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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

The Six Stages of Grief (and the last one should encourage you)

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[Friends, I am deeply grateful for your outpouring of prayer support during my ministry travels to Georgia and New Jersey this past week. Please read through to the end for a brief report on what God did in response to your intercession!)

Remember what Charlie Brown would exclaim when he was bummed out? You’ve probably said it, too.

Is there anything good about grief?

When addressing families who lost loved ones following the September 11 attacks, Queen Elizabeth famously said that grief is the price we pay for love. Just a few weeks ago we talked about grief and gratitude going hand-in-hand at Thanksgiving. We experience the deep grief that comes with loss only when there has been something – or someone – we’ve loved deeply.

Several years ago, Mike and I lost a large chunk of our retirement income when a former financial adviser made some disastrous decisions without consulting us.

Were we upset by the loss? Of course. But did we grieve? We did not, because money is not worthy of love. But when it comes to beloved friends and family members we have lost on this side of eternity? Still we grieve, and we always shall.

Most of us are familiar with the five stages of grief first popularized by Swiss psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. We also know from experience that the grief journey is not linear, progressing predictably from one stage to the other. To this day, I am still in disbelief that my best friend died suddenly seven months ago.

But does acceptance have to be the final word? What if there is a stage yet beyond – a scaffolding we can climb to find sure footing for the future?

That stage is HOPE – redemptive hope.

This past Sunday, I sat in the evergreen-bedecked sanctuary of Mount Holly Presbyterian Church in New Jersey with my daughter’s family when the first candle of Advent was lit – the candle of hope. Their pastor, Paul Zazzo, began his message with a series of questions:

If there was a 13th day of Christmas, what would “your true love give to you?”

If there was a 6th major food group, what would it be? (A small child shouted out “Chocolate!” to applause from the congregation.)

If there was a 4th stooge or an 8th dwarf, what might their names be?

How about the 8th wonder of the world, or an 11th commandment?

We can only speculate on responses to those questions, but when it comes to the 6th stage of grief, Scripture provides the answer: Hope.

Pastor Zazzo reminded his flock that we live between the two comings: The historical fact of Christ’s birth (the Incarnation), and the promise of his anticipated return (the Second Coming). Advent is the season of the already and the not yet.

So how can Advent transform grief?

The clue is found in the first chapter of Matthew in Joseph’s reaction when Mary, his young fiancée, was found to be with child, a Child who certainly was not his. Reading between the lines of the familiar account, can you not imagine the grief he must have felt?

Denial that his betrothed could be pregnant, certainly some anger too as he reluctantly initiated divorce proceedings.



And then acceptance when the angel reassured him that the child she was carrying was indeed conceived by the Holy Spirit.

“Advent takes grief from a terminal diagnosis – the death of a dream or a person – to a pregnancy announcement,” Pastor Zazzo pointed out.

The birth of new hope. Eternal life. Redemption.

If you are ending the year grieving the loss of someone who was significant in your life, perhaps the following Holiday Survival tips attributed to the national Grief Share network will help (shared by Sarah Arthur, University of Northwestern St. Paul Parents’ Council blog.)

“Have a family conversation. Involve your children – even if they are adults. Don’t try to pretend that everything is the same – or should be. Acknowledge change and give yourself a chance to try something new. Make decisions together that honor what each person needs to adjust – and what they need to stay the same.

Have a plan. True, things won’t always go according to plan, but thinking through what activities and traditions will look like this year will help you expect things to be different rather than be surprised by it. Reserve the right to change your mind. Hold invitations loosely. Have an exit plan when you are a guest and need a break.

Recognize that emotions will likely ambush you. Something will inevitably remind you of what was and is no more. Accept the emotions and talk about them if you can. Practice what to say if people ask how you are. “I’m in progress,” is a totally appropriate answer if you aren’t ready to share or they aren’t fully ready to listen.

Give yourself permission to simplify. Looking for a balance between meaningful and manageable may mean less is more when it comes to decorating, shopping, and holiday cooking. Instead of focusing on the perfect holiday, try reaching out to others who might need help to have one at all. Helping others helps us regain our perspective.

Be intentional about prayer. Ask God to help you. “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.” Psalm 10:14. He promises He will. “

Can grief be “good”? It can be when we climb to that sixth stage of our spiritual scaffolding: HOPE.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2023

PERSONAL NOTE: I had the opportunity to share the hope of the Advent season with about 350 women last week at churches in Georgia and New Jersey (and I did NOT have Covid!) The event planners at one church had response cards on the tables, and shared with me that at least five women indicated decisions for Christ, including the fiancée of the son of one of their staff members and an exchange student. You were part of this work through your prayers. We are praising God for new life in Christ!

Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, GA

Graceway Bible Church, Hamilton, NJ


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