To lose a person you love is one of the most traumatic and challenging experiences in life.
When you are forced to face the death of a dear friend or loved one, you may feel as though you have fallen into a dungeon of darkness, the colors of life seem to fad to greys, and the ability to focus seems to vanish.
You wake up each morning wondering if the emptiness and confusion of this new day will be any different than the last. Friends endeavoring to comfort you will say, “I know how you feel,” and you want to scream, “no you don’t, you really don’t know how I feel, sometimes I wonder if I know how I feel.”
In that moment of loss and bereavement, it is not particularly comforting to hear that you are not unique, but very like others who hurt, others who have suffered your pain, yet, continue to live productive lives with the joyful memories of their loved ones now gone.
In the beginning, you are not wanting to hear that five-letter word DEATH or even allow it in your conversation. You want to believe the person you love will walk through the door and you can recapture pieces from the past and take up life together once again.
Yet, as the healthy grieving process begins to mature in your soul, mind, and heart, you come to the understanding that death is an inevitable reality. It can not be avoided by our friends, or even ourselves, It is an unavoidable reality that will eventually capture each of us.
At my age in my mid-eighties, I smile every time I hear the Farmers Insurance add, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” As a pastor for many years I have been at the bedside of those dying, at the graveside of those mourning, and in the homes of families trying to put their lives back together. In my own life, I’ve lost a daughter under tragic circumstances, and all of my grandparent’s and parent’s generation are gone. I have known pain.
When I say, I want to share a few thoughts to help you handle your present grief or that visitor who will one day inevitably knock at your door, I make no apologies, I am a Christian committed to a world view that believes in a God who is the creator of all, who loves us, One who is able to help us through the revelation and inspiration of the Bible, His blueprint for how we should live our lives. A key component of my Christian world view is God does some of His best work through the hands, feet, and efforts of His children.
I understand there are various ideas about death. Let me express what I believe to be the truth concerning both death and life. First, let’s be clear what death is not. It is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of an eternal life with God and those of faith who have preceded us from this life.
This truth is supported by the apostle Paul when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “preferring rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Paul was facing his own execution, He expresses well a Christian’s faith. This was not a morbid death wish on Paul’s part. He was not saying he was burnt out, fed up with living, eager to die. Rather, he was expressing his confidence that earthly existence is not the end of life for any, especially for a Christian. Death immediately ushers the believer into a fuller, higher realm of a more abundant life—in the very presence of the Lord.
I share with you from a lifetime of serving both people of faith and people who boast of having no faith. In thousands of memorial services and funerals I’ve conducted, I’ve noted people of faith find comfort in the word of God and those without faith continue in their skepticism and unbelief. Their grief becomes all the more intense since they have no hope. While I understand people of faith have a built-in bereavement depressant, I want to include people who would not consider themselves Christian.
We return to the title of our blog, “How to handle your loss” I list only four of many things that will help you navigate your loss.
Follow the example of Jesus. Jesus understood the pain of losing someone he loved. In John 11:1-44 we learn of his love for Lazarus. Jesus expressed his bereavement by shedding tears. Yet, the sorrow of Jesus did not end with tears. He knew his own power to raise Lazarus from the dead by proclaiming, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25).
Christians believe in the resurrection of Christ, and find comfort in knowing that death is not the end for those who believe. In fact, they believe through His resurrection, He defeated death. This is not to say this physical body will not die, it is to acknowledge the essence of who we are believers in Christ, children of God, who now have the promise of an eternal life with God the creator.
Jesus provides the promise that we will transition from this life to a real place. One of the last things he said with the intent of providing comfort to his followers was; “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). God has prepared a new home for us where there will be no more death, tears, or pain, that’s comfort removing the sting from death.
Know that God loves you and is the source of our comfort. It is important to remember our lost loved ones and to honor their influence in our lives. The Bible is clear that we are not to pray to them or worship them. Instead, God alone is the only one worthy of our prayers as we seek from Him both comfort and healing. The Bible tells us that God is the father of mercies and that he will comfort us in all of our trials (2 Corinthians 1:3:4). Always know that God loves you and that He understands how much you are hurting. The Psalmist encourages us to run to the shelter of the Most High where you will find sweet rest (Psalm 91:1-2).
Understand that Christians are not exempt from pain, suffering, death, and bereavement. These are the undeniable parts of human life. When God created us, His design provides us with the ability to make our own choices, choices that require consequences for our actions. With the enormous freedom to choose and make decisions, there are the potential sufferings that result from random chance events as well as the actions of others.
A small, innocent child was not murdered because of God. God does not “allow” a woman to be raped. God does not look the other way when a man is killed. Humans chose the full-life experience and since death, even unexpected death is a part of life, we are responsible for the pain – not God.
Even though God is not responsible for unexpected death or negative consequence, still a tragedy of any kind can still serve a higher purpose. God can use unfortunate events to benefit others. It would be foolish and unwise for us to think God would choose to promote his plan by causing pain in others. And finally, you handle loss by;
Refusing to rationalize death. For the sake of making this point, let’s assume you have some unknown purpose which becomes an empty excuse, a “cheat. Let’s say you believe God caused the accident that took your child’s life. That would be a “cheat.”The purpose of that “cheat” is to bring you to the point of accepting or making an excuse for your child’s death. The danger of accepting death for some “unknown reason” risks shifting blame to God – a dangerous proposition indeed.
Understand that God does not want to hurt us, in fact, when bad things happen, He hurts with us. The heartbreaking death of our daughter did not happen for a reason – it just happened. God took that tragedy and brought good from it, but He didn’t cause it.
A final thought about dealing with loss and grief, let me don my pastoral hat and tell you what I have found that has met the test of time and provided comfort for hurting hearts. As painful as your loss may be, you must work your way to acceptance through prayer, companionship, in some cases forgiveness, and good old-fashioned faith in God’s promises, the subject for another blog.
Once you find yourself sheltered and comforted with acceptance, you will be able to think and feel outward and less inward. You will be able to reinvest in other relationships while truly being thankful for the time you had, no matter how short, with the loved one you lost.
If you find this blog helpful, you may want to read more about Dan’s book Where Was God When I Needed Him? The Question Everyone’s Asking. To see what others are saying, you could read Ray Johnston’s Forward or the running Endorsements on the bottom of most pages. There are several links that take you to the ordering page.