Chapter 6

How Grief Changes Us

Chapter Six: How Grief Changes Us

“I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and griever alike endure.” —Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (6)

How do we go on after a loved one’s suicide? Realize that grief is a journey, and we don’t really ever “get over” the loss. Our grief may change over the years, and it may no longer feel as immediately present or painful. But we are forever changed by the loss, and it will stay with us. One woman told me that she lost her father to suicide twenty-five years ago, and she still grieves him every day, in different ways.

When I lost my father, I was in my twenties. And I grieved him as my father, and I felt his loss and absence especially as I was making my way into the world and seeking encouragement and direction. While I sought out other father figures and mentors, I wished I could have talked with my dad about how to sort through things.

Now that I am older and in midlife, I find that I grieve my dad in different ways. Now I grieve him as the grandfather that my sons have never known. I lament the years of him not being present at birthdays and holidays. I wish I could talk with him about what it’s like to get older, what to be thinking about and feeling at this stage of life. I grieve that those kinds of conversations now can never take place.

It has been said that grief turns some people hard while it turns other people soft. Fellow survivor, watch out that loss doesn’t harden your heart or embitter you toward the world. Instead, let grief mold you into a more sensitive, caring person, more attuned to the needs of others.

While God is not the author of our pain, he can redeem it. It may take a lot of time, but allow him to use your grief to shape us and transform you in ways that heal us and others. In our grief, we now have a heightened awareness of the enormous pain out there in the world, of how deeply people struggle. Let this grow our sense of compassion for others who suffer greatly

Our experience of loss can be transformative not only for us, but for those around us as well, as our grief connects us to others who experience similar kinds of pain. Missionary Paul Borthwick and pastor Dave Ripper, in their book The Fellowship of the Suffering, reflect on how our own suffering helps us identify with the suffering of others. They write, “Suffering opens the doors of possibility for us to experience deeper fellowship with God, closer fellowship with others, and wider fellowship with our beautiful but broken world. . . . May God use all of our pain to enable us to find common ground with those who are hurting, so they in turn might experience the power and healing and life found in fellowship with our resurrected King.” (7)

In our mourning, we come to realize that we are part of a larger community, a fellowship of fellow sufferers who likewise need each other to carry on. And our own suffering gives us greater empathy for a suffering world.

Don’t let your grief harden your heart and close you from the world. Instead, as you experience God’s comfort and healing, let that flow through you to minister to others who are going through their own pain. Remember, healing is a process, and it takes longer for some than others.

Here are a few practical things to keep in mind as you continue your grief journey:

Find friends and community. You are not alone, and you are not meant to go through this alone. Surround yourself with trusted friends that you can share honestly with, those you feel safe enough to cry or scream with, to voice the tough questions. And, if possible, seek out the support of a pastor or counselor.

Take care of yourself physically. Eat a balanced diet. Get enough sleep. Rest. Exercise. The physical activity of exercise can help our bodies and minds navigate grief and ward off sickness.

Be gentle with yourself. Have self-compassion. If you find yourself blaming yourself or saying hurtful things, remind yourself to be as gentle with yourself as you would be toward others in pain. And actually do something specifically kind for you. Take a few minutes to slow down and enjoy sipping a cup of flavored coffee or tea at your favorite coffee house. Treat yourself to popcorn and a movie. Go for a walk with your pet and enjoy the solitude of the woods.

Beware of self-medicating your pain with food, alcohol or drug use. Ask friends and family to keep an eye on you. Give them permission to share their concerns. If you find yourself falling into unhealthy patterns, get help, go to a counselor, seek a support group

Don’t make rash decisions. Don’t make any big life changes for at least one year after your loss. Don’t move across the country, don’t get remarried quickly, don’t try to conceive another child to “replace” the one you lost. Tell yourself, “I am in my time of grieving, and I will not make any major changes now.”

Spend time in nature and beauty. Go on walks outdoors. Listen to music. Go to art museums or whatever feeds your soul. Rediscover the good, hopeful parts of the world.

Give back to the community. Early their grief most are not ready for this, but service to others can become a powerful way of channeling our grief in positive directions. When the time is right for you, volunteer with local organizations, help other people in need. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that helping others is healing for your own soul as well.


(6) Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000), p. 148.

(7) Paul Borthwick and Dave Ripper, The Fellowship of the Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), pp. 211-12.