Acknowledging that the loss has really happened is essential to healthy grieving. When a spouse dies many hesitate to use the word "dead," but acceptance of one's loss requires that the surviving spouse refer to the deceased as having died rather than "having gone away" or "being in heaven" or "having passed."
The reality is that death brings permanent separation in this life. This reality must be accepted for grief to receive its dues. The knowledge that our loved one is in heaven and that we will be reunited with him enables us to grieve in hope rather than without hope. This hope does not give us permission to deny grief its natural process, but it does ease the pain of acceptance (see 1 Thess. 4:13-14).
Through the eyes of her grief, Naomi perceived her future to be pretty bleak. Hopelessness often accompanies grieving. She said, "I am too old to have another husband" (Ruth 1:12).
We have no reason to believe that Naomi was an old lady, but grief can cause one to feel older than her years and take away all hope of things getting better. It can also take away a woman's hope that another relationship is possible.
Hopelessness is the primary symptom of depression, a normal emotional response to significant loss. Other symptoms are fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of interest in pleasures formerly enjoyed, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, diminished concentration. If a mourner remains intensely depressed for more than a few weeks or begins having recurring suicidal thoughts, she should seek professional help, since counseling and medication are usually needed for recovery.
Then Naomi's grief spews out in anger, bitterness, doubt and suspicion toward the God she loved and served. "No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord's hand has gone out against me! The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me" (vv. 13,20).
Do I hear a gasp? Who of you will dare admit that you are angry with God for taking your husband and leaving you all alone, that you have questioned His motives or doubted His love for you because He has refused to tell you why?
God already knows your thoughts. Why not get honest with the all-knowing One, confessing your anger and disappointment so the two of you can be friends while you travel through the wilderness of grief? Don't hesitate to bare your soul to Jesus, who knows how you feel.
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:15-16).
The Lord Jesus revealed His humanness and grief at Lazarus' grave. He was so touched by Mary's and Martha's grief that He raised their brother from the dead. The prophet Isaiah referred to Him as a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is. 53:3, KJV).
THE PATH TO HEALING Naomi instinctively followed good grief guidelines. The first was to talk about her pain. She became vulnerable and honest with her family and friends regarding her thoughts and emotions. They formed her support group, and she felt safe with them.
Every grieving widow needs empathic people who will listen while she cries and talks, faithfully pray for her, refrain from judging when she spills her true feelings and thoughts, and resist advising her about appropriate and inappropriate grief, allowing her to grieve in her own way.
If I had been her therapist, I would have asked Naomi also to journal her feelings and thoughts. Getting these out in the open by recording them keeps us from burying or repressing our pain. The openness can protect us from a "denied or delayed grief" that frequently emerges disguised in physical or psychosomatic symptoms or illnesses.
Journaling also serves to map our grief journey. Mourners become encouraged when they recognize their progress and tend to develop a more positive attitude, which helps to alleviate depression.
Naomi clung to her memories of the good times with her husband and sons when she said, "I went away full" (Ruth 1:20, NIV). Death cannot take away our memories. Sooner or later, we must let go of our lost loved ones and reconnect with them through our memories.
Instead of trying to forget the good times, we should remember them often. Photograph albums are great for this. And talking about the deceased during gatherings of friends and family can resurrect the fun and laughter of former days and help mourners discover a new connection with their loved ones.
Those who are "left" should dismiss any guilt feelings about having fun times with family and friends. Survivor's guilt can cause spouses to feel as if it isn't fair to their departed loved ones to laugh and anticipate an exciting new life. But to experience healing in your grief journey, you must give yourself permission to let go of the way things were and embrace your new life without your partner.