So many of us at one time or another suffer from some form of mental illness. The percentages might not be sizable, but we all know someone who has struggled, if not even ourselves. But there’s one mental health struggle that affects 100% of the population: grief that comes from loss.
So if there’s one mental health challenge you should learn more about, whether to help yourself or someone close to you, grief is the one.
That’s one of the reasons why Lake Drive Books is publishing Kate Meyer’s Faith Doesn’t Erase Grief: Embracing the Experience and Finding Hope. Not only is it a good book to help you navigate grief, it begins with the premise that, surprisingly, our religious backgrounds often make us ill prepared if not in outright denial (more than is normal) when grief comes.
Kate Meyer works every day with people experiencing grief, and just listening to her you’ll grow in your understanding of something that is a central part of our emotional journeys as humans. Even from this short conversation below you’ll glean some good insights, but I hope you’ll also check out her book.
Kate, tell us briefly what you do and how you got here.
I like to tell people that I live in Michigan, but I am from and forever will be from Wisconsin. I came into being an author through my career as a healthcare chaplain. After that, I went into private practice after getting my professional license in counseling. And that eventually evolved into a full-time combination job in hospice, where I get to work with people as their chaplain, and then I work with another set of clients as their bereavement counselor.
What is it like being a bereavement counselor? It sounds challenging.
Yeah, it can be. When I was first in private practice, I had a variety of clients, so I wasn’t as worried about burning out. When I got into bereavement counseling, though, I really started to think about protecting myself because this can be heavy work. I put my own counselor hat on for a second and thought about what I need to do to decompress, and to make sure I don’t bring my clients home with me, so I have a few routines.
I’ve got an inner circle of people that I can contact at the drop of a hat to just talk about anything. Another thing, honestly, is that fiction reading is huge for me. I listen to audiobooks all the time—grocery shopping, walking the dogs, doing dishes every time I’m in the car. I love to escape into a story. I do a lot of psychological suspense, and some Chick-Lit and low-key beach reads.
Another component that helps is having clients who are toward the end of a bereavement counselor’s time with them, mixed with the people who were just starting. That helps a lot because I’m able to see the transformation in clients as they were able to make friends with grief instead of keep pushing it away, and how that changed them and the growth that they had. And really, the hope that they found as they went through the experience.
Speaking of hope, isn’t that’s what your book is about? What inspired you to jump in on that concept and author that book?
It was my clients. I had one client and then it just kept happening that these clients were very distraught in their grief, more than you’d think. Sitting across from me I could see them feeling shame in addition to their grief. And feeling guilt over being sad. Whether it was their pastor or something they had heard, or just growing up in church—it made them feel that their grief was wrong.
To embrace their grief is to really experience their grief, but they felt that they had to rush to this idea of rejoicing that their person is in heaven.
As an ordained minister in addition to being a licensed professional counselor, why do you think shame is such a common occurrence in religious people?
Simply said, as Christians we focus too much on the end game. Certain branches of Christianity are so focused on conversion of everybody and getting everybody to heaven. But as followers of Jesus, there’s a lot that we are meant to experience and do right here on this earth. We are meant to have all these human experiences. And we are meant to support one another as we walk through the consequences of these experiences.
Loving someone is natural but loving someone also means one day we’re going to grieve. One day we’re going to lose them, whether that’s the end of a relationship or a death. It’s going to come. And we’re meant to experience that. Instead, we deal with our emotions by saying that we just have to love Jesus, that were just supposed to be happy and think about heaven. I think if we take a good look at the Gospels, we see a Jesus that would never support that approach.
What do you say to a pastor or someone in church who knows someone who’s struggling with grief?
I want to point out that you can’t possibly know what’s going on in this person’s day-to-day life, and how their entire world has been shaken. So it’s not just about heaven, they’re also grieving. It’s both—they might have perfect peace that they’re person is in heaven. But that doesn’t erase and eliminate the fact that their world is now upended, and they have to figure out how to continue to live without that person in it.
You talk about your book as a grief survival kit, so what can people expect to see in your book?
The first few chapters are laying a foundation about understanding grief and emotions regardless of exposure to organized religion and regardless of experience with traditional psychology.
So there’s a little primer on emotions and then the remainder of the book takes people through a simple framework of three phases of grief: early grief, middle grief and lasting grief. In the different chapters on these phases, I offer what grief psychology teaches and what we see scripture teach, and how those two things actually support one another.
And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to write the book, because as I looked at the market trying to find books to recommend to my clients, and I wasn’t finding anything that did that. I decided to take on that task of creating it and then the book ends with a substantial toolkit, resources that people can use on their own.
I noticed that in the toolkit you are an advocate of journaling.
Yes, I believe that keeping things trapped in the brain is the worst place for them to be. We make things even bigger and badder when they’re in our mind than when we get them out. Journaling also helps validate what we’re thinking, and that’s a big one.
In the end, what do you want people to get out of the book?
I want people to see that we have an opportunity as Christians to demonstrate how grief can be different. I think in general our culture is not great at grief. We don’t give it space. We expect people to be better by month two or three, and that’s just not the reality.
As Christians we’re meant to be light, right? We’re meant to be people who can bring hope to others. But we must learn how to experience emotions ourselves, and then we can see how different grief can be, and how it’s something we can grow from. I think that’s an amazing opportunity if we can learn to genuinely experience this process. It might even help change larger attitudes and practices around bereavement, like getting more time off from work when someone close to you dies.
Maybe too, it would help expand people’s idea of who God is.
Yeah, yeah, breaking that box a little bit that God is in, and helping us remember that part of the reason Jesus was here was to show us understanding, to help us to see the humanity of God.
So where can people find you?
The easiest way is katejmeyer.com, where you can also find my social media links. You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter with a focus on mental health and keeps you up to date. There’s also information about The Red Couch, my novel that is coming up on its year of publication. It’s women’s fiction and there are a lot of grief themes and there’s a journey of self-discovery, a breaking free of patterns of abuse and self-shame.
This article was adapted from the video interview below.