The Table Podcast

Dealing with Grief and Anxiety

In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Bill Hendricks, Dr. Andi Thacker, and Joe Riegel discuss grief, focusing on how Christians should approach it.

Timecodes
00:15
How should we define grief?
03:30
Can we be prepared for grief?
10:55
What individual grief looks like
19:23
What corporate grief looks like
23:12
When does grief become unhealthy?
32:08
How the gospel impacts how Christians grieve
40:27
Helpful suggestions to navigate grief
Transcript
Kymberli Cook
Welcome to the table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I’m the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center here at DTS. And today, we’re gonna be talking about grief and how Christians should approach it. I am joined today by Joe Riegel, who is a DTS grad, and volunteer hospital chaplain at Clements Hospital and Baylor Hospital. Thank you so much for being here, Joe.
Joe Riegel
You’re welcome.
Kymberli Cook
And I’m also joined by Andi Thacker, who is a Professor of Counseling here at DTS, and a regular guest here on the table podcast. So we’re so thrilled to have you here, as well, Andi.
Andi Thacker
Thanks for having me.
Kymberli Cook
And we’re also joined by one of my bosses, so I’m gonna have to be on my best behavior. Bill Hendricks, who is the Executive Director for Christian Leadership here at the Hendricks Center, as well. Thanks for being with us, as well, Bill.
Bill Hendricks
Thank you. It’s great to be on the other side of the microphone, as it were.
Kymberli Cook
I’m sure it is. That’s true. Yeah, he’s also a host. [Laughs] He’s not just my boss. He’s a host on the podcast, as well. Alright.

So today we’re talking about grief. And things have been absolutely crazy in our world for awhile, and so … and with that has come a lot of hardship and a lot of death and a lot of loss. And so we felt like it was very much a time and … a time to address it, but also it being a really … a life long issue that everybody faces, not just when the world is going crazy. But grief is something that every single person will probably face in their life. And so we’re gonna talk about that today, and just how we, as Christians, might approach it differently.

So just to start off with, I think it’s really important for everybody to understand what grief even is. We throw around the term sometimes … I wouldn’t say a lot … but sometimes. But we want to make sure we’re all on the same page when we’re talking about it, so Andi, would you mind giving me, giving us, just a brief definition, what is grief?

Andi Thacker
Yes. Grief is the response that a person’s body, their brain, their whole being has when they lose something that is important to them. So it’s characterized by different experiences. And those can be different for everybody, but it is a visceral, emotional, psychological response to losing something that’s important.
Kymberli Cook
And so, when I hear that, it’s more than just addressing death, right? You can have grief for a variety of things? Is that true?
Andi Thacker
Anything that’s lost. Anything that’s lost and that’s important.
Kymberli Cook
Okay. And Joe, would you have anything you’d like to add on how we should think about what grief is, as somebody who’s been a chaplain and in the midst of a lot of those losses, at least in a hospital setting?
Joe Riegel
Right. One of the things about grief is that there’s no expiration date on grief. When it comes, it may linger for a long time, but it does diminish in its intensity over a period of time.
Kymberli Cook
Okay. And is it … so it lasts for a long time. Is grief something that we can prepare for?
Bill Hendricks
Yes and no. We hear about it, but until you actually experience it … and, of course, it depends on what the depth of the grief is. But I think one of the earliest things that people experience by way of grief is when they’re a child and they lose a pet. And for many, that’s the first time they really experience a sense of loss. Or it could be a grandparent. And from an adult perspective, those seem like a magnitude of difference. But to a child, either one can just be severe. And that’s probably their first experience. And so, in a way, nothing’s prepared them for that. And so those are the first baby steps, if you will, that people often take to have the experience of what does grief at least feel like, even if they don’t even know what they’re experiencing.
Kymberli Cook
Now Bill, do you want to talk for a second on your experience with grief, and why we’ve included you as one of the guests on this podcast, in addition to the fact that you’re brilliant and my boss, and you can be on any podcast you want to be on?
Bill Hendricks
Won’t go there. If you think I’m brilliant, Kym, you need to get out more. Well, I like to say that I have a 20 year PhD in grief. We’re in 2020, just to put a reference on this. And in 2000 my first wife, Nancy, passed away of breast cancer. And I immediately entered what Ecclesiastes calls the house of mourning … which is another way of talking about grief … and discovered that that’s kind of a club that nobody really wants to join. But once you’ve joined it, you start to wake up and realize other people that have had the same experience.

And in that time, the 20 years since she’s been gone, it’s been my, I guess, sad, but in an odd sort of way, privilege to welcome newcomers into the house of mourning. It seems like God’s actually given me a bit of a ministry, particularly with men who have lost the wives. And I frequently find myself taking a brother aside who’s lost their wife and saying, “Listen. Let me do for you what somebody did for me. And that is, early on, let me tell you what you’re into now, and what’s gonna happen over this particularly next year,” and try to give them some orientation as to what just happened, and what do I even do about it? And so that’s been a large part of my own schooling in this house of mourning.

Kymberli Cook
And you said that we can and cannot prepare for it. You want to talk a little bit more about that?
Bill Hendricks
Well, okay. So, Nancy was diagnosed in 1993. And, of course, we didn’t know if she was going to die or when. She was fairly certain she would, and in fact, she turned out to be right. And so in one sense, we had seven years to prepare, and when I say we, meaning me, Nancy, and our three daughters. And the way I put it was, the specter of the possibility of death almost became like a visitor in our home, an unwanted visitor. But at the oddest moments, it was like there was another person in the room, just sitting there going, “Yeah. Y’all are doing what you’re doing. But I’m here, too.” And so this possibility would always impinge itself. You’d be having a celebration, like a birthday, Nancy’s birthday. And all of a sudden, things would just freeze, because you could tell she was realizing, “You know, this may be my last birthday, or an anniversary. I may not be here next year.” And we’d have this experience. And I’ve often said that oftentimes, in the case of death, the grief begins long before the death, because you’re starting to already lose the unimpinged freedom that we typically have in relationships where we think, “Man, this is great. This is gonna go on.” And yet, something says, particularly when it gets really severe, and you’ve got a diagnosis that’s fairly terminal, you go, “No, this isn’t gonna go on for much longer.” You’re already starting to grieve, and start to learn about what that’s like.
Kymberli Cook
Andi, is there anything you would want to add in on how to think through how you can prepare for grief, or if you should even try, or if it’s just something you have to walk through when it happens?
Andi Thacker
Sure. Yeah. There’s a lot you can’t prepare for, like Bill said, ’cause you don’t know what the loss may be. I work a lot with kids and adolescents. And I think life gives us practice moments. And thinking from a neuroscience perspective, whenever we enter into a new experience, we don’t have any neurological framework for that experience. So it’s gonna produce anxiety naturally. So, as parents, as pastors, as helpers, as whatever our role is we can allow the people that we shepherd, whether it be our kids, or our flock, whoever it is, that when we do enter a smaller loss that may not be as profound as maybe the death of a loved one, if we allow ourselves to feel it, there’s a great thing, feel it to heal it, then we can lay down neurological pathway that we know how to enter into that darkness and allow ourselves to be there, and to heal, and not have to rush through it, not have to cover it, not have to numb it.

So I think of those opportunities, like the death of a pet, a lot of times parents will hide that, or be like, “Well, they went to live with another family,” or “Nemo’s fishing or swimming in the ocean.” And Nemo got flushed. But, even as adults, when we have, when we enter these seasons of grief, we’re in pandemic season, there’s a lot of loss. And we want to just rush through it and say, “I’m fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.” But to really sit in that place of it really hurts, and it stinks that you didn’t get to finish the school year, or that your company laid you off, or that you don’t get to participate in something you were looking forward to, or have a birthday party, or whatever. So I think if we can allow ourselves in the little losses space to feel and to heal, then it lays some good neurological pathways that when it’s a really big loss, it’s not gonna make it hurt any less, but it’s gonna give us a little bit of insulation from the anxiety that can come with the unknown.

Kymberli Cook
Fascinating. So, Joe, what does grief actually look like? So we talked about what it is, and maybe trying to prepare ourselves a little bit to walk into varying levels of the depth of the loss. But when it comes to actually recognizing it in yourself, obviously you are probably aware of what you lost … maybe not … but what does grief look like, at least individually? For diagnosing yourself … I know. Please, Andi, who is a professional counselor, is like, “Please don’t do that.” But recognizing it in yourself, but also recognizing it in a loved one or a friend or a co-worker, that kind of thing, saying, “You know what? I think we’re dealing with grief here.” What does it look like, Joe?
Joe Riegel
That in my training to become a hospital chaplain, I led a very secluded life. Everything was fine. I was a very happy person. But then God knew that I had to be confronted with the agony, the heartache of life. And that’s what happened when I was at Children’s. Now, knowing what I know now, would have been great if I’d known it back then. But when I was going through that, I didn’t know I was going through grief. I just knew that something was wrong, and that there was a lot of sadness around me. Children’s is a level one trauma hospital. And I thought I was being traumatized, actually, because I spent a lot of time with a lot of moms, dads, children going through a lot of turmoil, and I didn’t know how to handle all that.

But I came away very much respecting what moms and dads were doing. I also saw that grief was demonstrated different ways for a lot of different cultures, where over there, parent’s loss a child because of death, and some were very pensive and quiet, others were very wailing, and it’s expressed differently. And today, I see, as somebody just said, with the pandemic I see a lot of losses out there in the world today, and people are grieving without realizing it. A loss of a job, or even a divorce or a loss of salary, I see a lot of loss of freedom that people have. Seeing a result of that, too. Those are my thoughts.

Kymberli Cook
Bill, as somebody who has gone through it … not that Joe and Andi haven’t gone through it, but you’ve shared your story with us … what did you experience when you lost Nancy, particularly after you lost Nancy?
Bill Hendricks
Let me get into it by just mentioning several months ago a friend wanted me to talk with a friend who had lost somebody very close to him. And I met this gentleman. Total stranger. And immediately we both knew we were in the club, if I can put it that crassly. But he was still in shock. It was like, “What am I facing here?” He pulled out a photo of a sculpture. And I wish I could pull up the name of the sculpture. But it’s a figure made out of metal. It’s a giant metal figure of a male, of a person, sitting on a park bench. And where the person’s chest would normally be is a giant hole. So you look right through the person, out into the background. And to me, that’s a graphic capture of what many of us feel, certainly what I felt, like there’s suddenly this huge emptiness inside, like something just got ripped out of you, and you don’t really know what just happened.

Every man I’ve ever met who’s lost their wife … and again, that’s just one kind of grief … particularly when I go right after the death, ’cause that’s something I do. I drop what I’m doing, I go over to somebody’s house, their wife just died. Every single one of them has just been staring, like, “What just happened?” They don’t even know what to do. And so I’m there to just try to do what I can and reassure them, and just as much as anything be there.

My situation was a little complicated, because at the time of Nancy’s death, our three daughters were 15, 13, and 8. And so I was holding Nancy’s hand when she took her last breath. My oldest daughter just came into the room, and I said, “Mommy’s just died.” And right after that, the two little ones came in the room as well. And I said, “Girls, Mommy’s just died.” And the middle one, who total compassion. She’d been with Mommy all the way through this thing, rushes toward the bed.

The little one, she clearly didn’t know what she was facing. But whatever it was, she wanted no part of it, and she started to back out of the room. And instantly, God gave me the mind to realize, “Bill, you’ve done what you could for Nancy. You gotta new responsibility here.” And I immediately rushed out of the room and I grabbed her and picked her up and just held her, and we just stood out there in the corridor, crying for a little while. And I got plunged into this thing called single parenting.

And as bad as the grief and the loss were, the single parenting didn’t give me a whole lot of time to process. But I will remember … after that first week, and all the family goes back home, and I get the girls off to school, and I come home, and I sit down in the living room, finally I just came apart. I just had no other reaction, other than to just bawl my eyes out for a good long while. And again, not even knowing all that I was crying about, but this just sense of visceral pain finally getting some expression that was very much needed.

And I will say, that first year … I call it the year of firsts … you will continue to go through these grief cycles, because every birthday, every anniversary, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, all these different milestones, you realize, “Oh, there’s the empty chair at the table.” “Oh, that’s right. We would have done this if he or she had been there.” And so if … somebody told me, if I could get through the first year, that the only goal was to get through it, and it didn’t have to look pretty. And his words turned out to be absolutely right, ’cause that first year was terrible.

But, here I am, 20 years later. And I … Andi put her finger on it. I did a lot of grief work, and the way out of the pain is back through the pain. And I’m sure she can tell you a whole lot more about different kinds of grief therapy that somebody may want to consider.

It’s very difficult to describe, is I guess what I’m saying.

Kymberli Cook
Yeah. I have gone through some grief, as well. Nothing quite that deep, but I can understand that it is very much a … I would have to imagine it’s very much an individual kind of thing that you … everybody is feeling it a bit differently.

What … with that being said … Okay, so we’ve been emphasizing the individual, but I’d like to at least talk briefly about the idea of corporate grief, because during the pandemic, I think we have seen that, and that there have been some … there were some articles and that kind of thing coming out saying this is grief. Everybody is feeling grief. This is what happens when it’s a corporate grief. So Andi, would you mind talking about that a little bit. You referenced it just a tiny bit in, I think, earlier what you were saying. But can you just tell us a little bit maybe what corporate grief looks like? You could talk about whatever scale you would like, but what does that look like for people who are living together and all feeling lost at the same time?

Andi Thacker
Hmm. Yeah, we see that happen. So like in Bill’s family, his entire family system was grieving the loss of Nancy. So corporate grief happens all the time, actually. We just don’t always realize it. And it’s not always as broad a scale as what people are experiencing with the pandemic, since it’s a global pandemic. But we always grieve pretty corporately, because if something happens to one person in a family system, the impact of that ripples out and touches the entire family system.

One of the things that’s unique about corporate grieving on a really broad scale, like now, is that everyone is hurting to some degree, and suffering. And so a lot of our bandwidth is already spoken for, and it’s hard to find resources outside of yourself that aren’t already depleted. So what I mean by that is, when I work with a family that’s in grief for whatever reason, divorce, death, job transition where they’ve moved, whatever it is, usually we can find resources outside of the family to be supportive of each family member so that they’re not taxing the system. And if it’s …

I think the greatest grief that we experienced as a family is one of our nieces died several years ago. And my husband and I just didn’t have anything to give each other, because … in the sense of being supportive. We could be together, but it was just hard to support one another in the loss, because we were both experiencing such a profound loss. So we went outside of that. We talked to our counselor. We talked to our pastors.

And I think that’s what’s unique when we have corporate grief on a broad scale, is that the system is so weighed down by everybody feeling the weight of what’s going on. Also, we all grieve so differently that oftentimes we tend to judge each other when other people’s grief doesn’t look like what we perceive it should look like, or if it doesn’t look like us. That’s a lot of times why couples tend to get divorced after a kid dies, is because there’s this thought of, if you really loved whoever, you would grieve like I grieve. And everybody is so unique that everybody is gonna interface with grief a little bit differently. And so corporately, I think it’s so important to maintain that sense of empathy that this is so individual, and what you do looks different than what I do, and I need to honor that in you, that you may cry and want to talk and want to be surrounded by people, or you may be very private in your experience or your expression of grief, and that’s okay too.

Kymberli Cook
Joe, how would you help the people who are listening recognize when grief is unhealthy? From what we’ve been talking about, this is something everybody goes through, everybody loses things. It’s kind of a part of, at least, the fallen world that we live in. And so it’s not unhealthy to go through grief. But, is there a point, in your opinion and in your experience where it does turn unhealthy?
Joe Riegel
Let me answer that by saying this, that my own experience, five years ago I went through a cancer, a lymphoma cancer. And I went to a cancer hospital down in Houston, and it was known as the cancer hospital. I was assigned to a cancer floor. And it wasn’t long before I started to call myself a cancer patient. And then God intervened. He said, “Joe. You’re not a cancer patient. You are a person who has cancer.” And there’s a profound difference in what I just said. And in my experiences over at Clements and Baylor Hospital, I visit lots of people who forget who they are.

Death announcement, and feel like their whole world is over, their family members are impacted by that whole thing, and I have a chance to remind people … this is the unhealthy part … that nothing is different. You are still a person. You’re still a father or a mother or a sibling, grandparent. Those are the things that define you. It’s not your cancer. So the unhealthy part is when people forget who they are.

Kymberli Cook
Hmm. And they start to identify themselves solely by their grief. Am I hearing you correct?
Joe Riegel
Um-hmm.
Kymberli Cook
Andi or Bill, is there anything you’d like to add?
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. Absolutely. If I can put it this way, I think that part of the unhealth of the particularly Christians get into when we get involved with grief and loss is, if I could put it this way, self-inflicted. Years ago I had a pastor that I was doing some counseling with who happened to be a DTS grad, by the way. He said to me, on more than one occasion, “You know, as Christians, the hardest part of our faith is knowing what to do with our emotions.” And I’ve thought about that over and over over the years. And he’s absolutely right.

In the main, we don’t do feelings very well. We have all kinds of theological doctrine and truth, and it’s all true. It’s biblical. Right. And then feelings come. And, of course, feelings by their nature are irrational, which means they go beyond what reason knows what to do with them. For that reason they’re a little scary. And lots of … Andi can speak to this from the historical perspective better than any of us. Christians, over the centuries, have often done things that are … they’ve done things with emotions that are not at all healthy. So here we come, and grief comes along. And in a way, we’re not, as a people, trained very well with what to do with that messy stuff.

One of the great comforts of our faith, however, is that Jesus had emotions, and he showed them. And more importantly, God lets us express our feelings as raw, and as messy as they may be … we have plenty of evidence of that in the Psalms and elsewhere … and, in fact, as a kind father always does, invites us to come and tell daddy. Just let it out. And I remember many times, in prayer after Nancy died, I mean pretty raw emotions, and I’m beating the pillow, and I’m screaming, and I’m saying things, and it would never be stuff that I would want publicly disseminated, because people would think, A, I was crazy, and B, I was totally irreligious. And the answer is, I, the way I put it is, I went a little bit crazy to avoid going completely insane. And yeah, I did a lot of irreligious things, and that’s where grace comes in. God knows that I’m about to just go completely apart. And in His tenderness, He comes to us in our terrible feelings and says, “Look. I know how you’re feeling. I’m with you in this. And I know you want Me to just wave a wand and take it away. It doesn’t work that way. But I will walk with you through this pain, and together We’re gonna get you to a place of health.”

Kymberli Cook
Andi, is there anything that you … oh, go ahead, Joe.
Joe Riegel
At one time, I wasn’t sure whether Christians should grieve or not. Epaphroditus, that Epaphroditus was a close friend of close friend of his. He was almost died, and Paul said quote-unquote, that God had Epaphroditus and me also, I would have had grief upon grief. He was a pillar of the Christian church, and he know where Epaphroditus would have gone if he had died, but he still would have had grief. And that’s such a comfort to me to know that it’s okay for Christians to grieve. It’s okay.
Andi Thacker
Yeah, I love that. Just the permission to feel. And one of the themes I hear in this is that emotions are, they’re God given. I think a lot of times we want to say, we want to take scripture out of context and say things like “in your anger.” Or, “Don’t be sinful and be angry,” or whatever like that. And it’s, God gave us emotions. They’re not good, they’re bad. They just are, and they signal to us that there’s something about our experience that’s important to pay attention to. And I think it’s so great, what you said, Bill, about God is 100 percent okay with whatever you bring to Him.

There’s a saying that says, “Empathy is being able to sit in the dark with someone without having to turn the lights on.” And I think a lot of times, Christians are very quick to try to turn on the lights and say, “Well, you know at least he loved Jesus.” Or, “You lost your job, but at least you still got COBRA coverage for six months. And anything that starts with “at least,” is not empathic. And so just being able to sit with it and say, “This is really hard, and I’m so sorry.”

Kymberli Cook
Andi, is there anything that, when you are walking alongside someone who is in grief, or you, yourself are grieving, that you would say, as a professional counselor, “Hey. Yes. Absolutely feel grief. Find people, Lord willing, that can sit with you in the dark, and be with you. Caveat. If this starts happening, you might want to talk to somebody else.” What does that look like? What are those warning signs?
Andi Thacker
Yes. Anytime someone starts to have thoughts that they want to die, or that they want to hurt themselves. And I think there’s a fine line with that, because I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary necessarily, if you have someone who’s lost a loved one, to have that thought of, “[Sigh] I don’t want to go on without them.” But if it’s active thoughts of, “I want to kill myself,” that’s a different story. Or, if someone finds themselves using substances more frequently, or more intensely, that would be a good time seek help.

Also, if someone is having a hard time being gentle with themselves. That’s not as dangerous as having thoughts of wanting to kill yourself, but sometimes we’re just our worst enemy. And someone that … kinda like you said, Bill. You just gotta get through the first year, and it doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s a win if you can just get dressed today, and give yourself that freedom to say, “Today may be a train wreck. But if we live through it, that’s good.”

Kymberli Cook
Hmm. So turning our conversation to actually … So we’ve been talking about nature, what it is, whether or not we can prepare for it, and then what it actually feels like when you’re in the middle of it, and some warning signs to look out for, that kind of thing. So turning it to, okay, you’re faced with this beast that you’re gonna have to wrestle with, and I think I heard on a show one time … yes, this is my television counseling … but that you have to … I really liked it … and they said it’s essentially a monster that you have to wrestle with, and it wrestles with you. You’re not done until both of you are done. And you can’t let it go, and it’s not gonna let you go, kind of thing.

So, how … So then, if we’re facing this, how does the gospel impact that wrestle, that struggle, that … I don’t want to necessarily put it in battle terminology, ’cause I don’t think it’s something that’s won. I think, from what I’m hearing from you all, it’s something that you consistently have, and there’s always gonna be pin pricks, at least, as you go through the rest of your life. But how does the gospel impact how Christians grieve? Joe, do you want to start us out on that?

Joe Riegel
That’s a great question. Our perspective is different, as a Christian. We know that there’s more to life than what we’re experiencing. When, it was going to be. Whether I would survive the treatments when I had the cancer, get back to whatever normal is. But I felt like I was in a win/win situation in facing death like that, that if God was gracious and kind and compassionate and healed me that be awesome. If he chose not to, then I would have a … in my own case … a resurrected body to look forward to down the road, susceptible to cancer or COVID, or any other kind of illnesses. So that was a great comfort. I think that’s all I’ve got.
Bill Hendricks
Let me jump in.
Kymberli Cook
Bill, where you gonna … yeah.
Bill Hendricks
Yeah. That question immediately takes me to 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul describes, we grieve but not as those … I don’t want you to grieve as those who have no hope. And oftentimes we quickly move to the hope side of that, which is, of course, the gospel. But actually both sides of that equation are true. We grieve, but we also have hope. We do grieve. Let me be clear about that. The feelings of loss and grief and sadness are absolutely real. And we do ourselves no favors to pretend like they’re not there, to try to stuff them, to try to narcotize them, to try to run away from them through work, through jumping into some new relationship, all the different ways that people do that. No. We do grieve.

The gospel enters in and says, “Yeah, you’re gonna grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” What the gospel brings is hope. Well, what is that hope? Well our hope is that the grief is not the end of the story that in fact, as Romans 8 says, whatever we grieve here, it’s all out of proportion. The glory that will someday be revealed to us is all out of proportion to what these pangs are right now. That God is gonna settle all that, He’s gonna put that pain away, and He’s gonna give us something unbelievably better. And so, that doesn’t take away the pain right now, but it gives us something … If you have hope, it means, “Okay. I think I can make it to that point, ’cause I got something to go toward.”

But think about the people that have no hope. Think about the people, for instance, who … they lose a job, and they don’t have God. They lose a child, and they don’t have God. They lose a dream, and they don’t have God. And they’re just like, “That’s it? That’s all that I’ve got?” And that’s a terrible place to be. That is a terrible place to be. Joe, I got a whole new appreciation for chaplains when my wife was dying in the hospital. And she had a lot of friends, and people were bringing flowers and Bible verses and prayers. We had to finally almost hand out tickets, there were so many people wanting to get in the room to say bye to Nancy.

But I’d walked the corridors while she was sleeping or whatever, and I found out they put her on the floor where they send the people that are terminal. And room after room, I’m going by, and I realize that these people are at the end of their days. Most of them had nobody visiting them except for the medical personnel and the chaplains.

But think about that. Imagine coming to the end of your days, and you know you’re dying, and you don’t know what’s on the other side, and you don’t have God, and you don’t have anybody there. I can’t think of anything more horrible. Whereas to realize, “I’ve lost this person or this job or this dream, or whatever that loss is, and it really hurts. I’m so glad that I’ve got God. I’m so glad that He’s given me this picture of what it’s gonna be like that I can hang onto during this really tough time. That’ll keep me going. As long as I got hope, I can keep going.

Kymberli Cook
Andi, do you have any thoughts on how the gospel particularly impacts grief?
Andi Thacker
Um-hmm. I think it gives us meaning. And without meaning and without purpose, we will wither, and psychologically kind of die. I think it gives us meaning, that it’s not thinking about Ecclesiastes and what Solomon wrote about. But it’s not all … this is not the end. This is not all there is.
Bill Hendricks
Well, then you referenced Ecclesiastes. And I mentioned the house of mourning, and that’s where it’s from. But that passage says it’s better to go to the house of mourning then the house of feasting. Well why? Because there’s wisdom in the house of mourning. And I can testify to that. With all the pain and challenges that the last 20 years have thrown me … and by the way, the grief doesn’t go away. It just reappears in new forms. Grief is not linear. That whole seven stages of grief, that’s a whole … I don’t want to say a myth … but it doesn’t apply to people that have lost somebody. That grief is more cyclical. It comes back on you.

And here I am, 20 years later. I’m finding out how grief works in new ways that I hadn’t even seen before. And yet, with each of those, there’s a new bit of wisdom that comes from that. Its like, “Huh. This is how life works. Hadn’t seen that. Hadn’t realized that.” It certainly makes one more compassionate toward people that are in tough straits and less judgmental for people that are struggling. There’s so many, if I could put it this way, if you let it, there’s so many positives that grief can give you. But again, that’s if you’ve got the gospel. If you’ve got the Holy Spirit talking into your ear, as it were, through scripture saying, “Pay attention. This is what I was trying to teach you through this experience.”

Kymberli Cook
So we have just a couple minutes left. And, as it relates to addressing grief, which is what we’re talking about even now, and particularly addressing it as Christians, but in closing statements, what would you, each one of you, say that people should know? What’s just one thing people should know as they address grief, or as they turn to address grief, or to recognize it? So, Andi, let’s start with you.
Andi Thacker
So one of the number one questions I get from most of my students is how long is too long to grieve? And Bill has already referenced this with the house of mourning. Grief never ends. It just looks different as you walk through it. So there is no expiration date, that if I put in five years of sadness, at the end of five years, alright, let’s get back to life. It is a lifelong process that will unfold, because whatever is important that’s been lost, it impacts you for the rest of your days, in that whatever it is is no longer present.
Kymberli Cook
Joe, what would you say people need to know about addressing grief?
Joe Riegel
Two things. One, remember who you are. Remember whose you are. Now you are still a child of God and you belong to Him. And that your grief will be unique, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if grieve. And just allow yourself to go through, endure it. And I would say one thing about what Jesus did on the cross. That was probably the most agonizing thing that’s unimaginable from our point of view. Now at one time He said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” And at that time he was separated from. It was the joy set before Him that He was able to endure the cross when He would again be seated at the right hand of God. And it may be difficult to plan where you are, but make plans for what you’ll be doing after you get through the grief, whether it’s joy or hope or … For my case, it was to see the breath of my first grandchild got me through my chemotherapy.
Kymberli Cook
Bill, what would you say?
Bill Hendricks
My temptation is just say, “Yeah. What they said,” ’cause I agree with everything Joe and Andi have said. Maybe a different way to say it is, your life is a story, and God has allowed something to happen that’s brought loss and grief into that story. God Himself is in your story. And so, what you’re challenge, your project, task, whatever word you want to put on it, is to write the grief into the story. Incorporate it into the story. Don’t try to reject it as something that you don’t have to deal with, or shouldn’t have to deal with. It’s there as part of the wonderful tapestry that God is weaving in your life. And believe it or not, you can find Him in the grief, and as Andi said, a lot of meaning in the grief. But you have to be intentional, I think, about not trying to push the grief away, but instead seeing it as yet another part of this amazing story that God is putting together as He takes you through your life.
Kymberli Cook
Well thank you guys so much for joining us today. It has been really fascinating learning about what grief is, but it’s … at the most simple definition, the loss of something, what it feels like, and that’s particularly individual, but we can also experience it corporately and some warnings when it can turn unhealthy. But definitely Joe’s point that one sign that grief is maybe taking an unhealthy turn is when we start to see ourselves only as a griever, and we no longer recognize our personhood and who we are in a variety of other roles, particularly as a child of the King, when we’re believers. And that as we turn to address grief, like Bill just said, we … our goal should be to weave it into our understanding of God’s redemptive work in our life, and to not reject it necessarily, but we don’t allow it … but we have the privilege, as believers, to not allow it to just dump us in a pit of despair, really. And we have the ability for it to be redeemed.

So, I just want to thank you guys so much for joining us. Bill, Andi, Joe, you guys were great … not hosts … you guys were great guests. And we just want to thank all of you who are listening, and thank you for your time, and we hope that this is helpful, and we hope that you join us next time as we discuss issues of God and culture.

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Andi Thacker
Dr. Andi Thacker is an assistant professor of biblical counseling at DTS. She is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist. She is married to Chad and they have 3 kids, Emerson, Will, and Webb.
Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Joe Riegel
Joe Riegel is a volunteer hospital chaplain, serving at both William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital and Baylor University Medical Center. He holds a Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a former Marketing Director at Interstate Batteries.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
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