From Mourning to Morning: Coaching through Grief and Loss

From Mourning to Morning: Coaching through Grief and Loss

by Eric Scalise, PhD on September 5th, 2022

The phone call on a Sunday morning between church services was a bit unusual, but I could hear the distress in my friend’s voice. “Can you please come to the funeral home right away? We need to talk with you.” I rushed out of the church and as I drove, my mind was racing as I tried to decipher his words, wondering what had happened. After pulling into the parking lot, I walked quickly into a small chapel and saw the couple sitting in the front pew. They were clutching each other, their eyes red with tears. My face begged the question and the reply was heart wrenching. Jenny, their precious newborn daughter had just died of SIDS. It was Mother’s Day.

A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his/her parents is called an orphan. However, there is no word for a parent who loses a child – in fact, there is usually a loss of words. I am comforted by the reality that God, the Father, knows what it feels like to lose a Son. Grief can only be experienced when there has been the loss of an intimate relationship with a person or some other object of concern and/or affection. It is an active, intentional, decision to face the pain of the loss. Grief is a normal response that often includes feelings of intense sorrow, anger, loneliness, depression, and possible physical symptoms. More often than not, it takes enormous courage and resolve to work “through” rather than merely attempting to work “out of” the process. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary who almost single-handedly opened up China to the gospel, lost his beloved wife to cholera a week after she gave birth to their son, who also died. In his, anguish, Taylor refused to eat or even leave the gravesite for days as he wrestled within himself and with his God.

Rarely are there easy answers to events that seem so inherently tragic and untimely. Rape, suicide, murder, abduction, children with cancer, sexual abuse, the death of a spouse, divorce, natural disasters, a mastectomy, sudden income loss . . . the list is endless, the pain is often crushing, sleep becomes fitful, and questions constantly intrude into our waking moments. The most human of all questions is simply, “Why?” Why me? Why us? Why this? Why now? Unfortunately, it is difficult to find answers to these questions, much less answers that offer a measure of satisfaction or relief. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that Jesus Himself cried out in great pain at Golgotha, pleading with His Father to answer a why question, only to be met with apparent silence. Scripture describes our suffering Messiah as a man of sorrows and One who is acquainted with grief (Is. 53:3).

A crisis leading to grief can be real (an unexpected death), anticipated (notification of a pending layoff at work), or imagined (a psychotic break), but under any of these conditions, the potential impact is essentially the same. While grief, loss, and suffering are universal, how a person approaches them is often individual and unique. C.S. Lewis in his book, The Problem with Pain, wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (p. 91). In times such as these, God has so ordained His body, the church, to provide a healing community for those whose burdens are too much to bear alone. The prevalence of grief and loss issues that are often associated with everyday life, represent a significant priority for most people helpers. As life coaches, these are wonderful opportunities to see the pieces of a broken world slowly knit back together again into a tapestry that proclaims God’s restorative compassion and care.

The dark night of the soul can be overwhelming at times and consume our will to survive the emotional storm. I have had clients who will describe their grief and pain as feeling chained within the confines of a dungeon and being engulfed by the darkness. It is in that lonely and isolated place that a spirit of fear can gain a strong foothold in a person’s life and do so with devastating effects. Whether it is a fear of what lays ahead, the fear of changes that may come as the result of the loss or the fear of the unknown, one common denominator seems to be oriented towards a secondary loss . . . the loss of control.

Here is my definition of fear: it is the darkroom that develops all our negatives. In other words, fear is usually a dark place where negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors give rise to destructive forces in a person’s life. There is only one thing I know of that can stop a developing photograph in its tracks . . . light! This is because light penetrates and darkness does not. As life coaches, it is critical that we carefully and genuinely bring the light of God’s Word into the lives of those we serve. Indeed, it is a, “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps. 119:105). When the Lord illuminates areas of the heart, it’s almost never to condemn the person or give them a greater burden of guilt or shame to carry around. It usually means He is getting ready to perform divine surgery and this is for a healing or restorative purpose. Everything becomes visible when exposed to the light (Eph. 5:13). Otherwise, the darkness causes fear to grow. It’s only a monster under the bed until the light is turned on. When the light of God’s Word or Spirit pierces the dark areas of the heart and mind, fears are often rooted out along with the negative thought patterns and behaviors that are associated with them.

We grieve because we love and oftentimes, love hurts. The words of the psalmist bring comfort to many who likewise have proclaimed that even though, “weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning” (30:5).  Likewise, we have an encouraging hope from the words of Jeremiah: “For I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow” (31:13).

Eric Scalise, PhD, LPC, LMFT, currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart, an international Christian counseling ministry offering biblical hope and practical help. He is also the President of LIV Consulting, LLC, the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 42 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health, higher education, and organizational consulting fields, as well as having served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. He is a published author (Addictions and Recovery Counseling and Lay Counseling: Equipping Christians for a Helping Ministry), adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues. As the son of a diplomat, Dr. Scalise was born in Nicosia, Cyprus, and has also lived and traveled extensively around the world. He and his wife Donna have been married for 41 years, have twin sons who are combat veterans serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, and four grandchildren.

Eric Scalise, PhD, currently serves as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) with Hope for the Heart. He is also the President of LIV Consulting, LLC, the former Senior Vice President for the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and former Department Chair for Counseling Programs at Regent University. Dr. Scalise is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 42 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field, and he served six years on the Virginia Board of Counseling under two governors. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, grief and loss, addictions and recovery, leadership development, and lay counselor training. He is a published author, adjunct professor at several Christian universities, conference speaker, and frequently works with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.

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