All Our Losses, All Our Griefs

by Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson [1]

Grief and Loss Weekly Reflection Paper

David Tillman – September 19, 2013
United Theological Seminary, New Brighton, MN 55112
Class: Pastoral Care in Grief and Loss, taught by Dr. Trina Armstrong

Key issues:

“This is a book about loss: how serious personal losses take place, why we react to loss as we do, how many important forms of loss goes unnoticed, how we can recover from the impact of loss, and how we can help others to recover from loss” (Forward).

  1. “Grief is a normal emotional response to significant loss” (p. 18).
  2. “The genesis of grief lies in the inevitability of both attachment and separation for the sustenance and development of human life” (p. 20).
  3. How we experience death of those we love early in life “plays a large part in the sense of loss attached to the foreknowledge of our own death” (p. 35).
  4. Types of loss:
    1. “Material Loss is the loss of a physical object or of familiar surroundings to which one has an important attachment” (26).
    2. “Relationship loss is the ending of opportunities to relate oneself with, talk to, share experiences with, make love to, touch, settle issues with, fight with, and otherwise be in the emotional and/or physical presence of a particular other human being” (37-38).
    3. “Intrapsychic loss is the experience of losing an emotionally important image of oneself, losing the possibilities of ‘what might have been,’ abandonment of plans for a particular future, the dying of a dream” (40).
    4. Functional loss, loss of “some muscular or neurological functions of the body” (41).
    5. Roll loss, “the loss of a specific role or of one’s accustomed place in a social network” (42).
    6. “Systematic loss, when on counts on a personal relationship system (home or job) that changes (44-45). Going to college, losing a job, finishing school.
    7. Other losses: 1) avoidable and unavoidable, 2) temporary and permanent, 3) actual and imagined, 4) anticipated and unanticipated, 5) leaving and being left (46-51).
  5. “Grief is the normal but bewildering cluster of ordinary human emotions arising in response to a significant loss, intensified and complicated by the relationship to the person or the object loss” (54).
  6. Sources for the feeling associated with grief: 1) Contemplation of the loss itself, 2) Contemplation of the future without the lost object, 3) Contemplation of the unexpected experience of grief itself. (61)
  7. Grief emotion clusters: 1) numbness, emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 2) fear and anxiety, 3) guilt and shame, 4) anger and 5) sadness and despair (61).
  8. Uniqueness of grief: 1) intensity of attachment, 2) complexity of attachment (82-83).
  9. Characteristics of grieving: 1) Searching for the lost object, 2) immoderation (excessive), 3) is spiral not linear, 4) time distortion, 5) is self-orientated, 6) never wholly ends (86-95).
  10. Goals of grieving: “process in which our attachments to the lost person or object are not entirely given up, but are sufficiently altered to permit the grieving person to admit the reality of the loss and them to live without constant reference to it” (96).
  11. Impediments to grieving: 1) intolerance to pain, 2) need for control, 3) lack of external encouragement (97-99).
  12. Pastoral responses – modes of helping. 1) intervention and relief, 2) support for the recognition and rehearsal of feelings (listening, empathy, lending strength, danger of premature support), 3) insistent encouragement: the need to remember (initiating and enhancing remembering), 4) reintegration (“gratitude makes remembering possible; remembering makes hoping possible.” (132)) – reintegration and significant community.
  13. Public ministries to those who grieve: 1) worship, 2) rituals of ending, 3) funeral, 4) ritualizing remembering, 5) a ritual of ending exists for the mourners (138 – 148).
  14. Preaching: 1) Maintenance of realism: a) The facts of loss (recognition), b) Biblical realism about loss, c) the theodicy problem (“minister should not preach about at time of loss, when grief is acute” (155), 2) give permission to feel, 3) proclamation of the Gospel (“The essential gospel promise is we are never separated from the love of God” (159), (153-160).
  15. Toward a theology of grieving: 1) creation and finitude, 2) love and the breath of grief, 3) caring and hope (163-165). “We are free to live and love and learn in the confidence that the God who ordained the boundaries of life will accept our finite completeness” (173).      

How has the reading affected your understanding of grief and loss? I have a much better understanding of the different types of loss, and sources, uniqueness, characteristics and goals of grieving. I found it helpful to read about what the minister can do to help in the grieving process.

How will you apply what you have learned in your ministry setting: My best friend’s mother died a few weeks ago of Alzheimer’s and old age (age 97). In our reading I learned about the importance of sharing the memories of the deceased with others in a grieving/healing process. When we met last Saturday for breakfast I asked him to tell us memories/stories of his mother. It was interesting as he shared stories of his mother; he also told many stories of his father who had died of a heart attack almost forty years earlier. I had not heard him talk about his father like that before.  


[1] Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs – Resources for Pastoral Care, (The Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1983).