Maria Wolf, editor with The American Bible Society, interview Dr. Jo Clifford on the topic of Grief Counseling as follows:
In the span of a few days, Dr. Jo Clifford’s life was changed forever. Her son committed suicide and she was fired from her job two weeks after that. She went into a closet, shut the door and wept. But something unexpected happened: she met God there, in a space stuffed with shoes, shirts, pants and belts. Dr. Clifford felt God’s presence, and she knew He grieved with her. A devout Christian, she believed the Lord would take her awful circumstances and use them for His good. She had no idea how. But something in her heart and soul stirred.
“I had a choice in that closet,” she says. “This was happening to me, and I decided to choose how I wanted to work through it.” Dr. Clifford decided to become a Christian counselor; she earned her PhD and has a private consulting practice, www.joycounsel.com, to help others understand that joy does come in the morning.
In her work as a temperament therapist, Dr. Clifford has seen grief incapacitate and paralyze even the strongest of people. Grief is a response to an event someone doesn’t want or expect. It comes after all sorts of occurrences: losing a loved one, a relationship, a pet, or a job. But there are smaller, lower-grade events people grieve: a child doesn’t grow up to be beautiful, handsome or successful. Or someone gets a promotion, and the “colleague” now becomes the boss. If people don’t work through their grief — and the emotions attached to them — it will leak out eventually, causing pain for themselves and others.
Anger, depression and anxiety may ensue, along with isolation. People may eat too much, too little or turn to other debilitating addictions, Dr. Clifford says. She offers a biblical example of healthy grieving. It’s found in the story of King David, who lost the first son he conceived with Bathsheba. After pleading with God and the child ultimately dying, David washed himself, cleaned his garments, and accepted the death. Then he continued on with his life and worshiped his God.
“In the Jewish tradition, people go back to work and are among the living after an appropriate mourning period of about 30 days,” Dr. Clifford says. “They go forward. Did David ever get over the loss of his son? No, probably not. Sadness is an appropriate emotion after loss, but it’s better to deal with the sadness than the debilitating grief that causes us to be stuck in anger and depression.”
Dr. Clifford has worked with many people who are angry at God — sometimes for years after the event. Many of her clients question why the event occurred in the first place. “People will ask, ‘Why did my baby die?’” says Dr. Clifford. “’Why did I lose my job’? I could ask ‘Why did my son commit suicide’? The answer is nobody knows.”
But what Dr. Clifford does know is that people have to deal with their grief—as painful as it may be—to eventually gain perspective. In the process, they find real hope. That’s what the Bible offers. “God knows the answer to ‘why’”, says Dr. Clifford. “Grief is only for a season.”
“I tell you for certain that you will cry and be sad … but later you will be happy.” John 16, 20 (CEV)
Dr. Clifford is a prime example of that promise made real.
Maria Wolf is an editor at American Bible Society and has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist. She is a classically trained soprano who uses her gift of music to minister to the congregations of St. Gertrude in West Conshohocken, Pa., and Mother of Divine Providence in King of Prussia, Pa