Fasting During Grief
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
During the season of Lent many Christians choose to “fast” for a period of 40 days leading up to Easter. They decide to give up a particular food or activity that they normally enjoy, as a form of self-sacrifice. Or they may abstain from an activity that they know they enjoy too much--as a way of getting a problematic impulse or habit under control. Some experience fasting as an opportunity to get certain distracting things out of the way so they can concentrate more fully on God’s way and give God some room to work on them.
Bereaved persons quite naturally engage in a form of fasting from normal life in order to concentrate more fully on their grief. They may stop participating in their usual activities, such as socializing, because they are preoccupied and distracted, have no desire to be entertained, or have no interest in small talk. They are giving their full attention to their grief and making space in their routine to be fully immersed in their thoughts.
Newly bereaved persons are unconsciously drawn to this fasting from life. They don’t sit and wonder if it would be a good idea to try this kind of abstention for a while. They just do it. And often times their friends worry about this new behavior the bereaved are exhibiting.
True fasting can indeed transform a person. Priorities change. We see the world with new eyes. We understand more clearly who we are and who we are not.
It would be easier on the bereaved and their friends if, rather than feeling victimized and troubled by the reality of grief, they all simply accepted that withdrawing from normal activities following a deep, personal loss is a positive response—something that the bereaved need to do for themselves and for their healing. And friends need to remember that their bereaved friends will be fasting only for a season (or seasons), but will return to the normality of life “renewed”, but changed when their grief work is less intense and no longer requires their full attention.