Death is very hard on this earth. Knowing someone we love, someone who has been part of our life, our history, even our day, will never be with us again on this earth, can be overwhelming, paralyzing, and discouraging, even depressing. I have watched people grieve, walk through other’s terrible tragedies, and experienced my own.
I lost a close friend in high school, tragically and suddenly. We were best friends since kindergarten and man that was hard. My first funeral to oversee and preach, was my brother Pat. We grew up together, went to school together, found Jesus together and grew in Christ together. I had no idea at 20 years old, how much his death would affect me at that time. Since then, and being a pastor I have had to bury many wonderful people, including a lot of my family, and very, very close friends.
Since the tragic death of my brother Pat, and then my very close brother Steve in 2010 from cancer, then my mom from COPD, as well as grandparents, and one of my closest friends and pastors here at Compelled in February , I have had to do some grieving, and still do.
Can I share some points from my experience?
- Allow yourself to grieve in the way you want to. Yes, I cry, I remember, I get quiet. I look at old pictures, I go be by myself, and yes I cry (did I say that?). It’s OK, your way is the right way for you. Everyone grieves differently. Every way is the right way.
- Grieving does not have an end date. How can I “move on” and just quit missing people that loved me so much and I them? Don’t feel guilty or like you are doing something wrong if you have not gotten “over it”. You most likely won’t. The emotions get more manageable and less intense, but the longing in my heart will never stop here on earth. I’ll never forget or stop talking about these people and “move on” as some may want. (Maybe it’s because they are uncomfortable with feelings and emotions they want us to move on??)
- Talk about them. Tell the stories. Remember the laughs. Journal the fun times, and quotes. Don’t act like they never existed and be honored when others bring them up (not offended). They still have a place in our hearts and lives, and so talking about them has brought and is bringing me healing and peace.
- I don’t blame God. I never became bitter that God did not heal them. I have stressed my disappointment to the Lord, but I trust Him. If you are mad at God. He’s big boy, he gets it. Don’t worry about what you said or thought about God. When Steve was fighting cancer I prayed for his healing and it came, not on this earth but eternal life. That’s the most incredible healing. The Isaiah 53 verse “by his stripes we are healed.” is not just applied to the present, but it is a verse for our future. We will be “whole” one day. I miss him daily.
- Their things don’t help my grief. Yes, a few things for memories, but no one can hold onto everything forever. Parting with their things, that I have, does not mean I do not love them and I am disloyal. You can’t hold on to everything.
- I don’t pay any attention to the day of their death. I hoping to forget that day on my calendar as the day _______died. I personally have not felt that celebrating that, remembering it, or sinking into a depression on that day helps me. I remember their birthday and the day of life, as their life blessed mine. If you want to, though and grieve that way that is OK too.
- I express my feelings verbally. I dont’ hold them in. “I miss Marty” I yelled in my woodcarving shop to the Lord, and I have said it to others. When my boys wrestled I thought and said, “man would Steve love this!” I eat real butter and blurted out ” this is for you mom” and held my toast to the heavens in honor of my mom’s love for real butter and not margarine. These acts, and connection bring me peace, and I express them to others. Dad and I just talked yesterday about what Patrick, Uncle Allen would be like today if they were still here, or what mom would think of this or that.
- When my mourning for Steve was so intense and I once broke down in a message and started sobbing and could not pull myself together. Three hundred people sat there and watched me weep. I abrubtly closed the service. I went and talked to a counselor, and I took some time to grieve. You may need to go and talk with someone. That does not mean you are crazy, or losing your mind, it means you need to care for yourself and that is something you should never feel guitly about!
- I pray thanksgiving prayers to the Lord for their lives in my grief. When my brother’s Steve’s passing was so raw to me all I could do was weep and thank God for Steve’s impact on my life. The presence of Jesus comforted me, and I realized what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5.4).” I was comforted by the Lord Himself. I admit there were times I felt desperately alone too. But I knew in my heart my God was with me.
- Be aware when you grieve, you are vulnerable. The enemy knows this. He wants Christians to go get wasted, pull away from the faith, shut people out, relapse to drugs, surf porn, have an affair, go in debt through shopping, lash out at others. Don’t make stupid decisions when you are grieving, try to make no decisions that have too much weight at all, and be aware of the evil one, who tries to make one think dumb decisions will bring us peace. They won’t. Stay connected to your church, family, and good people that love you.
- I allowed myself to express my grief in creative ways other than tears. I wrote a journal about Steve, carved a face for Marty, eat butter for mom, etc. These things have allowed me expression. I did some other things, but I will be shy about sharing those, they are deeply personal, and a little goofy (but not to me).
- Don’t stop loving people. Some say, “don’t get close to people, don’t love them, they will leave you.” That is true, but also a lie. Keep people in your life. Don’t build up walls to protect you from pain of loss. You can’t do it and you will be robbed of wonderful relationships.
- I dismissed, without offense, the silly things people say (said), that I do not believe, and did not appreciate, but I knew they wanted to help me and they honestly had no idea what to say. I did not let these things make me angry and I did not respond poorly. “They are in a better place.” “God has a plan.” “When our number is up, there’s nothing we can do, it was his time.” “This was God’s will.” I could go on and on, but you understand. Guard your heart, it’s ok. They love you.
- I learned from my counselor not to live in guilt for what I did not do before their death. We all struggle with this when we encounter death. We beat ourselves up for not calling more, not visiting, a quarrel in the past, etc. This makes the grieving process impossible as it becomes about us and not them. Let go of the “I wish I would have….s” and just be sad they are gone.
- Grief hits when it wants. I go with it. Out of the blue, like a punch in the gut, a wave of grief, without warning, consumes me. I go with it. I hope this never stops. It reminds me of the blessing they were to me, and God’s Spirit comforts.
- I don’t hold it against others if they don’t understand my grief, or seem to be not grieving like I think they should have. Everyone grieves differently and all ways are ok. Some hide their’s, I do mostly, but I don’t keep it in. The Lord and I have a moment.
- I believe in Heaven and eternal life and the Gospel more than ever. I used to be thankful for my salvation, and what God can do for me. But I have a different view of the Gospel now. Jesus forgave my sins so I could be with him FOREVER. There are more of my family with Him than with me. Eternal life, and never dying, and Jesus’ death and resurrection to make that happen me so much more to me now than it did when I was younger. I will see mom, Patrick, Steve, Greg, Grandma and Granpa Ford and Elarton, Grandma Knight, Marty, Alta, Nancy, Brother Skoog and on and on. My faith in Christ’s work on the cross, forgave my sins, so I can be with Father in the eternal after life forever with those I love. I believe this! This does bring me comfort.
I hope these help you or someone you love that is journeying through grief. Nate