“She is dead.”
I hung up the phone, sat on the floor and burst into tears as those three words rang in my head.
My number one encourager, my lifelong kindred spirit, the love of my life………dead.
The next five days are permanently etched on my heart as I remember the ordeal of the wake, the funeral, the burial. My focus during that time was riveted on the casket. The casket. She was in that casket. Well-meaning people would interrupt that focus with their attempts at comfort. I would nod my head, fake a smile, wait for them to go away, and resume my focus on the casket.
It didn’t seem real. This was the first death I had to experience in life. I was not prepared. But what does prepare a person to handle it?
As I plodded through the weeks and months that followed, I realized my mourning went through clear phases:
- For one month after her death I would pick up the phone at 6:45 am to call her (the usual time for my call) only to realize she would not be picking up the phone. When the phone rang at 5:15 pm (the usual time she would call) I would pick up the phone only to be letdown that it was someone else calling. All my life she had had the status of “always there for me/the key pillar of my life”. And now in one day that had switched to “gone, never to return.” My brain was slow to get it. When it did I transitioned into……
- WHY DIDN’T SHE TAKE BETTER CARE OF HER HEALTH? WHY DIDN’T THE PRESTIGIOUS HOSPITAL SHE WENT TO DIAGONOSE HER PROPERLY? WHY DID SHE DRINK SO MUCH? WHY? WHY? WHY? But no one heard those questions, and no answers came. I’m not sure how long this phase lasted, certainly several weeks. The only thing it produced in me was mental exhaustion….so I descended into…
- Numbness. Disorientation. Darkness. Being dazed. For over a year I shuffled through life, fulfilling my responsibilities but feeling disengaged from everyone and everything. No matter where I went I felt like there was a black hole walking right next to me that had sucked her – and joy – right out of my life. Nothing gave me joy. Gloom was all pervasive. Talking to others about my mental state would not have helped; I didn’t even try. It’s as if I needed time for the dust to settle in this new chapter of my life, for the shock of her departure to really sink in. And then……
- While spending time with friends something triggered memories of some of the hilarious times I’d had with her. I laughed and smiled. That was probably the first time I had laughed since her death. Instantly I knew I was leaving the numbness behind me. I realized she would not want me to spend the rest of my life paralyzed in mourning without end. I knew if she could she would literally give me a kick and yell at me to get on with my life. Yes, the clock had stopped for her. But the clock had not stopped for me. Depression was not honoring her. STOP IT, THIS INSTANT! If I really wanted to honor her I would never forget her, but I should realize that a new chapter in my life had opened, and I needed to seize it to the max. I could almost hear her yelling those words in my ear. No doubt about it.
In subsequent years that “breakthrough” attitude has remained and served me well.
Where was God during this time of mourning? Was I mad at Him? Not at all. Did I go to church, read my Bible, pray? Yes. Did I doubt His wisdom in taking her? No way. Did I feel distant from Him? Never. I was just dazed at the brutality of death, raw at having a loved one ripped out of my life, and deeply missing the most significant human molder of my life.
Various observations about mourning:
When someone close to me dies, I need to realize I am emotionally vulnerable. Beware lest Satan hijack my heart! “If our mourning goes beyond sorrow into bitterness, then we have allowed pain to abscess and become poison. We must examine the griefs we experience and take care that they never become the occasion for sin. They never did that to Jesus. We pray they won’t do it to us.”
Funerals are artificial, somewhat deceptive experiences. From the moment you hear about the death until the day of burial is over, likely you are surrounded, even smothered by family and friends. They send cards, provide meals, give lots of needed hugs and comfort. But the time comes when those uplifting mourners return to their everyday routines…….and you likely have to deal with the new void in your life on your own. That is when your new reality hits and hits hard. It is possible to be overwhelmed at that time.
A few days after the burial a co-worked came up to me, expressed sympathy, and left after saying, “Life goes on.” NO, MY LIFE WAS NOT MOVING ON. I was just starting to go through the grieving stages listed above. I was stuck in a grieving rut with no exit in sight, and there was no way my life was simply going to bounce back to normal anytime soon. I felt like she was denying me the time and right to grieve. Maybe she meant well, but I can’t think of anything clumsier she could have said.
My get togethers with friends in the months after the funeral were awkward and annoying. My friends cared about me and wanted to be there for me. But our times together were strained. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know how to treat me. It took me a while to realize that in my circle of friends I was the first one to experience the death of someone close to me. My friends had yet to go through that. Not their fault. Now that we have all had to deal with deaths we can relate to each other much better.
Mourning is highly personal. No one had the relationship to her that I had. No one has the memories I have. And everyone in her life can say that exact same thing. When sitting around with her best friends reminiscing about her, there comes a time when the group lapses into silence as each of us is lost in his own special unique memories they had of her. Priceless treasures, but not held in common.
After the burial was over I had to go back to work. And the deadline to pay taxes was coming. No one else could prepare my taxes for me. I had to do it myself. Those responsibilities turned out to be beneficial. No, mourning cannot be suppressed. But fulfilling my job and tax responsibilities prevented me from plunging into an even deeper darkness and forced me to spread my mourning period out. Definite wise gifts from God.
The first major holidays after her passing were painful reminders of her departure. The empty chair at the holiday table, the holiday role she had always played, the great food she made…. were now sentenced to be just memories. Holidays need to be reprogrammed to be appropriate for the new reality that does not include the departed.
I had never been a person who cried easily or often. Her death changed that. I could be driving along in my car in a good mood, memories would come to mind, and tears would gush out of my eyes as if a faucet had been turned on all the way.
There have been occasional times when I was grocery shopping and became really sad. Puzzled, I looked at a calendar and realized it was the anniversary of her death which seems to have been permanently programed into my brain. Just as Christmas or Easter or national holidays are programmed into my yearly cycle, so is the date of her departure.
Several pictures of her hang on my wall. If I think about her long enough, tears can still come to me now even years after her death. But this new chapter of my life without her has been a rich time. His plan for my life has not been what I expected or planned. But He has always been there for me. He has filled the hole in my heart. He knows what He is doing.
2 Samuel 12:19-20
But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped….
“We have tried everything imaginable to deal with grief – most of which don’t work. Why don’t we try worship?” Yes, God deserves all the worship we can give Him. But we benefit from worship. How? Worship reminds us that Someone is in control even when it seems that no one is in control. Worship reminds us of our security in Him, the resources we have in Him, the stability we have in Him. Worship reminds us our Foundation is secure even when we feel like we’ve been hit by a tsunami.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
“Jesus came and lived as a human in this broken world. He gets it. He knows the tormenting thirst and weakness of life’s final hours. As our High Priest who fully understands our heartaches, He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), as does His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). He calls us friends (John 15:15) and promises that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), that His Spirit will dwell in us (John 14), and that He will give us peace (14:27; 16:33) and even joy (15:11; 16:22)”.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
What a practical invitation from Him! In the midst of our mourning we can vent on Him. We need that! No need to keep grief bottled up inside. This is compassion to the 100th power.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
“Even in the context of hope, we still grieve, and that is appropriate. Jesus Himself wept at His friend’s tomb. The Bible does not dismiss or minimize grief, and we shouldn’t underestimate its impact. But we grieve differently than those without hope.” What comfort to realize that a deceased believer is having a great day even as we cry over the separation. He needs no medicine, doctors, surgery, comfort, prayer. We are not saying goodbye to him; we will see him later.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
You and I give Job’s friends well deserved low marks for their unbiblical, even cruel comments that dominate much of the book. But before we completely write them off, let’s look at this passage and give them well deserved high marks for what they did do right. It had to be of immense comfort to Job that there were some friends showing loyalty to him in their silent companionship. They showed up. They cared. Years after family funerals I still remember who came and sat with me. That still means something to me today.
And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Two lessons for me here: 1) The death might be labeled an accident; the death might have come at the worst conceivable time. The fact is timing has God’s fingerprints all over it. He is the one who said that time was up. 2) Be thankful for the time I do have with family and friends. I have no right to them for as long as I want. Make the most of today because tomorrow might never come.
1 John 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are.
Think about it. We can lose our health, jobs, family, money, friends, reputation, etc etc etc. And some believers do lose some or all of those. But here we have the one thing a believer can never lose. Never! NEVER! NEVER! We can never lose our membership in His family. He will never kick us out. Why should Christians be the most secure people on earth? Here is the answer: our Perfect Heavenly Father will always be there for us.
“What we need most in the midst of grief is God Himself. He will meet us, give us Himself, fill the void left by our loved ones, warm our hearts, lift our burdens, and draw us into the sweet balm of fellowship with His Spirit. And as our Father tenderly swaddles us in His love, our love for Him will grow, our faith and trust will deepen, and even amid the heartache of grief we will praise Him with deep and true joy.”
so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Our earthly family might be in the grave, but our faith in Christ makes us members of the body of Christ that will be there for us,
most significantly, when we are wounded.
Part of the job description of our membership in the body of Christ:
weep with those who weep…
and practice the many “one anothers” – pray for one another, encourage one another, love one another…
Want an examples of Bible grieving?
2 Samuel 1:17-27
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:
19 “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
21 “You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22 “From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan turned not back,
and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.
24 “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25 “How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
very pleasant have you been to me;
your love to me was extraordinary,
surpassing the love of women.
27 “How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!”
Jonathan certainly deserved this public salute. But it would not surprise us if David’s personal grieving was aided by this lengthy, detailed tribute, this public venting of his deep feelings.