Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4


By God’s grace, the Prayer Team numbers over 4,000 people today and many thousands more read these messages on various platforms. I thank God and I thank you for that. Based on the law of averages, every year, people who are on the Prayer Team pass away. Probably at least 50 of them. There are probably at least a couple hundred people on the Prayer Team who have lost someone close to them this year. I know several people who lost someone this week. While writing about breathing, I thought it was important to write something to those who have felt the sting of death and are having a hard time breathing as a result.


In American culture, we are getting so caught up in “celebrations of life,” that it’s almost not okay to grieve. A look at the “always looking good” personas that everyone seems to display on social media makes us feel as if it’s not safe to grieve. People from other countries, particularly places like Greece or the Middle East, think we have to be stoic in the face of loss, that tears are a sign of weakness. And then there are some people who put on black for the rest of their lives and become full-time mourners. It seems that very few of us are doing this right, or maybe we just don’t know how to.


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a best-selling book called “On Death and Dying” where she proposed five stages of grief as a pattern of coping after a loss—denial, anger, bargaining, depressing and acceptance. In my many years of ministry, I’ve seen people go through these five stages. There is no set time for each stage, but there are definitely stages. No one who is honest is going to lose a loved one and two days later be at the “acceptance” stage. Most likely they will still be in the denial/shock stage, feeling like their parent or grandparent is going to be home from the hospital any day now. A funeral is a formal service of mourning but many family members are in a daze at the funeral. Because between the time of death and funeral, there is lots of “business” to do—people come and visit, there are lots of distractions, even good ones, as people tell stories, laugh and reminisce. Most people who aren’t immediate family begin with their healing at the funeral. However, for the close family, the days that follow the funeral are even more difficult. Why? Because somehow life goes on for everyone else but it’s a new reality for the ones who are the closest to the loss.


Here are some practical ideas for someone who has lost a loved one. First, there really is no right way to grieve. There are some wrong ones though—self-medicating with alcohol or drugs is not really good. Taking medication to “take the edge off” might work for a couple of days but the reality is you need to grieve. If a person needs to cry 100 times, as an example, just because you self-medicate for a week doesn’t cut off a week of grieving. It just delays the 100 cries.


Unfortunately, life doesn’t wait for us to grieve. It goes on. People have to go back to work, kids need to go to school, there are meals to cook, sports practices to get the kids to, etc. It’s important that you keep at least some semblance of a schedule. Write down the tasks that absolutely need to be done on a given day and make sure you do them. Then you can shut down and grieve. But don’t grieve all day. Work a few half-days and then grieve in the afternoon. Work a little more each day and then grieve. There will always be time to grieve and the grief will be there when the work is over. Talk about your loved one and talk about how you feel about their loss. Whether you do it with a priest, a therapist or a friend. Keep talking.


For those who are around people who have lost someone, keep showing up. You don’t need to bring answers. There aren’t necessarily any. But you can bring a presence—you can bring love, understanding, and even the presence of Christ—just by showing up. Reassure your friends who have lost someone that the clock isn’t going to expire on them being able to talk about their lost relative or friend. Make sure you check in with them on holidays and birthdays for the first year.


I have said it through the first two reflections of this week and I’ll say it again here. It is really important that we breathe. Biologically, we breathe all the time, whether we want to or not, whether we are happy or in grief. Our body doesn’t cease its need for breathing just because we have experienced a trauma. So make sure that you breathe—take deep breaths. Think happy thoughts of your loved one as you breathe. Offer a prayer to God in memory of your loved one, and for your own strength, as you breathe. When you feel overwhelmed with sorry, when the tears come, make sure you take deep breaths. Let the tears come, just keep your breathing under control.


We know what people die—it’s as a result of the Fall. We also know that dying is necessary in order to reach heaven. The goal of every life should be to die and enter into everlasting life. Imagine being stuck at ANY stage of life forever, even a good stage. Imagine if college never ended—you’d never have a career. Imagine if you dated forever—you’d never married. Imagine if a pregnancy never ended—you’d never have a baby. Or work forever and never retire. Or be sick forever and never die. In some sense, death is God’s greatest gift to us, because it ends sorrow and suffering and opens the door to a greater life—life in heaven.


Death is also life’s greatest mystery—we can comprehend losses most of the time because every loss is temporary. You can lose a job and get another one. You can have a day at the beach rained out and go again. But when a person dies, there is no coming back, there is not another them. That’s why this is so hard. Again, breathe. And if you know someone who has suffered loss, make sure you encourage them to breathe, even breathe with them.


Lord, please be with the many people on the Prayer Team who are in grief today, people like Yasmine, Maria, Yiorgos, and Triantafilia and their family, who lost someone this week, and anyone else on the Prayer Team who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Give all of them the ability to breathe, the strength to walk, the focus to be productive, the safety to cry, the courage to breathe, the friends to listen, the healing for a broken heart. And for those of us who know people who have lost someone, help us to be good listeners, give us the desire to be present, helps us to lend our shoulders to cry on, help us to be good friends. For You are the Resurrection, the life and the repose of Your servants, those who have fallen asleep in faith, and You are the comfort and protector of those who are left behind, and to You we give glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.


Keep breathing!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here: https://amzn.to/3nVPY5M


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