Shaming, Blaming, and Scapegoating…The Complex Nature of Grieving
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” Fr. Henri Nouwen
Grief and loss are subjects as complex as they are devastating to a person's sense of security, familiarity, and well-being.
The thoughts and feelings associated with grief have been compared to the blunt force trauma experienced by a victim of a tsunami or a tornado.
Whether you adhere to the 5 Stages Model of Grief and Loss made famous by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, or Therese Rando’s 6 R’s of Mourning, the experience of grief is universal and all-consuming. It is not easy, and nobody just “gets over it.”
In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
Experts on the subject of death and dying; grieving and mourning appear to agree on these basic facts:
1. No one grieves or mourns the same way. We either have healthy adaptive coping mechanisms, or we have unhealthy, maladaptive coping mechanisms.
2. Grieving and mourning have no definable timeline, meaning all people process grief and loss in their unique way; including their timeline. Making a value judgment on how short or long term a person’s grieving should last is harmful and detrimental to the mental health of all the bereaved.
3. Grief reveals what we’ve concealed; which means that if we left a relationship in limbo, or we never tied up those loose ends with the decedent, the grief associated with those unresolved issues are only intensified.
4. In the anger stage of grief and loss, it is easier to point fingers, or blame and shame others than to be honest with ourselves about our feelings. This is usually subconscious and not consciously calculated.
5. It's important to establish boundaries with people, especially if they are being hurtful in their interactions with you.
As a Christian, a widower, a pastor and as a family man, I am intimately knowledgeable on the subject. I’ve experienced many losses, the most difficult being the death of my late wife Cally. Though I am now happily remarried, not a day goes by where I don’t see something or hear something that reminds me of my late wife. One thing I know for sure is this; nobody just gets over their grief, any more than someone can just decide to not have cancer after being diagnosed.
What we can change is how we cope and who we let into our lives. We often do or say things in grief that we would never say otherwise. Even the choices we make, can appear random or out of character, but we must remember to offer grace to the bereaved, especially because we’ll need some grace at some point in our life too.
I am now seeing a trauma therapist, which I recommend that all people do (even pastors) for complex PTSD, panic attacks, and anxiety. I will soon be starting EMDR to desensitize and reduce the effects of trauma triggers.
Dealing with your own experience of grief is challenging enough, but when people start blaming and shaming you for how you cope, or the decisions you make, it further complicates your bereavement journey.
I'm re-learning how important it is to give people time and space to experience the full spectrum of grieving, and to show mercy while offering forgiveness as quickly as possible when conflicts erupt. People who love each other can say some pretty hurtful things to each other while trying to make sense of a loss or adjusting and adapting to the new norm.
I’ve been a grief group facilitator for many years offering therapy and support for the bereaved, but none of those experiences or the training I’ve attended could’ve prepared me for the death of my late wife or the relational challenges that it stirs up amongst extended family. An unexpected death completely disrupts your sense of security, it uproots you and leaves you feeling cheated by life for having done everything in your power to help improve the decedent's quality of life. As one of my former patients in a Grief Group, I was facilitating as a Chaplain once said, “sh!t happens.” How remarkably true that phrase has become in my life.
Noted Philosopher, Sociologist, and Christian, Rene Girard made this impactful statement:
Everywhere and always when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.” René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes
Based on what Rene Girard has said in the above-mentioned quote, I’d summarize my takeaway by saying, “we don’t see others as they are, but as we are.” Which means they are not the cause or source of our suffering. Nor should they be blamed or held in contempt for the feelings we project upon them.
Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread, allow me to share what the Word of God has to say on the subject of suffering while grieving.
“The Lord is close to all whose hearts are crushed by pain, and he is always ready to restore the repentant one.” Psalms 34:18 TPT
“All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 TPT
“What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord! For you will find what you long for.” Matthew 5:4 TPT
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and eliminate death entirely. No one will mourn or weep any longer. The pain of wounds will no longer exist, for the old order has ceased.” Revelation 21:4 TPT
These scriptures have sustained me and my faith in some very difficult periods of life. I pray they encourage you as well.
In closing, I wanted to share that in the days ahead, I will be posting primarily on my Facebook Blog Page Author Jeremy Evans and my Ragamuffin's In Recovery group. If you'd like to follow me or keep up to date with my life and ministry, I will be posting there. My private Facebook profile will eventually be thinned out and only there for interaction with immediate and extended family.
I will also be sharing some exciting updates on my life and ministry in those spaces soon!
By His Grace,
Pastor Jeremy Evans
*Please forgive my brevity, I am blogging from my iPhone.