don’t let anyone rush your grief

Don’t let anyone rush your grief! You’ve left the church. That’s heavy! Grieve it. Feel it to the full. Go ahead and deny that it hurts. Then bawl your eyes out once in a while. Get angry. Get frustrated. Think about going back then change your mind again. Get depressed. That’s the best way to let it pass and finally find peace.

Grieving is an important and necessary step after any kind of loss. You have to grieve when you lose your favourite pen. You have to grieve when you lose your loved one. Of course they are on a different scale, but grief is a part of the process of responding to loss.

Is there an appropriate length of time for grief? I don’t think so. But let’s take me for an example. I lose my favourite pen. I can’t find it. There’s nothing I can seem to do to get it back. It is gone. Forever. My response has been anything from denial, bargaining, anger, depression, to hopefully and finally a sense of peace.* After all, I can go back out and buy another one. Maybe that grieving response took… I don’t know… 15 minutes.

But what if I lose a loved one? The same stages of grief apply, but they will take longer. It will take a much longer time for me to eventually and hopefully reach the stage of peace. But this depends on a lot of factors too. How close was I to this loved one? Were we living together? For how long? How dependent was I on this person? How much did he mean to me? Were we estranged when we were separated? And so on. You might grieve for a year. Or maybe 10 years with the occasional reversions on anniversaries, etc. Who knows?

We grieve when we leave the church. Even if we left volitionally or were forced to leave… whatever the circumstances… we must allow ourselves time to grieve. If you just went one month to church just to observe and left, your grieving might not take as long. But what if you went to church for 50 years and were deeply involved in its life and then were asked to leave or you felt you simply could no longer stay? How long should grieving take then? A week? A month? A year? Five years? A life time?

I would suggest having someone to talk to so that you can walk through it in a healthy manner, whatever that is. It is possible to get stuck in grief, stalled in depression, broken down in sorrow. Having someone to talk to may jumpstart you to make your grief manageable and help you progress towards a joyful life.

But don’t let anyone tell you how long you have to grieve. Take as long as you want. I remember just a few months after a devastating church split, some people who were strong supporters finally left the church because I wasn’t healing fast enough. But I couldn’t speed it up. And you might know me well enough by now that I just couldn’t fake it. I was grieving. It took me a long time to get over that.

I left the church a couple of years ago under strained conditions. I’m still grieving that. But no one’s rushing me now. I’m talking with someone. I’m getting better. At my own pace. I’m going to be fine. I see joy coming.

You can too. Don’t rush the grief. Let it come. Feel it to the full. This is the best way to let it pass. And it will. Eventually. And you will be happy again.

I make myself available to talk. If you would like to talk with me, check out my talk page.

*The stages of grief were named by Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying”.



10 Replies to “don’t let anyone rush your grief”

  1. One of the things that has come out of my leaving is that I do something more that I didn’t used to do so readily and that is speaking up for myself. I recently told a friend that she didn’t know what I’d been through after making flippant comments about me leaving. She didn’t mean any harm, but when we don’t know what another person has been through, it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than assuming the person just left, deserted the ship, or whatever else people might think.

    I don’t think I ever had grief though. What I did have was a lot of hurt and anger directed at myself and others that I’ve mostly worked through, but it does take time and I’ve allowed myself that. I don’t even feel bad about not getting involved in the church I’m now attending because it occurred to me one day that I had been heavily involved in churches for 17 years and I think I need this break. Don’t know how long it will last, but one thing I’m not doing is rushing it.

  2. I would like to talk about this. I went to church for 40+ years – it always mattered a great deal to me – and now I don’t go anymore but I just feel numb. I mean, there are times that I feel a deep sadness but then the numbness seems to take over. Is this normal, David?

  3. I don’t know what’s normal. All I can say is many people experience this. Including me. Sometimes grief acts like ice. We freeze over, so to speak, so that we don’t feel the intensity of the pain. If we keep progressing in our grief, then this allows the ice to melt, eventually exposing the pain to the potential healing. Numbness is a coping mechanism. Sooner or later we need to move beyond that.

  4. Good post. I was in the church for nearly 60 years and heavily involved in its ministry. You are very right that it can take time.

    I am very thankful for the compensations that have come along to ease the grieving process – namely new-found freedom.

  5. Wow – I’m not grieving – I kind of don’t care…. kind of over it. Once in a while I feel a speck of guilt to go because it is expected of me or my youngest daughter tells us that we never go to church and that it’s not good…. but if I have nothing drawing me there, it feels forced. I’m so comfortable with God meeting me where I’m at…. I know God is patient and it’s about me and him and his “body” is all over the place and all around me through virtual means and friends and family. I DO miss worship…. a lot. But church… not.

  6. I appreciate very much your insight and honesty regarding our experiences of leaving the church after many years of involvement and worship.

    I have been away from church now since 2001 (ran for my life and sanity but ended up 5 yrs. ago with a complete breakdown and in hospital for 4 months). I am very well now thankfully.

    What I felt at the time of leaving was a great confusion, sadness, guilt. Over time the guilt stayed with me. Then the realization of freedom came and blew through my being 🙂

    I am not certain if it is grief that I experienced or even still experience but it does feel definitely that a ton weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I am just now sorting out where I am at with what I do believe (I’ve posted about that before so won’t repeat it all here).

    I have found that attending any service (usually by obligation at a family event) makes me very anxious and uncomfortable. I do it but if I didn’t feel obliged to go I would feel a lot easier/relieved.

    I don’t miss the people now either…but do feel alone a lot…whether that will change…who knows?

    I understand others who have commented…seems we all experience something uncomfortable but freeing in the parting. Sorry to be so long in this comment!

  7. It’s been about a year for me, and I was recently reminded of just how painful it still is, that my grieving isn’t done. In this case, I’m not grieving the church as a whole, but a particular community that I lost, like I will likely never find again. The irreplaceableness, the importance of it, will prolong the grief for some time yet. A certain sense of betrayal in some ways, more an exposure against expectation. And then there’s always the closure you think you might get that doesn’t come. The phone calls that were coming that never came. I’m grateful to you, David. I know I’m not alone. It helps.

  8. Guilt and shame are my remnant. Too long in a church that preached, ‘you must do this and you have to believe that’. I have been reading this blog for quite a while now…only recently started posting. I can’t tell you, David, how grateful I am to have the freedom to express myself openly and honestly and work through my ‘stuff’.

    To Pat Pope, I have had a similar awakening and have started speaking up for myself.

    And I do like the idea of the virtual family that Anne speaks of. I have found more solace here and elsewhere on the internet than I did in the institutional chuch.

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