Due to events that have happened recently in my church family, and events in my own life that happened around this time of year four years ago, I’d like to spend a couple of articles dealing with the Christian form of grief and the grieving process. I’m no psychiatrist, but I would like to share my experience and how God has led me through. Let me start with my story and some thoughts that I had at the time:
November 15, 2009: Home from church. My family is doing the typical. Playing cards, Scrabble maybe, cozy in sweatshirts and lounge pants. Dad’s packing a duffel bag; he’s going to head out soon to go up north to meet a friend for a couple days of hunting, starting tomorrow. I head upstairs to my room to change into pajamas and throw my books in my school bag and get ready for bed. I’ve got school tomorrow, and as a sophomore in high school I figured I should get to bed at a decent time. After getting ready for bed, I come downstairs one more time, tell Dad I love him and good luck hunting! He says the same, and that he will definitely come home with something (even though he hasn’t in years).
November 16, 2009: Typical Monday. Not too bad, all things considered. I’m getting more comfortable at CCHS. I am lucky enough to have a 7th hour study hall, so I can get all my homework done and have nothing to worry about when I get home. My history teacher walks into my study hall and jokes with me for a few minutes, and it’s a good day. I usually ride home with my brother, but he’s working with a friend after school, so he arranges with another friend of his to take me home. When I’m home, I thank my brother’s friend for the ride and go inside. I call my mom, since she’s not home, to tell her that I am home from school, and she seems upset. She says, “Dad had some heart problems up north today, he’s in the hospital.” I say okay and hang up the phone. Honestly, I’m not worried. Dad has had lots of heart problems recently, and he’s been cleared by his cardiologist. Of course, the thought always crosses my mind, “what if he isn’t okay this time…” but I quickly dismiss it as silly. I head downstairs to sit on the couch and unwind for a bit.
I hear a truck pull up the driveway, and the front door open. I stand and turn off the television and turn around. My middle brother is just rounding the corner from the stairway. He’s upset. Something’s wrong. Dad’s not okay. The only thing my brother says is “Suz…” and I lose it. I scream at him. Yelling “NO! NO! NO!” over and over. He doesn’t need to tell me. I don’t want him to tell me. Maybe if I keep yelling at him, he won’t say the words I know are true. He sits me down on the couch and hugs me tight, cradling me slightly. He asks if I’d like him to pray, and I almost incoherently say yes. He prays quietly and brokenly for patience, healing, and grace. We go upstairs.
He hasn’t told my other siblings yet. I hold my catechism book, knowing that Dad would be disappointed if I didn’t know the answers well (I was in too much shock to realize that I wouldn’t be going to catechism that night). I listen quietly as my brother heartbreakingly calls my other brother’s friend and tells him to get home, soon as possible. I listen as he, over the phone, tells my sister and brother-in-law. My sister-in-law comes. She too doesn’t know yet.
There are so many people at my house, dozens of people bringing food, meals, flowers, cards and lots of love. It doesn’t help much. I think about how ridiculous it is, them bringing food when I want none of it. My family forces each other to eat, partially out of common sense, and partially out of common courtesy to those who brought it. At any other time the food would have been delicious, but now the very thought of it ties my stomach in knots.
If you haven’t experienced the loss of an immediate family member, you might not know how all of that felt. Its heart wrenching, and more painful than can be imagined, but we are not without comfort! What IS our only comfort in life and death? That with body and soul we are not our own! We belong to a faithful savior, who delivered us from sin and evil with His own death and resurrection! Nothing ever happens to us without our God’s willing it. At some point in our lives, we will all probably experience this sort of pain, but how we handle it is essential. At these points in our lives, Psalm 23 will seem anything but cliché. Phrases like “I will fear no evil” “Thou art with me” “Thy rod and staff…comfort me” and “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” are glorious comfort that receives new meaning. Never underestimate the power of God’s Holy Scriptures as a tool for comfort and peace in everyday life. Each verse, it seems, carries new meaning in the light of a painful loss. “I can do ALL things THROUGH CHRIST who STRENGTHENS me,” from Philippians 4:13 (emphasis mine) means more than ever before. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind,” from 1 Timothy 1:7 and “We know that all things work together for good to those that love God…” from Romans 8:28, along with many others carry profound comfort that quiets the soul at even the most painful points in our lives.
When I lost my dad, a friend gave me a pocket coin that I turned into a necklace, and I wear it pretty much 24/7. It has footprints on one side, and the other says, “It was then that I carried you.” That poem means more to me after such a loss than I ever thought possible. When suffering a painful loss, we should look first to God’s word, but never underestimate the power of God through contemporary writers in addition. God brings comfort in a number of ways, first of all through His Word, and secondarily through other writers, friends, family and our own personal ways in which we learn to cope (i.e.: taking long walks, horseback riding, cooking, writing…).
But coping is not easy. Often we get angry. We are so hurt; we often wonder “why would God do this to me?” And while we know these questions are sinful and wrong, our human nature often resorts to these responses. I’ll save that for another article.