The Theological Comfort For Death And Dying is going to use information from a book that I have shared more than a hundred times with friends, family, and members of the congregations I have served. “Good Grief” By Granger E. Westberg, is one of the great books of the twentieth century. First published over fifty years ago, this book continues to help people through dark times of grief and loss, to find hope and light again.
I was first introduced to this book in 1981 when I was going through a divorce. The failure and grief I felt at the loss of my family was profound. After the initial shock of being separated from the people I loved most, a wife of seven years and a three year old daughter, I discovered that more loss was on the horizon. Extended family became distant and unapproachable. They did not want to be seen as favoring one party over the other. Job change often accompanies a change in marital status, especially in the church and especially back in the good old bad days of the 1980’s. Mutual friends that you developed together appeared to divide and conquer. You can almost hear the conversations between them, “You guys go ahead and socialize with her. We’ll try our best to spend time with him. Quite frankly I think you’re getting the better end of that deal.” As if you are the player to be named later in a major league baseball trade negotiations.
At the end of the first year it is safe to say that everything changes from the first minute you read the summons for divorce, to the time you realize that a year has past and you can’t believe it hasn’t been an entire decade. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. If you liked Fruit Loops before the divorce, you probably still like Fruit Loops after the divorce. The only difference is that that cereal is now your go to meal for dinner and you can’t remember the last time you had it for breakfast.
The fear, depression, despair, and loneliness, are the greatest change. Nothing in life prepares you for the negative power that triumvirate wields. And the real problem, is that no one has died. You can’t be grieving without a funeral — can you? How can you be depressed, its just a divorce, right?
Enter Granger Westberg’s Good Grief. I began reading this little book at the insistence of my psychologist. I was not dealing well with any part of my life and sought counseling. Perhaps the best decision I have ever made still to this day. My psychologist, let’s call him Ben to protect the guilty, said that I needed to learn that grief comes in all shapes and sizes, and not just because of the loss due to death.
So I began reading. There it was in the very first paragraph of the introduction, “We spend a good portion of our lives working diligently to acquire those things that make life rich and meaningful—friends, a wife, or husband, children, a home, a job, material comforts, money (let’s face it), and security. What happens to us when we lose any of these persons or things that are so important to us? Quite naturally we grieve…”
Wow, I needed to hear that. I had been thinking I was just a weak, blubbering idiot. All I had to do was get over it and move on. The problem is I wasn’t moving on. I was wallowing is the self—pity—pit—of—despair and the pit was filled with quicksand. I had stopped trying to get out, because every time I tried to move beyond my pain, I sunk deeper in the grip of depression.
The first lesson we learn in Good Grief is that we pretty much grieve every loss. Our American society barely allows us to grieve a death of a loved one and then for only about an hour and a half and then it’s back to work and normalcy. People who grieve longer are felt to feel weak and childish, even (God for bid) unproductive. Granger gives us permission to grieve the loss of a job, the loss of our health, the loss of a friend who just moves to the other side of town, the loss of a family…
I have said it a thousand times before and I’ll write it here once again; Granger Westberg’s “Good Grief” saved my life. Along with several thousand dollars worth of psycho-therapy and my church, and my loving God and the scripture that tells me grace abounds from the cross, and a whole lot of new friends and…
So this is a good book, but wait, there’s more. In 2019, the publishing company came out with two companion pieces to this little book. Think about that for just a minute, 57 years after its first printing, they re-printed the book that had already sold more than 3,000,000 copies around the world and now added, the Good Grief Journal and a fifty-two week devotional. Holy crap, just how good is this good book.
IT’S REALLY GOOD!!! — It saved my life remember.
“The Good Grief Devotional” is a thought piece. By that I mean it is not a daily devotional that moves from topic and subject at a speed you really don’t have to think about. The Devotional is pretty deep and you need a whole week to think through it. While you think through each of the thought pieces presented by Brent D. Christianson, “The Good Grief Journal” by Jill Alexander Essbaum, helps you write those thoughts down. All three books follow the contents of Granger’s Good Grief and the ten stages of grief.
You may think, “Three books, that’s an awful lot of books for just grief.” But here’s the deal, it is not just grief. It is life we’re talking about.
Last week, we introduced the idea of a Theological Comfort For Death and Dying, with a lesson titled, “Dying Was Not Something You Did In The Bible.” We realized in that lesson, that the word ‘dying’ was only used three times in the whole of scripture to talk about the process of the end of life experience. The few other times it was mentioned was to talk about a dying group of people, or to make a point in a story. We theorized that in Bible times, dying was not something you did. You were either alive, or you were dead. There wasn’t an in-between.
The point of last weeks lesson, was that the Bible is not really cut out to support people in the process of dying, because those people and the people around them are still alive. The Bible is for the living. Jesus tried to talk about his in the gospels.
The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.” Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.” (Matthew 22: 23—33)
We ought to be astounded at this teaching too, but we’ve become jaundiced to it, or at least doubtful as to its veracity. Jesus is telling us loud and clear that God is with us in this life of ours — AND that God is with us in the ETERNAL LIFE OF OURS. Therefore, God is truly the God of the living. The resurrection is a promise. There is a resurrection to come.
So, there is a process of dying when our bodies will finally quit working, but a dead body does not mean an end to life. That is the promise of Jesus and his cross. We will continue to live with the God who loves us in life and loves us in eternal life. Our God is the God of the living.
The Bible and every Word in it is to help each and every one of us live this life to the fullest. The Bible and every Word in it is to help each and every one of us live bold lives without fearing an end to life, because there is none. The Bible and every Word in it is calling those of us who read those Words, to tell the living story of the one who is the Word. His name if Jesus. And ultimately, that is what this Bible Study is all about.
HOWEVER…If we were only spiritual beings, this would be easy. But we are also psychological beings, emotional beings, family beings, connected beings, sympathetic beings, human beings. Sometimes we feel loss deeply. Sometimes the emotional stuff gets in our way. Sometimes, though death is still life for the one who dies, it is a loss for us left behind and we grieve that loss profoundly.
We are shocked. We are emotional. We become depressed. We may experience physical symptoms. We may panic. We feel guilt. We become angry. We resist returning back to life. We search for hope. We struggle with a new normal.
These are the stages of grief. These three books and the Holy Scriptures will be our guides. We will find support in each other. We will learn to speak about why and how we hurt and we will learn to share the why and how we discover new life. That is the promise of the God of the living.