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A guide to dealing with grief

March 08, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

BAGTOWN - Early in the morning of May 22, 1993, the Rev. John Wallace Stephenson was awakened to learn that his only daughter and his wife of 33 years had been killed in a car crash.

"That reality shot me into an understanding of grief that I have never understood before," said Stephenson, who led a three-hour grieving seminar at Black Rock Bible Church Saturday morning.

To deal with his grief, the 61-year-old Baptist missionary kept a journal. Last year the diary was published as "Through Tears to Triumph," a book that is part autobiographical, part self-help guide.

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"I think we have to cherish memories and not go into a state of self-pity and brooding over what we don't have," he said.

Stephenson, a native of Canada who now makes his home near Harrisburg, Pa., dispensed advice that was both spiritual and secular - from the comfort he found in Biblical verses to how he faced making funeral and burial arrangements.

"I didn't realize there were quite this many decisions," he said.

Meanwhile, there is the emotional roller coaster that takes place following a death. Reactions can include disbelief, walking around in a zombielike state and the frustrating, fruitless quest to understand why the death had to happen.

"I was like a dog chasing his tail, really," he said.

Stephenson said close friends can help combat loneliness and help with all the duties that come after a death.

A good friend will listen, but also know when you don't want to talk, he said.

Stephenson, who has remarried and also has a grown son, said people eventually people must work through their grief and reach closure.

The minister offers the following advice on how to help someone who is grieving:

  • Make your friend's daily routine easier by providing meals, doing laundry, caring for children, getting the car serviced and performing other chores.
  • Be sensitive to when your friend needs space and quiet, and when he needs someone to talk to. Be a good listener.
  • Say things like, "We love you and are praying for you" and "We are going to miss (the person who died). She meant so much to us."
  • If you don't know what to say, don't say anything - your presence alone is enough. Give your friend a hug, a firm handshake.
  • Don't talk too much, get in the way or stay too long.
  • Don't make decisions about personal and sentimental matters without first checking with the griever.
  • Don't say things like, "He's better off now," "You're strong. You will make it" and "God never makes mistakes. It must have been God's will."
  • Don't be afraid to cry with your friend.
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