How Long Should Grief Last?

July 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image Credit: Jim Jackson | License: CC-O | Used by permission

Have you ever thought or said this about a friend or relative who is “taking too long,” to grieve a loss: “It’s been a long time and she’s still grieving. Shouldn’t she be over it by now?”

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic loss will tell you that there is no set time for getting over grief.

Truth be told, you never get over it. You learn to live with it, to adjust, to function, and hopefully even to enjoy life again.

But you never get over it.

Grief changes you. It makes you into a different person than you were before your loss. That’s neither good nor bad; it just is. The grieving person must adapt to a new life he did not want or anticipate.

Sometimes it takes years to adapt.

And that’s okay.

People grieve at their own pace.

So, if you have a friend or relative who is still grieving after a long time, give them a break–even if you feel it’s been “too long.”

Pray for them; encourage them; love them.

But don’t ask, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?”




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Fiction Improv 2: Golden Anniversary

July 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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FICTION IMPROV 2.0: Golden Anniversary

Note: After I receive random words, names, occupations, and situation from my Facebook Peeps for a fiction improv, I let the mix stew for a few days. The words often will suggest the mood or tone for the piece. In this case, the piece took on a decidedly dark tone. (I am a suspense/thriller writer, after all.) Because of the darkness of the piece, and for personal reasons, I changed one of the names.

The last piece was a short-short story. This one unfolded more like a scene that would open a longer story or even a novel. Who knows? Maybe Max and Betty’s story will wind up part of a larger tale someday.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.


2 Names: Max and Betty
1 Occupation: Nurse practitioner
1 Situation: Golden wedding anniversary
5 Random Words (I have to use at least 3): kangaroo, post-apocalyptic, shoelace, flying, and vibrio. (I had to look up vibrio. It’s a type of bacteria associated with foodborne infection, usually from eating undercooked seafood).

*     *     *

“Hard to believe it’s been fifty years, Betty.” Max set the champagne bottle into his makeshift ice bucket. Just an old Styrofoam cooler, really. “Gotta make do with what we’ve got now.”

He pulled a handkerchief from his overalls and wiped his face; then he eased down into a nearby folding chair.

August in Texas never seemed hotter.

“Crazy time for a picnic, huh?” he said.

Hot wind blew through the tall dry Johnson grass. Max could tell from the rustling sound that a single match could start a fire that would wipe out everything for twenty miles.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Max leaned over and tied his shoelace. “Good thing I saw that,” he said. “Sure enough that thing would have tripped me and sent me flying.”

He smiled at Betty. “That wouldn’t do, would it?”

Max carefully opened the picnic basket—a laundry basket with a towel thrown over the top—and pulled out two plastic tumblers. “Ain’t exactly wine goblets, but it’s the best I could find.”

He took the champagne bottle and winced in pain as his arthritic fingers worked the cork loose. When it finally popped off, a warm spray washed over his face. Max filled both tumblers.

He reached into the basket again and brought out a bouquet of withered roses, wrapped in plastic WalMart bags. “Not very pretty, but they’re the best I could find. Not much grows around here anymore.”

Max put the roses in Betty’s arms, and smiled.

“Fifty years,” he said. “Not many couples make it that long, Old Girl. What is it they call it? Our golden wedding anniversary.”

He drained the tumbler of champagne and blinked back tears.

It had all happened so fast.

Vibrio, they called it. But there was another name, too. A new name they’d given it. He couldn’t remember that one. News people said it mutated, became a plague. He didn’t rightly understand it. All he knew was that it started down at the Gulf coast. You were only supposed to catch it by eating undercooked seafood, but something changed.

Whatever it was started spreading and people started dying.

And they never stopped.

The nurse practitioner hadn’t been by to check on Betty in a couple of months. She was probably gone like the rest of them.

“What is it the young people call it? Post-apocalyptic? I guess that’s where we are now, my love. In a post-apocalyptic world.”

Max drained the second tumbler, and winced. He hated warm Champagne.

“Guess I’d better get back to work.”

Max looked down into the shallow grave.

“Fifty years. We almost made it fifty years.”

Power grid went down a week ago. He had enough gas to keep the generator running a couple more days. Didn’t know what he’d do after that.

Max gently tossed the first shovelful of dirt into Betty’s grave.

A burning August breeze blew once more through tinder-dry Johnson grass.

Max’s chin quivered. “Happy anniversary, my love.”



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10 Things NOT to Say or Do to Bereaved People

May 18, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

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Image credit: Jenko_Ataman_Fotolia_64209116_XS

Image credit: Jenko_Ataman_Fotolia_64209116_XS

In 1987, my wife and I lost our daughter Michelle when she was only one week old. That was a profound, life-changing experience for both of us. For one thing, it led me to become a writer. Over the years, much of my writing has focused on grief and tragedy, and how God brings people through it. In June and July, I’ll be helping teach a series on suffering at our church in Greenville, Texas. The following are some thoughts I jotted down in preparation for one of the messages.


We’ve all felt it.

That uncomfortable feeling when we’re around someone who has suffered a tragedy.

We want to help, to do something that will make the person feel better. But we’re not quite sure what to do or say. Unfortunately, in those moments it is all too easy to say or do things that unintentionally add to our friend’s pain.

We intend to help; instead we injure.

Following, in no particular order, are ten things not to do or say to people who are in deep pain.

1. Don’t say, “I know how you must feel.”

The truth is, you don’t know, even if you have gone through a similar loss. Every person’s experience of grief is unique to that individual.

2. Don’t withdraw from or avoid the person.

Friends of ours who had lost a child told about seeing someone from her church in a grocery store shortly after their tragedy. Instead of talking to them, the other person acted as if she hadn’t seen them (she had) and rushed into another aisle. Don’t withdraw from or avoid bereaved people. They’ve already lost a loved one. They don’t need to feel even more isolated.

3. Don’t be afraid of tears — theirs or yours.

Sometimes we avoid people in grief because we’re afraid that they will cry, or that we will cry, or both! It’s okay to cry. The Bible says that we are to “weep with those who weep.” Don’t be afraid of tears.

4. Don’t be afraid of silence.

Another reason we sometimes say unintentionally hurtful things is that we don’t know what to say, but we feel the need to fill the void. So we speak up and add to the other person’s pain. It’s okay to just sit quietly with your friend. In fact, it’s often better that way.

5. Don’t quote scripture at them.

The scriptures can be a great source of comfort, but only when the bereaved person is ready to hear them. Often, when a loss is fresh, we rush to quote “all things work together for good.” Don’t rush into this. Give the person time to get past the raw emotion before you quote Bible verses. And be sure that you’re truly doing it for them, not just because you want to break the silence.

6. Don’t offer theological observations.

When a person has suffered a loss and is in the throes of grief, it is not the time to offer reflections on God’s purpose for the tragedy. Enough said.

7. Don’t say, “If there is anything I can do, just let me know.”

Often this is a genuine offer to help, but sometimes it just a way of breaking the silence. Either way, it comes across as empty most of the time. Instead, say “What can I do to help?”

8. Don’t offer trite sayings.

“God took her because he needed another angel.” “The good die young.” “God picks the best flowers from the garden first.” Yeah, right. Don’t say stuff like this. Trust me, it doesn’t help.

9. Don’t judge.

Most of the time we don’t do this to the person’s face. And usually it’s in the context of a larger tragedy. For example, after 9/11 some Christian leaders said that the attack was God’s judgment on America. Unless you are privy to the mind of God, don’t say things like this. You don’t know.

10. Don’t tell people how to (or how long to) grieve.

There is no timetable or recommended length of time for grieving. Never say to a bereaved person, “It’s been _______ months/years. Shouldn’t you be over this by now?”  Truth is, you never get “over” a tragedy. You just learn to live with it.

Are there any that I’ve missed? Join the discussion by adding your comments and thoughts below.

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