Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult things we experience in life. In fact, the word “bereavement” actually means to “be torn apart,” and how true that often is. Because the death of a loved one causes such distress, it affects our bodies, minds, and emotions.
During his years of walking alongside grieving families, nationally respected grief counselor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt has found that there are six needs of mourning. They are 1) acknowledging the reality of the death, 2) moving toward the pain of loss, 3) remembering the person who died, 4) developing a new self-identity, 5) searching for meaning, and 6) receiving ongoing support from others.
Based on his experience, Dr. Wolfelt has found that the people who take time to work through each one of these needs are on more solid footing throughout the grief journey. They are more likely to find healing and reconciliation after loss. This doesn’t mean they “get over” the loss; it simply means they learn how to incorporate it into their life story and begin to move forward.
But What Does This Have to Do with Easter?
One thing that Easter brings us face to face with is the search for meaning (Need #5). The search for meaning is all about asking the inevitable questions that come after the death of someone we know or love and how we should move forward afterward. For the sake of example, let’s imagine the disciples trying to make sense of Jesus’ death.
- “Why did this happen?”
- “What do we do now?”
- “How do we move forward from here?”
- “If he was the Son of God, how could he let this happen?”
They must have faced so many doubts, fears, and uncertainties. Not to mention the deep grief of losing a beloved brother, mentor, and friend.
It’s the same for us today when we lose someone we love. We are confronted with questions that feel unanswerable.
- “Why now?”
- “Why this way?”
- “What happens after death?”
- “Why does it hurt so much?”
- “How has this changed me?”
Jesus’ Followers Search for Meaning
When Dr. Wolfelt speaks about the incredible importance of the search for meaning, he says:
To heal in grief, we must explore these types of questions if we are to become reconciled to our grief. In fact, we must first ask these “why” questions to decide why we should go on living before we can ask ourselves how we will go on living. This does not mean we must find definitive answers, only that we need the opportunity to think (and feel) things through.
For followers of Jesus Christ all over the world, Easter answers the questions Jesus’ followers must have asked after his death. Jesus rose from the grave, conquered death, and made new life possible for those who believe he is who he says he is. For them, the search for meaning culminated in the most important event in Christian history.
Though many of their questions were answered and they found new joy and a mission for the future, the followers of Jesus still experienced loss. While Jesus was no longer dead, he did ascend to heaven, leaving them with instructions to spread his message of love near and far.
While they did have answers to why his death occurred and what they needed to do now, the followers of Jesus still had to work through the grief of losing the physical presence of a beloved friend. On many days, they must have said, “If only Jesus were here, he’d know what to do.” We experience the same thing in our own personal grief journeys.
Your Personal Search for Meaning
The search for meaning is a personal experience. It’s normal for two people to come to different conclusions as they work to make sense of the death. Each person must come to grips with the reality of death and ask, “How does this person’s death affect how I live my life?”
For some people, a search for meaning may result in championing a new cause in a loved one’s honor. Writing a book to share a deeply painful but poignantly inspirational story. Pushing away fear and grabbing onto the courage to pursue dreams. Finding renewed purpose to make positive changes. Whether it’s a big change or a small one, a loved one’s death can be a catalyst to deeper and more meaningful living.
So, this Easter, if you are mourning the loss of someone you love, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Just as Jesus’ followers had to re-evaluate their own lives in the wake of Jesus’ ascension and removal to heaven, we, too, must come to grips with what life looks like now that a loved one’s life has moved from one of presence to one of memory. In time, if you do the work of grief, you will find a way to move forward and come to a place of healing and reconciliation.
To learn more about Dr. Wolfelt’s 6 needs of mourning, take a moment to read his informative article, The Journey Through Grief: The Six Needs of Mourning.