How do you cope when someone close to you dies? What do you do after the memorial service? We want to share a few thoughts with you on this subject during this special time of the year when we celebrate All Saints Day.

Healthy grieving includes accepting your new reality, letting yourself feel all the emotions and not avoiding the pain of grief, seeking support from others, and growing deeper in your faith (my personal favorite). We have grief support groups here at HPUMC that do an excellent job of helping people walk through the difficult time of bereavement from a Christian perspective, and I am privileged to facilitate a few of those groups.

The truth about Christian Grief Support Groups.

People sometimes ask me: Doesn't attending a grief support group mean you're just wallowing in your grief? Actually, it's quite the opposite: A good grief support group has the goal of helping people avoid getting stuck in unresolved pain, which can have many harmful physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences. Our groups at HPUMC help people go through bereavement in the healthiest way possible because even though the loss of someone close to you may changeyour life, it doesn’t have to ruin it.

I have witnessed many times that those who commit to a healthy grief support group and do the hard work of engaging in mourning can heal and move forward into the future with hope. In fact, many of us discover deeper parts of ourselves and closer relationships with God after a period of grief—believe it or not, we can even thrive!

I learned something interesting in my Grief class in seminary. Although Sigmund Freud is the person considered to have developed the first theoretical model of grief, he found his own model inadequate to help him when his daughter Sophie died. Similarly, most people have heard about the “stages” of grief, another popular theory, in which a person goes through the five stages of shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But this theory, like Freud’s, has also not held up well in practice. This does not surprise me since the stage theory came from a 1969 study by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of terminally ill persons; Kubler-Ross herself emphasized that it was never intended for anything else.

Unfortunately, as so many of us have learned the hard way, grief is not a predictable or linear process, as much as we would like for it to be.

So what is the best model for healthy grief?

My favorite theory of grief which has helped me personally is called the "continuing bonds" theory (originated by Dennis Klass et al. in 1997). Continuing bonds theory challenges previous theories that concentrate on “breaking bonds” with the deceased. Instead, continuing bonds theory says the bereaved do not need to forget and leave their loved ones behind as they go on with their lives; rather, they can integrate their loved ones into their future lives by sustaining a relationship based on memories.

I believe continuing bonds theory is perfect for Christians in particular since we believe our loved ones’ lives go on—in fact, even that we are going to see them again one day! As the Apostle Paul puts it, "We grieve, but not as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). So why would we as Christians ever want to sever the bonds to—or somehow forget—these important relationships in our lives?

Looking through a continuing bonds lens allows bereavement to be more like dealing with a long separation than a complete break in the relationship. As one of our widows in GriefShare put it, “Before he died, my husband used to take trips to remote parts of the world where he was out of cell phone contact for weeks at a time. I tell myself now during my loneliest moments that he’s just not able to contact me right now, as it was when he was out of the country. That helps.”

Similarly, those relying on the Christian hope of eternal life (as with continuing bonds theory) are comforted with focusing on our loved ones in heaven as being just temporarily separated from us.

Creative ways to keep your loved one’s memory alive.

In our grief support groups at HPUMC, people are encouraged to keep memories alive as part of healthy grief. This is a mindset grieving people can embrace. For instance, here are some creative ways of remembering loved ones which I have witnessed:

  • A young mom whose father died regretted her son was a baby and would never know his grandfather. She was an artist, so she painted a mural in her son’s room of the whole family—including grandpa, on a bench. She uses the picture to tell her son stories about his grandfather, and the toddler even greets the grandfather he never knew in life (and talks to him!) just as he does the living members of the family in the mural.
  • A widow who lost her husband had his many T-shirts made into quilts for their daughters. They feel their father’s comfort and protection living on through these mementos.
  • A mom who lost a child wears a heart-shaped necklace close to the heart containing a pinch of her son's ashes.
  • A daughter wears a necklace with her father’s fingerprint on it.
  • Several widows I have known wear their husband’s wedding rings on chains.
  • A father got a tattoo of a painting his son had done.
  • A family goes to their son and brother’s favorite Mexican restaurant every year on his birthday.
  • I sometimes put presents under the Christmas tree from deceased relatives. For example, one year I gave both my adult sons stuffed tigers “from Grandpa” because they had often admired the stuffed tigers my dad kept on his bed—which had gone to younger grandchildren.
  • At our Service of the Longest Night at HPUMC, we light candles in honor of those we are missing at Christmastime and take them home to burn during the holidays.

The important thing to remember is that anything you do in your loved one’s honor helps with healing. Other ideas for keeping a loved one’s memory alive include:

  • Creating a memorial fund or scholarship
  • Planting a memorial garden
  • Dedicating a bench in a park
  • Making memory books (many use online services such as Snapfish)
  • Sewing stuffed animals from clothing items
  • Keeping fresh flowers by the loved one’s picture
  • Writing songs, poems, or stories about the loved one’s life
  • Having a balloon release (writing messages to the loved one on the balloons)
  • Creating an online tribute
  • Sponsoring a child, animal, or portion of highway in the loved one’s name
  • Working to prevent the type of illness that caused the loved one’s death
  • Volunteering for the loved one’s favorite charity in their honor

Finding personal ways to keep memories alive is an important part of healthy grieving immediately after a death, but it also helps sustain us as we heal and go through our lives. In the life of the church, we have an opportunity to do this type of remembering every year with our All Saints Memorial Service.

If you’re not familiar with All Saints Day, you might ask, “Do United Methodists believe in Saints?” Yes, we do; just not in the same ways the Catholic Church does. We don’t elect people to sainthood or pray to the saints. However: “We recognize Matthew, Paul, John, Luke and other early followers of Jesus as saints, and countless numbers of United Methodist churches are named after these saints” (, “What We Believe”). The "communion of the saints" we celebrate during Holy Communion includes all living believers and all who have gone before us.

Hebrews 12 reminds us that these saints, a “great cloud of witnesses,” surrounds us and cheers us on. I hope you will, especially if you are in the midst of your own healthy grieving, remember and honor the saints in your life as we celebrate All Saints Day the first Sunday in November.