So, in my seminary pastoral care class, I remember being taken to a funeral home, and walked through the mechanics of a funeral. During that visit, I was told that "everyone's grief process is different," and I have seen wide variation in this. I have seen people who have lost sisters and mothers grieve for several weeks and be fine. I have seen at the upper end four to six months of being seemingly stuck on the loss.

Later (in the same class I should add!), I was admonished that as a pastor, I should be on the lookout for those who are "stuck in grief." When I pressed on this – namely 'what are the signs that someone is stuck in grief,' I was never given a satisfactory answer.

While the Psalms describe the emotions that many feel when grieving (as well as comfort), are there any lists by classic pastoral care givers (e.g. Thomas Owens, patristic sources, the Reformers, etc... – not just Ms. Kubler-Ross please) of the signs that a pastor should be on the lookout that someone really is "stuck in grief?"

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    From what little I know, one symptom of being stuck in grief is not letting it go; of reliving the incident as though it happened yesterday. People who heal the fastest get on with their lives; those stuck in grief continue to go over the old ground again and again. Sorry, no sources to back this up.
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 3:11

4 Answers 4


Being stuck in grief is referred to by professionals as "incomplete grief" or "complicated grief." It is often defined as grief that is not resolving or normalizing within 6 to 12 months after the loss.

Identifying red flags may include:

  • A sense of unrelenting disbelief or numbness
  • Intensifying anger, rage, irritability, or agitation
  • A preoccupation with distressing thoughts about the death event
  • Recurrent or growing pangs of painful emotions with intense yearning and longing for the dead loved one
  • Difficulty in relationships, including withdrawal or problems with intimacy
  • Avoidance of situations and activities that are reminders of the loved one
  • Apathy, giving up, feeling that life has no meaning or purpose
  • Severe depression with hopelessness

This is an amalgamation of various lists which come up on an internet search for "stuck in grief".

Glynis Sherwood Counseling


While not strictly taken from the Bible, the 7 Stages of Grief is a very well-known, concise description of what everyone goes through when dealing with grief (some combine 1&2 and 4&5 to get 5 stages instead):

  1. Shock or Disbelief
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Guilt
  6. Depression
  7. Acceptance and Hope

In various forms, these can be found throughout the Bible when the writer / writee is undergoing trauma, grief, etc. Jesus went through most of these on / before the cross (except 3 & 5 (per se - He was "made sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21), but that's not 'recorded' directly):

  • 1/2/6 "My God, my God, why have Your forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34)
  • 4 "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matt 26:39)
  • 7 "Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done" (Matt 26:39); "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34); "today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43)
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    This does not seem to address what the signs are of being "stuck in grief" and is somewhat close to violating "not just Ms. Kubler-Ross please" (even though using 7 instead of 5 stages and including Biblical references particularly relative to the crucifixion).
    – user3331
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 17:11
  • @PaulA.Clayton - are you, then, looking more for references to folks like William Cowper?
    – warren
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 17:35
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    I was just referencing Affable Geek's question; I am not at all involved in grief counseling or pastoral care!
    – user3331
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 23:32
  • @warren Thank you for trying, but this really just is a slightly expanded version of Kubler-Ross. Likewise, the references, like the Psalms, express grief, but really aren't much in the way of diagnosing or caring for those who are there. Commented May 29, 2013 at 14:18
  • @AffableGeek - then it sounds like you should look into some of the Christian Counseling programs (like NANC)
    – warren
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 19:39

In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul outlines a series of instructions for believers to help keep the worldly events of their lives in the proper perspective (lower in priority to their faith in Christ), and among these is grief.

"and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away." 1 Corinthians 7:30-31

Charles Ryrie wrote of this passage in his book Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth that, "This summary statement is in a context where Paul mentioned marriage and singleness, weeping and rejoicing, having and not having things. It is proper to use all of these but not to abuse or overuse them. Do not let marriage have top priority; do not weep too long; do not be so happy you cannot be serious; do not put your trust in things you may properly buy. To do so is to abuse the cosmos. To have a “take-it-or-leave it” attitude while using these things is proper use."

From these readings, I might read being stuck in grief as being stuck in the world. A world of which John writes the following:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. - 1 John 2:15

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    I don't think this answers the question asked. What "signs of grief" exactly should a pastor be on the look out for?
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 1:55
  • Perhaps not, but it is how the topic is addressed in scripture. Beyond that, the question appears to be either unanswerable or of another topic than Christianity. Possibly counciling or sociology. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 15:03

What are the “signs of grief” for which a pastor should be on the look out?

The word “pastor” is used once as a noun in the New Testament of the KJV.

Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

This usage in conjoined with "teachers" in the Greek such that the idea of pastoring (shepherding) is accomplish through teaching.

Some denominations define the role of a pastor as almost the only Christian in a church and seem to place on him the responsibility to monitor every person in the church. The Bible presents a view of a broader view of responsibility.

Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Each Christian is to be sensitive to the “burdens” others are carrying. Sometimes sensitivity needs an active voice. For example, I once visited a church where an older woman was sitting by herself. In conversation I asked how she was doing financially. She was having a little trouble and we were able to help a little. However, she had been attending the church for 30 years and no one (even her best friend) knew of her troubles.

A church model of the pastor having super powers of observation may not be the best way to help those with burdens. The self-reporting model may also have some problems. It may be that the cultivation of caring relationships by the whole church may be the best way to insure that someone with burdens does not “slip through the cracks”.

The best way to measure grief is to ask the person how they are doing and listen to what they say. I have found that asking a person about their fondest memories of the lost one helps them use those memories in a healing process. A solicitous and iterative inquiry can reveal if someone is not healing but stuck with a burden with which they will need help.

  • The first four paragraphs appear to be completely irrelevant to the question. Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 13:29

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