Grief Control

I had a ten minute opportunity to speak at a recent retreat and decided to talk about grief and the control it exerts in our lives. Hope it is a blessing to you.

The experience of grief is common to humanity, but it is as individual as each person’s experience. In the early days of significant loss, it feels like grief is in control of your life. Losing Control Means:

*Unexpected Grief Attacks. They come at moments that surprise us. Perhaps it is someone’s perfume or cologne that reminds us of our loved one. It could be at a grocery store, reaching for an item we know our loved one enjoyed, forgetting for a moment that they are gone. Songs, television shows, or Facebook Memories show up to catch us by surprise and bring about these unexpected attacks of grief.

*Unending Grief Presence. Grief remains the subtext of our lives. It hovers just beneath the surface in our thoughts as we go through the days and weeks after loss. Finally you have a day when you can smile and function well, but then grief surfaces once again. Often said, grief is like an uninvited guest that moves into our hearts and refuses to leave.

*Unwinnable Grief Battle. Grief overwhelms the senses in ways that we cannot control. Everyone who has experienced grief knows that there is nothing that can be done or said to lessen the pain. It has control over your life and it feels like something else is directing your path. It is a battle you cannot win.

One common symbol of control we are all familiar with is a remote control. I thought how this was an interesting word picture to think about grief. As we serve and love people through grief, remember that they are not in control in many ways. The remote control can be a word picture to remind us of what they are going through. 

Grief can be like a remote control that manipulates our thoughts and feelings. 


On every remote control is a keypad of numbers. Numbers take on new significance when we are in a period of loss. We take note of how long it has been since that day we said goodbye. At first it is how many days … then months… and years. Not only that, we keep up with birthdays and even holidays. These numbers take on a huge significance in how we talk about our grief.


One of our televisions at the church occasionally has the volume go up to level 100 and stay there. It’s hard to get it unstuck and with the volume all the way up it is easy to develop a bit of panic! Grief feels loud, it drowns out our other emotions, leaving us feeling numb and at its mercy. It feels like everything is turned up all the way, and we cannot turn it down.


While sometimes grief seems like it is too loud to be ignored, it also has the power to mute our thoughts and even words as we contemplate our loss. I had friends say to me, “I don’t know what to say.” That was so honest and I appreciated that – because I didn’t know what to say either. Grief mutes all the emotions and feelings we enjoy, and replaces them with silence.


Life seems to stand still. Especially with a sudden loss – it doesn’t seem real. You can’t go on with your day like everything is normal, because it isn’t. You can’t comprehend the loss at first. It’s like life has been placed on pause – and this feeling can last various times for different people.


It is hard to stop thinking about your loved one. Memories keep playing and replaying in your mind. When you are awake and when you are asleep, it’s like a recording that can never be turned off. Last words, the last moments, the happiest times, the saddest times … it’s hard to rest because grief is in control of your memories.

When I thought about how grief controls our lives, it occurred to me that a remote control is a lot like grief in some ways. But there are some buttons on the remote that will not relate to our grief.

There are buttons on the remote that do not seem to work.


If there were only a way to turn grief “off”, what a difference that would make. But it’s impossible. Grief never seems to go away, and we can’t just turn it off.


We can’t imagine life in the future without our loved one. Grief seems to slow life down, and even if we try to get back in the game – grief won’t let us. There’s no fast forwarding through grief, it has to be experienced.


We can’t change the channel – there’s just one story that replays over and over. Sometimes people experience being “stuck” in grief – which is a different issue than the grief most all of us go through. But it can feel like we are stuck and can’t change the channel.

Conceptualizing Grief as the functions of a remote control can remind us of the control grief has when someone has suffered a loss. If it is our loss, we can relate to those concepts.

There is good news about this word picture, though.


Remote Controls are powered by batteries – and eventually they wear down. At some point, grief doesn’t have the control over our life that it did for a period of time. In other words, the things we experience in grief initially are not our permanent companions. That might be hard to believe, but it’s true.


In all families there seems to be someone who ends up with the remote control. In the same way, the control of grief is going to have to be placed in someone’s hands. Grief is an emotional expression of loss, but in the end, when we have experienced  the pain of grief, we can pass the remote over to God and ask Him to take control.

So for a time, grief is in control…at least it feels that way. In time, we are able to regain control by turning it over to God. Best grief encouragement I ever heard was at the first meeting of The Compassionate Friends that I attended. A kind bereaved mother said to me:

“It will always hurt, it just won’t always hurt the way it does right now.”

That thought gave me hope. Hopefully these ideas will help us as we minister to those who are in the control of grief. In addition, when we are in the control of grief, I hope it helps to know that at some point in the future, grief will no longer control our lives the way it does at first. Though it seems permanent, the remote will be in our own hands again sometime in the future. Then we can hand control over to God.