Death is universal and all of us will ultimately experience it. It’s not a thought we enjoy entertaining – but is a reality. We all will deal differently to the circumstances that are a part of the dying of a loved one, but for us who have traveled the road already, we know, beyond the grief, healing will come. Healing for some is a short process, for others, it may take a very long time. It is sometimes a life-long journey. There is not a set time that is “the right amount of time.” The experience is personal. It just takes time.
Beyond the Grief
My husband and I have stood beside the caskets of loved ones, parishioners from our church congregations, family members, and close friends. We have sought to comfort those who have filed by to pay final respects. We’ve stood with mothers of young children, grieving widows, children who must carry on without a parent; the young and the old. Death has no age or stage of life qualifier. Always our mission as Pastor and wife has been to bring comfort. Comfort is not in the words we say or any particular act we perform. It usually is just being there.
For those who have a deep confidence in the words of scripture, there is a simple trust that heaven is a real place. It is a place where the loved ones have gone, for the scripture promises,”to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Even knowing this as a reality and part of the deep-rooted faith of a Christian, there is a sadness, and sometimes great sorrow for those who are left behind. For those who must now continue life without that person in their lives.
My 98 year-old mother-in-law ate a big breakfast this past Friday morning, laughed a bit at some of my corny humor, went to sleep, and awoke the next morning in the presence of Jesus. I knew she was nearing the end of her journey here on earth. I knew she couldn’t live forever. She was in pain from age and injury – but when that last breath faded away, I felt the loss. I’ve continued feeling the loss during this week as I have entered into grief. My grief is not as one who has no hope, for I know I will see her again in heaven, but for now I am experiencing all the normal stages of grief. Even recognizing them, I can’t change the fact that the grief is real.
I have had much exposure to death and sorrow because of my husband’s pastoral ministry. I personally have lost distant family members through the years. I have understood that grief is a real process and takes various amounts of time and exhibits itself in many forms. What I didn’t realize was that my understanding of grief was mostly academic, not experiential. Until my mother died.
In September, 1995, she was taking an afternoon walk around her neighborhood and was struck by an on-coming car. Just a few hours later she was in the presence of Jesus. I knew where she had gone. Not because of anything she had done or not done, but because of her acceptance of Christ as the only hope for salvation. As her mother had always said, “all my eggs are in one basket.”
There was no lengthy illness, no reason to think that at the age of 68 she would suddenly no longer be a part of my world. She’d never meet her grandchildren or watch with joy as they played in her home. There would be no more phone calls where she would laugh or give advice, or seek to understand my frustrations or discouragements. I’d never hear her going about her daily routines humming a little song. My grief and understanding of sorrow jumped exponentially from academic to full immersion.
During my grief process, there were times I thought I could not survive the emotional pain, and so I journaled. One day as I was looking back across my journal entries, I discovered beyond the grief, my heart was healing. It was incrementally, but it was healing. Nearly 23 years later, there are still those days that with no warning, no particular decernible reason, my heart is once again in sorrow at the absence of Mom in my life. This became especially true this week as I have felt the loss of my “second mother” – Mom H.
A year after Mom died, I wrote this poem. Healing is a passing of time. It’s a journey. If you are experiencing sorrow, I trust that these words will be helpful to you on the journey. You aren’t alone. We are walking this road alongside you. God is faithful to bind up the brokenhearted, and to heal them. It will come.
If you are in the midst of grief right now, take heart. There is a God in heaven who sees the sparrow when he falls, who knows the number of hairs on your head, who is acquainted with grief, and promises he will never leave us or forsake us. He has promised that He will be with us in all places. In the times of greatest grief, there is really NO ONE who can truly understand your pain. However, there are MANY who can identify with your journey through grief, and who care about your pain. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, loss of job, loss of compass in your life, loss of any sort, take heart. You are in a passage, on a journey, and there will come healing.
If you are walking through this valley with a friend or loved one, don’t worry about what to say. Your presence is what is needed the most. Hugs go a long way. Here are a few ideas to reach out without asking “how can I help?”
- Send a card
- Bake a pie or prepare a tray of sandwiches to drop off at the home – be sensitive whether you should stay a while or hug and leave
- Sometimes just be in the home with the family – sitting quietly, (be sensitive to know when to leave)
- Mow the grass, or shovel the sidewalk
- Use the name of the deceased in conversation
- Think of funny things that you remember about the deceased
- Remember the “first” holidays after a death are difficult, so thinking of you notecards are encouraging
- Drop off something special for any young children who are experiencing this loss (a teddy bear, toy, coloring book)
- Offer to babysit whenever needed during the first few days before, during, or after the funeral (stick a post-it-note on the refrigerator with your name and number stating that you are available – here’s my phone number)
- Discreetly tuck a $20 bill in their hands for gas or whatever is needed
- Drop off a bag filled with toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, garbage bags – things that are needed when extra people are in the home
- Purchase a journal, make the first entry with a special memory you have of the deceased, then make the journal available at the funeral home, church, or home for anyone who may want to share a memory
- Most importantly, be sensitive to ideas as they occur to you – then act on them
If you have experienced a period of grief, perhaps you’d like to share something that helped you through the experience. Please take this opportunity to share what helped you the most and might help others toward the healing process. I’d love to hear from you.