Grief: Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

by | Mar 22, 2021 | Research | 14 comments

What Grief Looks Like: You don't just get over it

Can you “get over” grief? Can you recover from the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse, or the loss of a parent so that life can become normal again?

A few  years ago I wrote an important post on what grief looks like, and that post has been shared a bunch of times recently on social media, while I’ve also had friends going through some difficult funerals.

It occurs to me that many of you may not have been following me when I wrote this six years ago, and so I’d like to run it again today, because honestly–this teaching about how to picture grief has been one of the most helpful concepts to me personally, and I hope that it will help some of you today, too, who may be grieving the death of someone you love.

There’s been a twitter fight going on recently between those who say that grief always stays with you, and Joel Osteen, a motivational speaker who says “yes, you can get over grief, God wants you to, and if grief lasts more than a few months you’re wallowing” (okay, I’m paraphrasing). The former camp believes firmly that Osteen is being insensitive to those who have endured something huge like losing a child, and does not understand the grief process.

Personally, I fall mostly into the first camp, too.

Yes, it’s true, as Osteen supporters say, that “we don’t grieve in the way the world grieves” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but that doesn’t mean that we just get over a huge, aching void.

Twenty-five years ago I lost my baby boy.

At 9:30 p.m. on September 3 he was looking like he had turned a corner. The crisis post-surgery had passed. So I kissed him on the forehead (the only place I could reach without tubes), and said, “Good night, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in the morning.” And Keith and I walked out of the Intensive Care Unit and walked home.

At 1:30 a.m. the phone rang. We had better come now, the nurse said, because he was crashing.

When we got to the hospital they were still working on my baby. Fifteen minutes later they brought his body out to us. He was swaddled in a blanket, and the only thing we could see was his little face, with his little tongue sticking out a bit.

We held him and cried over him, and then I kissed him on the forehead and I said, “Goodbye, Christopher. Mommy loves you. I’ll see you in heaven.” And I handed him back to the nurse.

Over the next few days it hurt to breathe.

It felt like someone was stepping on my chest. I had to concentrate to force myself to eat, to force myself to pick up Rebecca (who was 18 months old), to force myself to shower.

But then, I remember about two weeks in, I had a good day. I didn’t cry much at all. And I felt guilty about that. What was wrong with me? How could I be “over” such a loss?

I shouldn’t have worried, because a week later I was a mess again. But slowly but surely those horrible days got fewer and farther between. They still came, but there were good moments, too.

About a month after he died someone shared with me this truth about grief which helped me so much:

The Grief Process: How grief actually works over time. We don't just "get over it"

You don’t “get over” grief. Something will set you off–a song, the back of a stranger’s head, a movie–and you’ll be thrown back to that ICU room, feeling everything with the same intensity. But those moments will come less frequently, and they won’t last as long. Instead of a whole day of not being able to function you may just have an hour when you sob and journal.

And those times are random. Sometimes they may be at anniversaries, but often it’s when we’re stressed about something else, or when we’re by ourselves just thinking or even enjoying life. And then it will come–what we’re missing. And it will be so, so sad.

The person who told me this also gave me these words:

When you have good days, do not feel guilty for them. The good days do not mean that you have forgotten the person you loved. They just mean that you are still able to enjoy the good things that God has given you. That love is still there, and there will always be times, unbidden, when that love will manifest itself in tears and in aches and even in rages. But those times will be less frequent. Laughter will return. So enjoy life when you can, and give in to the tears when  you must. This world is broken, and God understands our grief. It’s okay to feel it–but don’t feel badly if you feel it less frequently than you once did.

Those words meant so much to me, and now, every time I have a friend who suffers a great loss, like a miscarriage or a death in the immediate family, I share these truths about the grief process with her, too.

And so I wanted to share that concept of the timing of the grief process with you all today. Joel Osteen proves that even those who are Christians don’t really understand grief. Grief is not unChristlike or self-focused. Jesus Himself grieves. But Jesus also laughs.

And one of the most amazing things about this life is how laughter and grief can often co-exist.

Grieving is not ungodly; covering up pain and not speaking Truth, on the other hand, is.

So let’s extend grace to one another when we grieve, and let’s extend grace to ourselves, both when we have a hard time dealing with grief, and when we seem to be able to laugh too early. Neither is a sign that we are far from God; they are both simply signs that we are human. And that, after all, is how God made us.

Are you walking through grief?

When life is difficult, we often yell at God. Here’s what He whispers back.
This little book covers the reality of grief, and the promise of heaven can make the grief process easier. The ebook version is really inexpensive, so if you’re having a hard time–I hope this can bless you.
How Grief Works: You Don't Just Get Over Grief

Does this resonate with you? How do you see grief? Have you ever felt guilty for not feeling sad? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kristen

    What uncanny timing. Grief is really what brought me to this blog more than three years ago, when I was facing the first Christmas without my uncle. I dreamed about him last week, the first time in years, and I’ve been in a funk ever since.
    People like Osteen and their response to something as natural and necessary as grief are definitely one of the things that alienated me from the church. I get that if your loved one is in heaven, then you don’t grieve as those who have no hope. But that last phrase is key. The Bible doesn’t say that you don’t grieve at all.
    I’ve also found what you’ve said about intensity vs. frequency to be true, Sheila. There are times when it startles me how well I seem to be getting on with life now; then there are times like this weekend when I think about my loved one often. I journaled about the grieving process last spring and how I seemed to have healed a lot compared to the crushing loss of those first few months back in 2017. And I said, “I’m grateful that it doesn’t hurt like that all of the time now, but I’m also grateful that it hurts like that some of the time.” Experiencing those surges of grief from time to time is normal, and while it hurts, it makes me feel connected to my loved one after all this time. There is relief in that kind of pain.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love this, Kristen: “I’m grateful that it doesn’t hurt like that all of the time now, but I’m also grateful that it hurts like that some of the time.” That’s exactly what I feel too.

  2. Jo

    We don’t expect in this life to have complete physical healing from, say, chronic incurable diseases or some kind of bodily injury or congenital condition, and we would be heartless wretches indeed to tell people in those situations to “just get over it already.”
    Why do we expect that we shall in this life find complete healing from mental or emotional issues? Yes, we can get counseling to help us cope, find strategies to help us spend as little time as possible letting those issues control our day-to-day, and moment-to-moment, lives. But to expect ***complete*** restoration to our hearts and minds? Are we asking too much?
    I’ve felt like a failed, or at a least an immature, Christian for decades because of the lack of healing over certain things in my childhood. But maybe the real problem was that I was expecting something that is in actual fact unreasonable?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think that’s really true, Jo. I think we also lose sight of the fact that our Saviour is a “Man of Sorrows.” Maybe if we understood the Grieving Christ more, we could have more compassion for ourselves?

      • Andrea

        Seriously, everyone, think about what you know of Jesus, and then think about what He would do if he saw you crying over a loss you experienced years, even decades ago — would he wag His finger at you or put His arms around you?
        Joel Osteen is not selling Jesus (although he’s trying to tell you that he is), he is selling the most toxic version of American optimism. Research has shown that it doesn’t work and is in fact dangerous, whereas “defensive pessimism” or “cautious optimism” are much healthier. Rebecca may know more about this; it’s been over two decades since I studied psychology, but one book I read more recently that I would recommend is Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

      • Andrea

        Ehrenreich’s is a secular book, but if you want to read one by a Christian scholar with fourth stage cancer, I highly recommend Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. She also wrote Blessed, which is a history of the prosperity Gospel.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I loved her book The Preacher’s Wife, so I should check out her other ones!

  3. Anon

    I just don’t get the idea that we’re supposed to ‘get over it’. That basically means that unless I completely forget about the person who has gone, the only way I can ‘get over it’ is to be happy that they’re gone. Either way, I think that’s really weird.
    I have lost several people who were very close to me, and while the amount of grieving I do may have lessened over the years, I’m never going to be ‘over’ them dying until we are reunited in Heaven. And I think that’s as it should be. Death is a result of sin – it’s never something God planned/wanted for us in the first place. So we shouldn’t ‘get over’ it!

  4. Jane Eyre

    It seems really gross to try to manage people’s emotions. You can help people whose emotions are causing dysfunction in their lives (e.g. causing them to lose their jobs, strain their marriages, result in alcoholism). Managing their emotions, though, is just wrong. Those emotions exist and don’t have to cease existing because they make people uncomfortable.
    Jesus wept. If our Lord feels grief, even He who knows that He will see that person again, why are we not supposed to feel grief? It is an appropriate response to the joy that person brought into our lives.

    • Wild Honey

      “Jesus wept.” Amen!
      Context is so key here. Jesus *already knew* that he was going to bring Lazarus back to life. It wasn’t Lazarus’ death that prompted Jesus’ weeping. “When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… Jesus wept.”
      Jesus’ response to weeping wasn’t to tell the mourners, “Don’t worry! I’m bringing him back to life! Get over it! You’ll see him soon!” His response was to WEEP. Splotchy face, big tears, snot-nosed weeping.
      As the well-known philosopher Wesley (aka “Dread Pirate Roberts”) has said, “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The key for Christians, as others have expressed, is that we experience hope in the midst of pain, not hope without the pain.

  5. AA

    I was watching an episode of WandaVision that is centered around Wanda’s grief. There was a beautiful scene where she is discussing her grief with Vision and describes it like a wave that keeps knocking her down over and over again. Vision’s response was, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
    I sobbed the rest of the episode. It was like they were speaking to me. I recently lost my grandmother. She was like a parent to me. I was telling my husband how it just keeps coming and coming. There are periods of calm water and “normalcy” but the waves of grief are huge. The reason it hurts so much is because my love for her is so great. I do take great comfort in knowing I will be reunited with her and that she is no longer sick. Someone telling me to get over it would hurt greatly.

    • Me

      Wasn’t Vision’s line so spot on? It stuck out so much to me when I watched it that I had to write it down.
      This post is so timely. I just happened to be Googling something related to my own grief process. Apparently grief fog is a thing. I just can’t shake off the fuzziness in my brain.
      Thank you Sheila for helping educate us with what you know and have learned. I have benefited so much from your blog.

  6. Sandy

    I’ve learned so much about grief and the grieving process in the past few years. At my place of work we run a program called the Grief Recovery Method and it’s changed the way I see loss and our response to it. I had to work through all my own grief before I could walk with others through it and it’s been invaluable in understanding my own grief and learning how to respond to grievers. It gave me the tools to process unresolved grief as well as walk with others in theirs in a healthy and helpful way. Death and loss are inevitable but grief is the most misunderstood of the human experiences. Knowing how to grieve is something we can all learn so that we can better help others. Thank you Sheila for reminding us that it is the natural response to any loss and not just something we need to get over or allow time to heal, as these are two of the most common myths about grief.


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