By Dan Kirkpatrick, MDiv, BCC, Director of Grief Resources and Education, Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes
Each of us experience loss. It may be the loss of a loved-one through death, loss of a marriage through divorce, loss of health, loss of a job, or a seemingly simple loss of our cell phone, our wallet, or our keys.
Have you or someone you know ever lost faith or hope?
As a young chaplain serving at a children’s crisis center and a hospice, I experienced two significant personal losses: the unexpected death of my thirty-year-old brother and the death of a terminally ill foster child. I had cared for others with traumatic losses, but these losses were mine. My beliefs about how God works and how the events of my life should unfold were fractured. Those who serve in the world of grief counseling call this the “loss of an assumptive world.”
Dr. Joan Bezer, social work professor at Yeshiva University, defined the assumptive world as “the beliefs that ground, secure, stabilize, and orient people. They are our core beliefs.” She explained that when we experience significant losses, “these [core] beliefs are shattered and disorientation and even panic can enter the lives of those affected.” (OMEGA, Vol. 50(4) 2004-2005, 255-265)
Not only do we grieve the loss of someone or something, but we also grieve the loss of what we envisioned for the future. Helplessness and Hopelessness can slip-in unannounced during those times.
Perhaps that’s why we reminisce about “the good old days.” Even if times were hard back in the day, we might hear people (ourselves) say, “If we could just go back to the way things were.”
How do we rebuild hope and faith when it’s shattered?
Dr. Bezer affirmed that for someone who has experienced a traumatic loss “timing, presence, and support are crucial.” Time doesn’t necessarily heal wounds, but it gives us an opportunity to begin mending or rebuilding our faith and hope.
Honestly, advice from well-intentioned family or friends does not help. While someone may truly believe “When God closes a door, God opens a window,” or “This too, shall pass,” or “God never gives us more than we can bear,” these one-liners say more about the advisor’s desire to avoid the pain of the griever. A grieving person may eventually come to embrace these beliefs, but in a time of crisis, this “advice” could have the opposite effect, leading to deeper despair if the griever is already wondering where God is in all of this. The faith and hope which was shattered was not built overnight, and it may take months or years to rebuild.
We all need someone who can sit with us or walk with us. So, never underestimate the healing power a good listener: a trusted friend, a compassionate clergy person, or a professional counselor. There is such a need for those who can be present with us in our anger, our tears and in our silence- as long as it takes. They remind us that we are not alone, and that there is hope for the future.