Just as we move from the waning days of winter so our lives and relationships go through seasons. We move through times when everything is new and fresh and exciting into times where the shared experiences of life are warm and mellow and satisfying. The times of growth and enlargement as well as the times of loss and reduction. One thing is for certain: life is always changing and therefore need never be boring.
The death of a close loved one is just one more change we go through in life. We have ideas on how these things should happen. No parent wants to bury a child. No wife wants to bury her husband. But these changes in our status quo are as normal and natural as any change in life.
The reason why grief hurts so much more than other changes may have to do with the depth of love we had for that person while they were alive. I knew that one day either Kathy would face my death or I would face hers. We talked about what we would do should the other one die. But it was still a shock to me when Kathy died.
As a Christian we are told not to mourn and sorrow as those who have no hope. And we do have a living hope. But the loss is still there. And even with a steadfast hope we still grieve. Grief is a season of life. It is what makes us human. And if we will embrace this season it will produce a quality of life in us that otherwise we would be missing.
“The journey of grief is long and tiresome.” This was spoken by Nancy Guthrie in one of our Griefshare videos we watched. And it is true. Anyone who thinks you can just snap out of it or power through is not being honest. Or they are simply postponing the inevitable. If you loved someone in life you will mourn them in death.
One of the problems we all face in our individual grief journeys is feeling like it is too hard, or too painful, or it seems to be taking too long to get back to normal. Let me remind you that the grief journey is not about getting back to normal. That normal is dead and gone. The goal is to find your new life and new normal and learn how to thrive where you are, not where you used to be.
Grief takes time. But there are things that we can do to help us deal with the pain and to help expedite our process through the grief. These are things that we can do to help us in the immediate aftermath of loss and will continue to help us as we transition into joy.
One simple thing that we all can do is take care of ourselves. Grief is an emotional and mental trial. It is also a physical drain. Our bodies take an enormous toll. One way to think about what to do is in the word DEER. Drink plenty of healthy fluids. Eat. Exercise. And Rest. Sleep, according to some experts, is more important to our overall health and well-being than diet and exercise combined. If you need help in any of these areas contact your doctor or a clinic and get the help you need.
Some things surrounding the death of the person or life events connected with their death will affect your grieving. How and when they died. Life events relating to that person. Regrets over things said or issues left unresolved. This is where some people find relief in writing a Grief Letter. Or they put their feelings in a journal where their words will not hurt anyone.
One thing is for sure. Any attempt to avoid the pain or to mask the pain will only make the pain worse and prolong the time it takes to heal. Nothing now can make you sad; you are already sad. And you must hurt before you can heal. You will not die, and in time you will feel better. This includes going through the dead person’s belongings and personal effects. You must trust yourself to do this when the time is right. You set the time. You set the circumstances. You set the guidelines. And you control what is done with their stuff.
One final thought today. You must in some way find help and relief in God. God may help you in unexpected ways. But there is strength and hope and comfort in God that is found nowhere else. This will be a private place where you meet with Jesus alone. It probably will not happen in church. Through these experiences you will begin to develop an attitude of trust. Trust in God, and trust in yourself.
Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench.”
James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”
One of the things I have had to deal with and work through in my grieving journey is changing relationships. There are people whom I have known for years who, since Kathy died, have very little to do with me. These are people who knew Kathy well, and through Kathy I thought I knew too. But something changed in me, or in the, or in both, that has been first a disappointment and now is a part of this new life.
There are other people though who were not in my close circle of friends before Kathy died who now have become close friends. Mostly these relationships have been a pleasant surprise. Some of these new people have also experienced the death of a close loved one and so we have that in common. But not all fellow grievers have become friends.
I have had some people tell me that now I seem to be doing better but before I had some serious issues. Duh, tell me something I didn’t know. There is a reason grieving people wonder if they are going crazy.
So as I adjust to the new life that I have been forced into it is an adventure. And it is an adventure I am taking by myself. New relationships have not included any female romantic ones. And that is fine with me. It was hard at first to feel rejected by old friends. But the new friends I have more than offset the old ones I no longer have. And I am grateful for all of the people who have come into my life in the past three years.
In the Bible we read in the book of Job the amazing and sometimes troubling story of Job’s trials and ultimate redemption. But I want to touch on Job’s friends.
Job was suffering like anyone who had experienced tragic loss. All of his children had died. He lost his wealth and his health. He was suffering PTSD. His wife, also mourning, offered no help. And in come Job’s three friends.
Let me point out something about this story. First, when the friends arrive they are shocked by what they see. They are moved by Job’s mourning. They even join with him for seven days. And the whole time the friends of Job said nothing.
But everything changed when the friends began to speak. Why? Because they could not resist the urge to try to fix Job. To point out to him what his problem was and to speak for God to fix Job’s “obvious” problems. they broke every rule in the book of what not to say or do to someone in the throes of grieving.
People experiencing the shock of loss and death are not sick. They are grieving and mourning. They need your support. They need you to sit with them. They do not need you to fix them.
We all can learn a lesson for this story on several levels. But when it comes to grieving, be kind to those whose lives have been torn in pieces by grief.
As the pain and trauma and anger of losing my wife ebb into the background, it becomes easier to look back without the emotional baggage to see what lessons I have learned since Kathy died.
One of the lessons I have been thinking about has to do with healthcare. When someone dies one reaction is to second guess our decisions and to wonder if we did enough or did we do the right things at the right times. This can torment the mind of the survivors if left unchecked. For me, I have no regrets. We did what we could and the time came for Kathy to die. It was just time.
But back to healthcare. Many of the ideas and opinions and I have about treating illness I learned from helping Kathy through her illnesses. She had been sick for several years. I had spent almost as much time in doctor’s offices with her as she did. We sought council from our pastor together. We consulted with specialists together. We talked about what to do if one of us should die. So the shock and trauma was not out of ignorance, but the shock of sudden loss.
So here are some of the lessons I learned.
Pray. Be prayed for. But if you are not immediately healed, get medical help.
It is not a sin to take medication, and it is not a virtue to suffer needlessly. If you can take medications to help you, take them.
Doctors are there to help us. But we have to take charge of our own healthcare. Don’t let any doctor or nurse bully you or push you into something you don’t want to do. It’s your body, not theirs. But if you agree with them, do what they tell you to do.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Why pay a fortune on a casket and a plot that no one will visit and will only be filled with dust in time. Cremation is a viable alternative even for Christians.
Facing your grief head on will make things clear up faster than pretending there was something else that might have worked. Beating yourself up will not bring them back.
It must be human nature to try to fix people we care about. If we see something that strikes us as being amiss or out of order we are quick to offer advice on how we think that issue could be corrected.
You who are single know this. Married people assume that if you are not married you should be. Some people are overt on this, saying bluntly “Why aren’t you married?” Others are more discrete, but they ask leading questions or make covert statements that leave those of us who are single reeling.
Let me put it bluntly. I got married when I was 18 years old. I was married until I was 59 years old. I only lived as a single person for a few short months once I left home. So it is only since Kathy died that I have lived as a single man. I missed the companionship and the habit of married life. I still do. But other than a few things that I lost I am enjoying being single. Does that shock you?
One of the issues we deal with in our grieving journeys is discovering our new identity minus the person who has died. For me this means being single and living alone. This is not a bleak or dreary existence. I did not come to this understanding overnight. But as I get used to the idea of being single the idea is growing on me.
I appreciate the kindness of my friends and their concern for my welfare. But no one but me and Jesus know what I really need. And if it is up to me, for now, I don’t need a wife. Remember the old saying, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? That’s how I am. I may be grieving, but I ain’t broke. So please don’t fix me.
Chang may indeed be a constant in life. It is amazing how we focus so much attention on the short bursts of change that happen during adolescence but fail to think about the myriad of changes that happen to us throughout life.
Change is central and fundamental to the Christian faith. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
I have been surprised to find how much my life has changed since Kathy died. There are things I used to enjoy doing that I no longer enjoy doing. There are people who I used to think of as friends who no longer treat me like a friend. There are things I used to take for granted or count as important that I no longer hold in high regard. I have changed.
For those who think they know me this no doubt is unsettling. I have learned to be kind, but not to live my life to please others. I have learned that just because someone says this is what I must do does not mean it is so. I am learning what is concrete and unmovable, and how many things in my life that are negotiable.
Because of these and other changes I see happening in my life I no longer dream of meeting someone just like I used to know. I long for someone unlike my past completely.
So when you think that once we grow up we stop changing you set yourself up for disappointment or condemn yourself to a long but boring life.
Dealing with someone who is grieving can be a challenge. You don’t want to hurt them, you want to help them. Or you may be feeling the loss because you knew that person too. Let me share a few things that may help you not to hurt someone who is grieving.
It is okay not to talk much. They would appreciate the time and the call and the visit. You don’t need to help them or fix them. God will do that. But you can sit with them and love them. Do not act surprised when they act in a scary or unspiritual way.
You do not know how they feel. So don’t say that you do.
Do not talk about God or quote Bible verses or apply theological cures. It does not help at all.
Do not offer vague, unspecific help. If you offer help, be specific.
Clichés are like fingernails on a black board. Put your hand over your mouth when one pops into you head.
It takes time to grieve, and you telling them to hurry up or move on hurts the grieving person.
Are they in a better place? God knows, but you don’t. Remember, you are not God.
There may be a new spouse or new children. You will never have new parents. When the time is right new relationships will form. We are not stupid, just grieving.
The grieving journey is a trip we never planned to take but it is a trip we find we must take. It is a journey that has many pitfalls and trials along the way. And it is only by a commitment to intentional actions that we can hope to successfully move on in life.
There are several issues we must understand as we grieve. Does grieving mean forgetting? Do we need to act like the person who died never lived? No. But it does mean that as we journey down this path we will find we have moved from emotional remembering to historical remembering.
Another thing we don’t understand is the uniqueness of our relationship to the person who has died. While people are people all over the world, there is no one exactly like you and no one exactly like the one who died. And the relationship you had with them was unique in many different ways. That is why when we say, I know what you are going through, we don’t. Only God is wise enough and big enough to know us all as individuals and can know the bond we had with the one now dead. Understanding this uniqueness makes it comforting to remember our relationship to them. It is personal, private, and precious.
Through the grief journey there are goals we must try to achieve. It is not sequential and it is not a series of steps or stages to check off as you reach them. But they are sign posts to help us know that we are on the right path. We all must learn to accept that the person is dead and never coming back to us. We must learn to express the raw and uncontrolled emotions that swirl inside of us. We will need to establish a new identity separate from the one we no longer have. And we need to trust that even when we don’t feel anything or see any evidence God is real and relevant and central to our grief journey.
There are things to be aware of. People will try to fix you or rush you. Do not let them. And do not put time limits on yourself. You will be ambushed by grief. Things unexpected and irrational will hit you out of nowhere. You will survive these ambushes. It may get worse and it may get better. You will not know until you are beyond this to know that. And numbing your pain to avoid it is unsatisfying and unhealthy and can be deadly.
How long will it take to feel better? As long as it takes for you. But rest assured that it will not take forever and grieving does not last forever. You may feel alone and abandoned, like an orphan. Jesus promises to never leave us or forsake us. Ever.
Am I going crazy? Have I lost my mind? What is wrong with me? Anyone who is grieving has said or felt like this. We wonder why we do things or say things that we don’t understand. We really wonder what is going on.
There are many emotional things that we feel that really affect the real world we live in. Grieving people often battle depression. They experience fear. They feel uninterested or uninspired or unmotivated to do anything. Some grieving people find it hard just to get out of bed. Often grieving people find no enjoyment in things they used to enjoy. They find it hard to concentrate or focus. They avoid anyone or anything that may hurt them. They are afraid to love or to be loved. They become overwhelmed by changes and new responsibilities. And from time to time they simply shut down physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
One thing that has intrigued me is what we miss most about the missing person. It’s the myriad little things that they used to do or say. It is the little things in a relationship that bind us closely to another person. It is in these things that the fabric of our lives gets woven together.
Regret is a common felling among those who grieve. We regret the unfinished business of life that is always left undone anytime someone dies. The words unsaid or the love unshared. And now it’s too late to do those things. Some people write letters to spell out things that wish they would have said when the person was still alive.
Our spiritual lives suffer as well. Not wanting to pray or read the Bible or go to church happens. Church ties us to the past. People who knew them don’t know how to deal with you. This is when we learn that we really do walk by faith and not by feelings. And even when God seems distant and uncaring, He is there and active in our behalf.
One last thought. Physical symptoms are real. If you don’t feel well go get medical help. And if you feel suicidal, get help immediately. Ending your life will not bring them back or atone for your failures in the relationship.