VanDuivendyk: Understanding Grief

Gift_of_Grief_review_07242014Tim P. VanDuivendyk [1]. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve?  Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug?


In his book, The Unwanted Gift of Grief, chaplain Tim P. VanDuivendyk advises us to walk with people in their grief and help them complete the process of grief work (12).  He observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain.  Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut…This book is not designed to take you out of your pain but to invite you into and through your pain to transformation and new life (3).

In this context, a sojourner is:  one who is willing to support, listen, and compassionately walk with another through their wilderness of grief (5).  VanDuivendyk further observes:

[This] wilderness is not just a physical place but also a spiritual and emotional place.  In the wilderness of grief we may not know which direction to take.  Feelings of fear may paralyze us.  We may not be able to see through the thick forest to tomorrow (9).

Healing with Scabs

VanDuivendyk characterizes grief almost like a scab on a wound.  He writes:

Grief fills up the vacuum of empty space left by our deceased loved one until we can adjust to and accept the reality that the person is no longer with us (12).

Grief is a gift because it helps us transform towards differentiating ourselves from our loved one (16).  Because they have passed, we must learn to live in their absence (the process of differentiation).  A scab protects us while the skin underneath grows to close up the wound.

VanDuivendyk sees 3 passageways through grief, depending on whether we prefer thinking, feeling, or acting (24-26).  Think people follow a cognitive pathway; feel people track emotions but may not be able to reason through what is going on; act people stay busy doing tasks during grief. Each pathway offers strengths and weaknesses. An act person, for example, may develop into a workaholic in response to grief (29) while a think person may worry obsessively and a feel person may slip into depression (28-29). VanDuivendyk suggests that we should learn to employ and work with each approach as a way to balance out (27).


VanDuivendyk’s The Unwanted Gift of Grief is written in 17 chapters preceded by a forward, acknowledgments, and an introduction and followed by notes, suggested readings, and an index.  These chapters are:

  1. Grief as Gratitude, Grief as a Gift;
  2. Everyone Grieves Differently;
  3. Factors that affect the Wilderness of Grief;
  4. Unbelievable Darkness;
  5. Frustration and Anger Amid “Why?”
  6. Praying for a Miracle;
  7. Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  8. Healing: Experiencing the Light Again;
  9. And Yet…We Never Forget!
  10. Being a Sojourner;
  11. Sojourning with Those in Unbelievable Darkness;
  12. Sojourning with Those Frustrated and Angry Amid “Why?”
  13. Sojourning with Those Praying for a Miracle;
  14. Sojourning with Those Wrestling with Sadness and Depression;
  15. Sojourning with Those in Healing and Light;
  16. Marriage : Tough Enough without Grief;
  17. Ways of Making it Through the Wilderness of Grief (vii-ix).

Clearly, VanDuivendyk writes using a topical approach.

In my own work as a chaplain intern, I found that the majority of patients that I visited with suffered from grief at some level.  For some it was active and obvious; for others it was repressed and a source of physical complication.  Helping people become more aware of their grief was one of the ways to facilitate their journey with it.


More than anything, VanDuivendyk convinced me of the need to give people permission to grieve, particularly at funerals.  That one insight was worth the ticket of admission.  After all, ours is a religion that began in a graveyard, not a church. We grieve and can give permission to grieve because with the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know the graveyard is not the end of the story.  The end of the story is not sadness, but joy—in Christ.



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