The Big Difference Between Dirty and Clean Grief

“As one who’s been through loss, what can you tell me about how to grieve well? How does knowing Jesus change how you grieve?”

I was sitting with a young woman after her father’s funeral. “I can’t say I know how to grieve well,” I said. “But I’ll share some things I do know.”

Here is what I know. Jesus cleans up the worst part of grief.

Knowing Jesus means we don’t grieve alone (Ps. 56:8).

Unlike human loved ones, Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). So unlike those who don’t walk with Jesus, we don’t navigate grief alone (Ps. 34:18).

Knowing that our loved one knew Jesus brings cleansing hope.

The separation of death hurts deeply. But it is balanced with hope for those who know the Lord. We know our loved one is happy and a joyful reunion awaits us (1 Thes. 4:13-18).

The separation of death hurts deeply. But it is balanced with hope for those who know the Lord. We know our loved one is happy and a joyful reunion awaits us. #grief #hope Click To Tweet .
At the graveside service, one of the pastors used a glove to demonstrate this truth. His hand in the glove represented our bodies when we are alive. The hand and glove move as one. When he removed his hand from the glove, the glove went limp.
He wiggled his fingers to show that his hand (soul) without the glove (body) was very much alive. The dead body, like the limp glove, is an empty shell that will return to dust (2 Cor. 5:8).

There is a difference between clean grief and dirty grief.

My friend’s father had been faithful to his family and to the Lord until his last breath. He died with no loose ends or regrets. His family grieves because they miss him, not because of what they missed receiving from him.
Those whose selfish life choices leave a wake of hurt behind affect how those left behind grieve. Some children wish they’d heard their loved one say, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.” Others must sift through the anger and hurt their loved one’s betrayal caused them.
Clean grief, like a clean wound, hurts, but it will heal without the complication of infection. Happy memories provide a balm that soothes the tender spots.

Dirty grief, like an infected wound, forces family members to deal with hurt and disappointment as well as loss.

We grieve differently.

Some need to be still to process their emotions. Others work hard. Some show emotion. Others don’t. Some organize. Some memorialize. Others clean out. Because someone isn’t responding the way you do doesn’t mean they hurt less. Give everyone the grace to grieve in their own way (Matt. 5:4).

Dirty and clean grief come in cycles. 

Christian psychologist Norm Wright pointed out that during the first year after a loss grief often hits hard in three-month intervals. I’ve found this to be true in my own life and in the lives of my clients. Mark your calendar and give yourself and your loved ones extra grace during those times. You may feel like you’re starting over in the grieving process. You aren’t. It’s part of the grief journey.

Grief is never easy. But it can be redemptive. It reminds the living that how we live impacts others long after we’re gone. If we’ve wronged someone, now is the time to make amends.

When I finished talking with my companion, a smile lit her face. She received her father’s final gift—the gift of clean grief.

It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and it is a good thing to think about it while there is still time” (Eccles. 7:2 TLB).

Comment here.


Debbie Wilson

Sometimes I link with these great sites:

#InspireMeMonday, #InstaEncouraements, #TellHisStory and here , #Let’sHaveCoffee#Recharge Wednesday, #Grace&Truth,

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  1. Michele Morin

    Such an important conversation. I also like to use the simple word “sad” to refer to clean grief. Of course we’re sad when we suffer loss, but other negative loose ends complicate our grief.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Sad is a good word to describe how loss affects us. Thanks, Michele.

  2. Ann Musico

    Much comforting truth here Debbie. And I especially love the illustration of the hand in the glove. Perfect. Thank you.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, I appreciated that illustration too. Thanks.

  3. Mary-Joy Pizzella

    Your words are an excellent reminder how to grieve and how to help someone grieve- we wish we could take that deep hurt from them but but u r right: grace to allow them to grieve in their way- we r all different
    Thank u for your words!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Mary Joy. We certainly grieve in different ways.

  4. Lois Flowers

    Debbie, I’ve never heard grief described in terms of “dirty” and “clean” but this makes so much sense: “Clean grief, like a clean wound, hurts, but it will heal without the complication of infection. Happy memories provide a balm that soothes the tender spots.” I’ve experienced this since losing my parents and I’m so grateful. I also appreciate what you say about everyone grieving differently. This is probably why the term “grieving well” rubs me the wrong way just a bit. In my mind, it suggests that there’s some standard to reach or grade to achieve in our grieving, and all that does is put more pressure on our sad hearts. Wonderful post!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Lois, I coined those terms from my own experience and from listening to others process their grief. We all feel loss and sadness, but the other makes it more messy.

  5. Connie O'Neil

    Amazing post! So true!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Connie.

  6. JD Wininger

    “Clean me O’ Lord” You shared a perspective I’d never considered today Ms. Debbie. Yes, while grief affects us all, our “cleanliness” most certainly comes with a considerably different level of grieving. I think of those who have died who refused or never accepted God’s lordship in their lives. Oh, how that permanence must grieve those left behind.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes, J.D., that certainly complicates our grief. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jeannie Waters

    Debbie, thank you for sharing this valuable look at grief. I appreciate this statement which holds an important reminder for all of us: “Grief is never easy. But it can be redemptive. It reminds the living that how we live impacts others long after we’re gone.”

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thanks, Jeannie.

  8. Paula Short

    Oh, Debbie, I love love love this message. You’ve enlightened me with a new perspective. This”Jesus cleans up the worst part of grief.” Is so true. I’m bookmarking this article.
    Visiting today from IMM #5&29

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes He does! In so many ways. Thanks, Paula.

  9. Barbara Latta

    Jesus is the living hope! Thanks for sharing about this important topic because so many are grieving in this world.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Amen! Thanks, Barbara.

  10. Queen

    Lord in heaven you my creator you know me more than l no my self, for give me for give all my sin mistakes proudest, forgiveness even l didn’t no,or this Weekender I am not stone heart oh Jesus Christ deliver me, thank you lord for rebuk me, because you correct the one you love thank you for loving US, Jesus my lord I need you help take me from camp of evil darkness spirits change me forgive me give me a new heart renewal my spirit to turn to you regarding my application from today until my next step in Jesus Christ name, read me hold my breath maids increase my faith wisdom and understanding my hus to, holy spirit come upon me , blood of Jesus wash me and my family career, my father in heaven and earth bless me favour me use me l bring to you my people kids keep me in you presence l want to be in you tich me how to make this happen, for the word from you to your generalson Lord I play

  11. Emmanuel Malone

    Amen, thanks for sharing. May God bless you to continue to help edify the body of Christ. Looking forward to reading more of your inspiring messages. Thank you again for letting God use you for His kingdom agenda.

  12. Sarah Schwerin

    Grief is hard. Thanks so much for your insights and encouragement. It’s comforting to know no matter what kind of grief we experience, we are not alone.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes, having Jesus grieve with us makes all the difference! Thanks, Sarah.

  13. Ann B Johnson

    What a wonderful example to give at a grave site. Thank you for sharing the example and, as usual, your thoughts filled with Godly wisdom.

    Blessings to you and your family as you grieve in Him.

    • Debbie Wilson

      I loved that example. Thank you, Ann.

  14. Nancy E. Head

    The information about grief coming cyclically is especially interesting and helpful. Thanks, Debbie! God bless!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Nancy, I wish I’d known it before I lost my parents. I remember it because I went through it with both of them.

  15. Lauren Sparks

    This is a distinction I’ve never thought of before.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Lauren, just my observation after personal experience and helping clients.

  16. Annie Yorty

    Debbie, grief is strangely predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Thank you for explaining the different ways we experience grief and the hope we have in the midst of it.

    • Debbie Wilson

      “strangely predictable and unpredictable at the same time.” Well said, Annie.

  17. Yvonne Morgan

    I had never thought about grief in this way but it makes sense. I found lots of encouragement in your post. Thanks Debbie

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Yvonne.

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