Grief and Depression: The 6 T’s of Moving Through Grief

One of the most moving scenes in musical “The Man from La Mancha” came as Don Quixote dying was roused by his lady Dulcinea to hear the words of the song, The Impossible Dream again.
“Tell me the words,” he asks.
“But they are your words, my Lord,” she responds.
He remembers then and sings the magnificent song that embodied his dream.

For years at funerals and during times of loss and grief, I have shared with those who are in the midst of their mourning these special blessings God gives us to cope with our sorrow and pain. They are Tears, Talk, Touch, Toil, Trust, and Thanksgiving. In my heartbreaks, my own words of comfort return to me as a benediction of grace. It was as if I heard an owl say, They are your own words, Philip. Listen to them.

Thank God I was able to embrace and allow my tears to flow during these times. Talk became an outlet and way of trying to understand what God wanted for me in these crises. Touch became so real as my loved ones and friends hugged and comforted me. Toil became an escape from the pain, as I threw myself into work and writing. Trust began to envelop me as I was enveloped by love and care. Finally, Thanksgiving for the whole wrenching experiences became real for me as I rejoiced in the healing and compassionate way those I trusted treated me. All the same six T’s helped me as they can help anyone in grief.

Once when I was giving a talk on these six T’s, I asked for any more words the group could think of. One man laughed and joked, Why not Tylenol, tacos and tequila? This was good for a hearty laugh all around. In fact, it is commonplace to see well-meaning clergy; physicians, relatives or friends urge a grieving person to fall back on sedatives, tranquilizers or sleeping pills.

However, I am so glad I did not dull my senses with painkillers, comfort myself with food or immerse myself in alcohol. Grief is a natural experience, and when we deaden ourselves with food or mind-altering substances, we cheat ourselves of the richness and healing that can come through immersion in the grieving process. The way out of grief is through it not around it. How much better, as we grieve, to rely upon the natural gifts of God and the promise that his gracious healing will come.

However, as we look for God’s comfort in each sob, in our speaking, in each passing second, in every supportive squeeze, in the new trust that the sun will shine again and finally in thankful satisfaction that accepts all the pain, we are getting well and back into well being. When personal pain is offered to God’s honor and love, saving health is the invariable outcome. The early Christians considered it an honor to suffer for Christ. One of my mentors called such moments our cross time and should be expected if we love the Lord. Living in such saving health is where I am today and I look forward to more blessings in whatever circumstances I am found.

Grief and Depression

I hasten to add that grief is not necessarily depression, although mourning a loss is a depressing experience. As a counselor who has ministered to both grief and depression, including my own, I can add some insights.

Every normal person experiences loss and grief. Not everyone has clinical depression, which is an illness, an affective disorder affecting our feelings. Grief is a reaction to events, people and things that are usually obvious. The losses of a job, friend, relative, place or position are disappointments that make sense and connect to reality. We can put our finger on those things.

Depression may not make any sense at all and come upon the afflicted person for no good reason at all, when everything that is obvious is rosy. Most grief is an intense response to a well-known phenomenon, such as death and major loss. Depression can overshadow a person with grayness, lack of desire to live, pessimism, deep sadness, loss of appetite and energy, no interest in usual pleasures and routines, incessant crying or none at all, confusion, over-eating and more often than we know despair, that leads to suicide attempts and suicide.

Although the grieving person may feel any or all of the above, grief does not last forever. Although depression is treatable and beatable, many depressed persons may never feel normal or ever know what normal happiness is. A grieving person usually finds joy again, although it may take a year or two.

Whereas medication is only a temporary relief for the initial stage of grieving, a physician’s skillful prescriptions and counsel can give necessary and long-lasting help to the depressed.

My depression, as most depressed persons, is linked to a chemical imbalance that we are prone to, in good times and bad. The bad times may make depression worse or even set it off. However, only a skilled psychiatrist can sort out the real clinical differences between grief and depression. I knew I was depressed and in grief. Someone else may not know.

I would recommend anyone who is sad, down and despairing about anything or anyone to see both a psychiatrist and a spiritual counselor. Neither condition is one to tough out alone. No one is ever hurt by good and godly counsel, whether from science or religion. They have gone hand-in-hand in my life.

In fact, though different in diagnosis, both grief and depression can be helped by the six T’s. Tears, talking, touching, toiling, trusting and thanking can be responses and processes that never hurt, but in depression’s case, they may not be enough and only a proficient psychiatrist or counselor can help heal the illness in depression.