Losing a loved one can be devastating, and recovery is not a quick process. Death can trigger emotions and depression that could take years to recover from. Pastors deal with this every day in their churches and have learned to minister in different ways depending on the need of the individual.
“In life and death, we belong to God. We recognize that our life does not last forever on this side of heaven, and we will have transition and those we love will have it as well,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “I think that is fundamental to our faith and how we hold on to faith in difficult times and recognize that mortality is real and has been a part of life.”
Nelson says that people grieve differently.
“Some people do that on their own over time while some need to sit with a professional counselor or with a pastor for help,” he said. “Others need to work their way through it and they need to work through the transitions of memory. It is also a time of deep introspection as well, such as things we did or did not or say, or childhood memories.”
In recent weeks, the PC(USA) has been rocked by the passing of two leaders in the church — the Rev. Robina Winbush, director of Ecumenical Relations in the Office of the General Assembly, and Mike Miller, acting chief financial officer for the PC(USA) A Corporation. In addition, several staff members have suffered losses in their families.
Nelson says that people must recognize that it is OK to grieve, cry and express feelings.
“We should also recognize that grieving should not last forever. There has to be a time and place for us to turn a corner and to see the goodness of God in allowing grace to have that person with us,” said Nelson. “There is no shame in having someone help us work through grief. It can be stressful over long periods of time and can certainly move inward if we are not careful.
“It is good for a community of people to check on one another to see how they are doing, and if we don’t have that community, we need to find one. Get with people who love you and who will hear the same stories repeatedly, without telling you they’ve heard it before,” said Nelson. “These should be individuals who will sit down with us and honestly share with us when we’ve grieved long enough and tell us when it is time to turn the corner.”
Nelson says that community becomes a vital part in engaging grief, adding that community is made better when it is a community that has faith. He also says it is important that pastors and counselors practice self-care.
“Sometimes we work and work and never stop to look on what we’ve accomplished or experienced,” he said. “We just keep working, and that can be as dangerous and raise stress when we’re not taking the time to deal with reflection. We must figure how to step back from our work sometimes and engage in other interests. That’s what brings back the energy and enjoyment of our work.”