Friday, April 01, 2011

Losing a Church: The 5 Stages of Grief

In an effort to come to a place of personal healing and also to share with you the experience of having our church close down, I'm working on a bit of a series of blog posts.  Today I'm going to be focusing on the 5 Stages of Grief and how those relate to the loss of a church.

Just to give some brief background, the 5 Stages of Grief are commonly known as Shock or Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  When experiencing a loss, everyone goes through those stages to varying degrees, although it doesn't always happen in a straight line.  What often occurs while grieving is that one travels back and forth through the stages, being first in one stage, then another, sometimes being in more than one stage at a time, and not always in the order they're listed here.  There is also no set time limit for how long one might be experiencing these stages of grief.  Some people might take a very short time; others might have a longer struggle with it.  The important thing is that eventually, in order to come to healing, one must reach the final stage of acceptance.

I think it's safe to say that I have been through the first stage of Shock/Denial.  What this looked like for me: the day before the official announcement was made in church that our Board was recommending that we end our ministry, I was visited by a Board member at home who broke the news to me in advance; this happened because I am technically an employee of the church, and as such, this decision has the added implication of my job ending.  I spent the rest of that day and the next feeling a bit numb.  And then I ignored it.  I went on with my life.  The decision hadn't been formalized yet as the church still needed to vote on it to make it official.  I think that was the denial part of it.

I moved onto the Anger stage for a while.  I focused on and struggled with feelings of extreme frustration and anger at how it seemed as if this decision was coming completely out of the blue for myself and the other members of the church. I didn't understand how it hadn't been more clear to me that our church was having issues that went this deep.

I think the Bargaining stage also came into play a little bit while I was dealing with that Anger.  This came out as questions of "What if" things had been done differently, "what if" people had been given a chance to talk more about the vision of the church, "what if" I had done more to help earlier on, "what if...what if...what if..."  It is very easy to get stuck in this stage until you get so wound up in asking "what if" that you find yourself back at the Anger stage over all the what if's that never happened.

Once the official decision was announced in church following the vote, there was a brief moment of Shock, with some disbelief thrown in, before the Depression hit.  I could go into long descriptions of what this stage could look like, but that would take forever, so for the purposes of this post, let's just say that for me, it involved tears and sadness, and throughout this past week has taken on the form of feeling very melancholy and down about the situation, mixed with an inability to focus on little else.  Given my past struggles with depression on its own, it has been slightly frustrating to be back at this again, even though the circumstances are vastly different.

This past week has been filled with various moments spent in all these first four stages of grief.  There have been moments still of Shock and disbelief, often feeling a numbness that it can't possibly be real.  There have been moments of Anger over how it has all taken place, and of course, the Bargaining and what ifs to go along with it.  There have been the moments of Depression, looking back at what was while going through photos to put together a slideshow presentation, wishing it didn't have to be this way.

And so we come to Acceptance.  I would be lying if I didn't say that this stage has come into play as well over the past weeks, at least in part.  God has been gracious and faithful to bring me into a place in my relationship with Him where I am able to trust that through it all, this decision is His will.  I question His timing now and then, and the way that it has come about, but I have actually not had that many moments of questioning the actual decision.  I know that the only way to come to complete healing is to be fully in the place of Acceptance, and for that I am looking to God.  Daily I wrestle with Him about how to feel this grief, and process it, and move through it to come to healing and Acceptance.  I know that He will carry me through, and I know that at some point, the grief will move on.

And I'm sure at some point, forgiveness is going to play a part here.  But more on that in a future post...

1 comment:

AK said...

Why oh why did you have to make me think....Not sure I will be sleeping much tonight now ;) Apparently I have a little further to go to get to acceptance than I would have thought.

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