nelson’s my gentleman cat


A Pantoum by Janet Hagberg



Cats sleep


Any table,

Any chair,

Top of piano,


In the middle,

On the edge,

Open drawer,

Empty shoe,


Lap will do.

Fitted in a

Cardboard box,

In a cupboard

With your frocks–


They don’t care!

Cats sleep



Eleanor Farjeon

2012-04-27_16-59-25_905Please stop for a moment in this busy holiday weekend to remember all the people who were killed in the CT elementary school shooting. One of the 1st grade victims was Charlotte, the grand daughter of a subscriber to this blog. Charlotte’s mother is from Edina and one of my best friends, Bobbie, is the sister of the grandmother so Charlotte is her grand niece.

It is a time of shock, deep sadness, anger, disbelief, grief, fear and confusion. What we do know is that God is weeping with us and is surrounding all of us in comfort and love. Clouds of witnesses and angels are everywhere holding the whole community affected by this tragedy. So imagine, if you will, that the angels (like in the icon above) are gently cradling these little children and the adults and taking them on their backs, covered by quilts and nuggled by other angels, directly to God’s lap. They are now safe and held deeply in love. Pray for the family, for Charlotte’s ten year old brother and for their whole extended family. Also pray for the perpetrator’s family and extended family who are affected by his act. All of these lives are forever changed.

Most of us feel so helpless in times like these. This blog is my way of doing a small thing to act on my grief. So if you would like to add comforting comments for the family on my blog that would be one thing you could do. I also just posted a chapter from my book on the death of a loved one (in the November archives) that may help you to understand your own feelings and the feelings of the family. If you would like to do something more, the icon that is posted here is hanging in the prayer chapel at Central Lutheran church on 12th St and 3rd Ave in Mpls in case you want to go and pray with it.

I offer you all a few excerpts from the hymn, Great is Your Faithfulness.

Great is your faithfulness, great is your faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed your hand has provided

Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me

And this is the verse I drew from my discernment cards today: Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you. Ps 55:22


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