Living With Loss Archives 2006

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  • My Worst September by Cindy Granke
  • What Can I Say When My Heart Is Breaking? by Cindy Granke
  • Living With Loss During The Holidays by Cindy Granke
  • Seasons Of The Soul.by Cindy Granke
  • Understanding Grieving Mothers by Cindy Granke
  • What Do I Do Now? by Cindy Granke
  • What I've Learned from My Own Grief by Cindy Granke
  • When Crisis Comes by Charles N. Spence Jr
  • Stages of Grief  by Netagene Kirkpatrick


My Worst September
by Cindy Granke

 

     Preacher's children are far from perfect. They make mistakes and stray, just like other children, and ours were no different. They were good children, giving us little trouble, except a few gray hairs now and then, as they got into the usual mischief with their friends, but nothing serious. They loved Bible stories, and memorized verses and songs about Bible lessons. They attended worship without question or arguments. They married, and over the years they’ve given us eleven grandchildren.

     As adults, they have faced problems and tough decisions, sometimes making unwise choices. But even when they stumbled, they retained their knowledge of God, and they knew what was required of them in order to be reconciled to Him. And they taught their children to pray and to go to God when they or others were ill, needed help, or when they were thankful.

     Our lives changed dramatically when, early on the morning of September 7, 2000, our 31-year old daughter, Erica was thrown from the car she was driving, when a front tire slipped off a narrow country road and she lost control, causing the car to roll over. She ended up on the pavement, her legs pinned under the car. With massive head injuries, her broken body could not survive. That day, our hearts shattered, as we struggled to cope with pain worse than any we could ever have imagined. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.

     How empty our lives would be without her. How do young children learn to live without their Mommy’s gentle touch, or tickling them, or without her kiss when she tucks them in, at bed time? Her children, husband, sister and brother miss her terribly. But it is as parents that her father and I grieve. We can no longer hold her, or touch her, or sing with her. And we can’t call her up on the phone and talk about the things we used to be able to share, whenever we wished. Her soul is now in God’s hands. The earthly part of her that we knew and loved so much, is no more.

     All of our children are very special to us, but this article is about losing one of them. It’s about the relationship between that child, and her parents. It’s about the friendship, the long heart-felt conversations, shared anxieties, tears, childhood crushes, and chats after her dates. It’s about shopping together, and yard sales, and flea markets, teasing, laughing, sentimental moments, and discussing spiritual subjects, and learning to live with our loss of those things.

     There are many things about losing a loved one that I thought I understood before, that are now much clearer, and are forever embedded on my heart. My husband and I have both buried our parents. That was hard. But this is much worse.

     Did God love our daughter more than we do? Perhaps, but I don’t see how. Was it God who took her away from us? No, I don’t think so. Many blame God for this kind of tragedy. And well-meaning friends, sometimes even Christians, promote that notion by making comments like, “God needed her (or loved her) more than you, so He took her to be with Him.” That statement makes God out to be the cause of death and pain. Much to the contrary, God is the Giver of good things (James 1:17). It was Satan brought sin and death into this world (Genesis 3:2-5; John 8:44), and it is Satan who uses them to wreak havoc in the lives of God’s people.  Consider, for example, the case of Job, and how Satan sought to break that godly man through the deaths of all his children (Job 1). I cannot even imagine how Job must have felt at losing all of his children at once, but clearly he saw God as the One who had blessed him with them, and not the cause of his affliction (Job 1:20-22).  It is God who is the Giver of life and victory over death ( Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

     Even though Erica was 31 years old, my first thought upon hearing that she probably would not survive, was, “Lord, please take me, instead. Not her! Please don’t let my child die!” Of course that was not the way of things. I am so thankful that she did not linger in pain, or suffer for months on end. I don’t know how parents bear such things. But I do know that, while God does not bend the laws of nature which He set into motion when He created the universe, He does promise not to test our hearts with more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). That surely includes sorrow. And He will give us the strength to do all that is required of us (Philippians 4:13), although I confess at that moment, I felt anything but strong.

     I have learned that praying at such times becomes a helpless attempt to express the inexpressible. There are no words to describe the depth of despair and the seemingly physical pain deep in one’s soul, at a time like that. Yet, I know that God heard my sobbing in the night. He understood my feeble efforts to put words to the feelings of emptiness in my heart (Romans 8:26-27).

     I have learned that there is work for me to do, and this is part of my chastening (Hebrews 12:11). Because of my sad experience, I am better able to understand and give comfort to other parents who lose a child (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I believe that God uses His people as messengers (“angels,” if you will) to console, comfort, teach, and encourage others when there is a need.

     So many Christians came forward to provide everything we needed, during that terrible time. We saw others living such passages, as I Corinthians 12:25 and Romans 12:15. They wept with us, prayed with us, held us close, and took care of things that we never even realized we needed, until the need was upon us, and urgent. Never have we known such an outpouring of love and sharing in our sadness.

     Do I blame God for taking my child? Not at all. Satan snatched our daughter away from us, and it is he who deserves the blame. Through her death, he hoped to destroy the faith of those who loved her. And sometimes he accomplishes that goal, in the hearts of those who are weak in faith. But with God’s help, and the comfort given to us by His word and His people, we survived our sorrow. We still cry sometimes, and talk about Erica’s smiles, her cheerful disposition, her telephone calls, and our conversations with the friend she had become to us. But Satan cannot separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39). We will live to be with Him, when our time on this earth is over. And we thank God for the hope of being reunited with Erica, too, on that day.

 

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Question:  I have a friend who is terminally ill. I call her every week to help encourage her and always try to be upbeat and end our phone calls positively. I've sent her little gifts and cards to let her know that I'm thinking about her but I find that when I call, each phone call is harder and harder because I'm struggling to find anything to say when my heart is breaking. She continues to get worse. . . I just can't find the right words.  What can I possibly say when there seems to be so little hope?  I'm so sensitive to her pain and condition that my conversation is awkward and seems so insignificant. How can I help her?


What Can I Say When My Heart Is Breaking?

by Cindy Granke

 

Let me begin by saying that I also have a very close friend who is terminally ill and while she isn't in the last stages yet, she is on dialysis and very weak and sometimes becomes so overwhelmed that she wants to give up.  I've prayed a lot to the Lord to help me know what to say to her, and how to say it in a way which will help her.  There are times when she is so distraught that there seems to be little I can say to comfort her.  Once, during such a phone call a few months ago, I suggested that we pray together.  I silently asked God’s help – then I prayed for her and for the comfort and peace that only He can give to her - and to her family, as well.  I asked God to help her to know how loved she is, and how much she means to me, and for Him to give her courage and strength, both physical and emotional, to face each day.  We both cried before it was concluded, but it seemed to be what she needed most and it also helped me in my own grief over her suffering.  We don't do that every time I talk to her, but when she is feeling so bad - physically or emotionally - and so weak, I know that nothing I can say will assuage her distress – that’s when I know that we need to pray together. 

    I would be remiss, at this point if I did not mention that those who are very ill often do not feel up to having company, and sometimes they don’t even feel like talking on the phone for long.  You are very thoughtful in taking time to send cards and gifts.  And when you do call, ask her if she feels like talking.  Sometime I can tell by my friend’s voice that she is feeling too weak to carry on a conversation.  In fact, most of my calls to my friend are quite short, for this very reason.  At those times, I try to ask enough questions to find out if she needs to talk, and remind her that I love her and pray for her every day.  I also let her know that I just need to hear her voice, etc.  The key is to be alert to her needs.  I know her well enough to sense when she is struggling with her emotions or when she needs to talk.   

    One of the hardest things for us to accept sometimes is that we cannot fix what is happening to a loved one, or make the fear or dread of it go away.  I think it’s important for you to try to put yourself in your friend’s shoes - as much as is possible for someone who has never been in those shoes.   It’s important not to stop calling her because you aren’t sure what to say.  Many of us struggle with that problem when we want so badly to comfort a loved one.   You are correct in trying to be bright and cheerful when you are talking with anyone who is suffering (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  Recalling joyous occasions you have shared and fun times when you laughed together may cheer the heart and lift a sagging spirit (Proverbs 15:13; 17:22).

    However there are times when a person needs someone to listen to her and be with her as she struggles with her fears.  She may need for you to simply ask her to tell you what's going through her mind or what she is feeling emotionally.  You might even ask her if she is afraid.  Keep in mind, she may not be afraid of death - but she may be anxious about the "dying" part of it.  That's a scary thing for many who are facing a painful death.  Even the Lord felt dread when facing his physical death on the cross (Matthew 26:37-45; Luke 22:41-44). 

     If she can express her concerns to you, you will have given her a gift that very few people know how to give.  There is probably nothing you can say to alleviate her apprehension about leaving her family behind, especially if she will be leaving young children behind without their mother.  However, just being able to unburden herself about it all may give her great relief and peace of mind.

    Oh, and it's okay to weep with her (Romans 12:15).

    Prayer is always appropriate at such times.  "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:6-7 NKJV).

    Your friend needs that kind of peace right now.  It is very hard not to have some anxieties about the unknown aspects of dying.  It's human.  I think the key here is giving our fears to God and asking Him to help us overcome them.  And that's where you come in - to guide her in that direction when she is fearful.

    While we are not to be overly concerned about the things in this life - food, clothing, shelter, etc. (Matthew 6:25-34), Jesus certainly recognized that there are situations that come upon us which cannot be ignored.  He could not ignore the agony He would shortly suffer when He was in the garden of Gethsemane.  At such times we are told to cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7) and that He understands and is not untouched by our weakness and our struggles (Hebrews 4:15-16).

    I would also suggest that you check your local library for “On Death and Dying,” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  It was recommended to me when I was feeling about helpless, as you are for your friend. I highly recommend this book.

    Is your friend a Christian?  If so, that makes it easier for both of you. It is still painful to see our loved ones facing death, but faithful Christians who know they are dying look forward to that wonderful place where, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:4  NKJV 

    In closing I just want to emphasize how important it is for you not to stop calling your friend.  She needs you because she knows that you love her.  She need for you to listen to her words, and listen with your heart.  Even though you can't truly know what she is going through you can still say, "I understand, even though I can't completely know the feeling of facing what you are facing... but I love you and I'm here.  Please share your thoughts and your fears with me. . ." 

    Ask God to give you courage, too.  And ask Him to help you to know how to respond to her needs.  I've found that He always comes through when I'm desperately pleading for His help.  He will help you, too.

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Question:  "My husband died over a year ago and my family doesn't understand why I'm having such a difficult time with the holidays.  They want everything to be normal, but I don't feel normal about holiday celebrations yet.  I just want it all to be over with.  I feel guilty for not decorating the house like I usually do, but it's just too painful.  Am I wrong for not doing things the way they want me to?  I don't want to shop for presents, but I don't want to neglect my family, either.  Are gift certificates OK?"

~ Living With Loss During the Holidays ~
by Cindy Granke

     My favorite holiday of the year has just passed.  Thanksgiving has always been a time for our extended family to come together, and for sharing the blessings of our physical family as well as our Christian family.  Now, as the end of the year approaches, the festive time of holiday gift giving, family togetherness and welcoming in a new year is upon us.  It’s an exciting time of the year.  But not everyone feels joyful or festive, at this time of year.  If you have lost a loved one during this past year, you are probably experiencing conflicting and painful emotions.  Adapting to the absence of a loved one is difficult enough, but the first holidays, with their traditions  and reminders, can be especially painful.  Even when surrounded by friends and family, you may feel isolated and torn between your love for those around you, and your grief for the one you’ve lost.    

     Our daughter Erica died in September of 2000.  I remember vividly the first time I walked into a store and found the Thanksgiving cards and decorations on the shelves.  I hadn’t even considered that far ahead yet, and all of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion at the knowledge that she wouldn’t be with us that year.  I fled from the store in tears.  I found myself wishing that I could fast-forward through November, December, and into January.   And as I soon learned, that wouldn’t be the last time that I had to leave a store without finishing my shopping, during the holidays.  I had to avoid the card aisles totally, and sometimes just avoid certain stores, around Christmas, Mother’s Day and other special occasions, for several months.   I didn’t even want to be in our house for Thanksgiving or Christmas, that year.  I wanted to go camping and try to get far away from all of the reminders.  Of course that didn’t work – but I thought about it. 

     One thing that helped me work through those first several months was the love and compassion of some very special people.  I cannot imagine going through such times without the knowledge that God heard my weeping and my prayers through those dark nights (Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 4:14-16); or without the help of my sister and a few precious sisters in Christ who listened and wept with me, and were always there.   

     While talking with others about our deepest feelings can be very helpful, not all of us are comfortable baring our souls in such manner.  Then again, not all listeners are comfortable listening to a friend who is hurting so deeply or crying.  They may feel compelled to make the hurting stop, try to cheer us up, draw our minds off our grief, and completely avoid the topic we most need to talk about, at the time.  But that’s another article.  Remember, "...we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength."  (Romans 15:1 NASB)  

     I’m not much of a diary person, but many who had gone through the loss of a loved one encouraged me to try writing my innermost feelings in a journal.   It was hard, in the beginning.  I didn’t know where to start and I cried every time I tried.   But after the suddenness of my daughter’s death, there were so many things I wished I could have said to her.   I decided to write my entries as though I were writing directly to her.  I said all the things I hadn’t had a chance to say to her before she died.  I asked her the questions that plagued me about the time of her accident as she lay on the pavement, through the few hours in the hospital before she was gone.  I cried a lot making those entries, and I couldn’t write every day.  I wrote when I needed to talk to her and when I felt like writing.  As time went on I found my entries came to be less about those agonizing thoughts, and more about my memories of times we had shared with each other.  There were still tears, but not as much.  And eventually I realized I was writing less and less often, and I finally just put the journal up with her things, where it has remained.  I haven’t brought it out and relived those moments again.  I’m not ready to do that.  I may never be.  But writing in that journal did help me more than I ever imagined it would.   I highly recommend it to you if you are having difficulty with the holidays.  You can express whatever is in your heart without any fear of judgment from others, or embarrassment if you cry.  You can express your feelings -- frustration, anger, love -- whatever you want to say.  It’s just your feelings and emotions on that piece of paper.  No one else ever needs to see it, unless you want them to.   

     Well-meaning people are fond of saying things like, “Time heals all wounds.”  This may be true of fleshly or physical wounds, but time does not heal the emotional wounds of loss – be it the loss of a loved one, or of your health at the onset of a terminal illness, or of your physical abilities due to an accident.  When Jacob thought Joseph had been killed, he mourned and refused to be comforted, saying he would go to his grave mourning (Genesis 37:34-35).  However, time does allow the rawness of the sorrow to heal over.  The loss is still painful and remains for a long time.   Author, Daphne du Maurier is quoted saying: 

 

“Little by little, just as

the deaf, the blind, the handicapped

develop with time an extra sense

to balance disability, so the bereaved,

the widowed, will find new strength,

new vision, born of the very pain

and loneliness which seem at first,

impossible to master."

     And so it is for those of us who grieve. 

 

     Someone once compared the scars left by losing a loved one to someone blushing.  Unlike physical scars, these are invisible, and are seldom seen until a particular word, song, smell, or other stimulus strikes a nerve which brings a tear to the eye, causes a hand to tremble, the voice to quiver, or a faraway look to come over the face.  Since our grief may not always show on the outside, others may forget over ensuing months that we are still grieving.

 

     Contrary to a common theory which perpetually seems to find it’s way to our ears after we lose a loved one, there is not a set time when grieving ends and life returns to normal, again.  There is no magic length of time – like one year – when a widow ought to start going out, or parents stop mourning the loss of a child, or a woman whose husband divorced her for another woman, stops hurting.  Love doesn’t stop after a year.  Very often the second year, or even the third, is still difficult.  After some time passes, others tend to forget the important dates or that we still miss our loved ones.  I don’t think they mean to forget – it’s just that their relationship to our loved one wasn’t as intimate or profound as ours.  Everyone handles grief differently, so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty by insisting, “It’s been long enough.”  For myself, I know that we don’t get over losing a child.  We just learn to go on without them. 

If you have lost a loved one this year, or even last year, may I offer these suggestions?
 

  • Realize and accept that the holidays are going to be different, this year, and give yourself permission to do things differently than you have in the past. If one tradition is too upsetting for you to manage, this year, do something different.  Don’t try to be Super Woman and attempt to do everything as if nothing has changed.  Something has changed.   This may be a good year to plan with other family members or friends to share the traditional activities.  Instead of cooking the traditional meal yourself, why not make it a covered-dish meal, and everyone can do part of it?  When you have children at home, changing traditions is more complicated, but children understand there is a huge void in the family, and by  working together, your family can create solutions for your children’s needs, as well as the grown-ups.
  • If you can’t face the crowds or the stores, with all their reminders of past holidays, try shopping on line, or asking a friend to pick up items for you.  Gift certificates are wonderful resources.
  • You may not have the physical or emotional energy to tolerate the hustle and bustle of the holiday celebrations, this year.  It’s okay not to send cards this year,  and everyone will understand.   It’s okay not to bake cookies and pies, for everyone.  If you need the traditional activities, then by all means, do them, but the main thing is to do only what you feel you are able to handle, and don’t feel guilty about those things you can’t deal with, this year.
  • If you can’t face being at home for the holidays, think about visiting relatives out of town.  Or volunteer to help others by serving a meal at a homeless shelter,  or visiting at a local hospital, or nursing home.  

 

     Remember that death doesn’t end a relationship – it only changes it.  It may change your marital status, or the size of your family, but even if you marry again later, you will always have a connection with your loved ones who are gone,  through your memories and the love and experiences you shared with them. 

He healeth the broken in heart,

And bindeth up their wounds.
He telleth the number of the stars;

He calleth them all by their names.

Great is our Lord, and of great power:

His understanding is infinite.

(Ps 147:3-5)

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Seasons Of The Soul
by Cindy Granke

     Solomon wrote “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Among those, he included a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance (verses 3 & 4). 

    God created man with the ability and the need to laugh, as well as to weep.  Sometimes tears of sorrow continue long after what caused them has past.  David tells of sobbing all night, until he was too exhausted to cry any longer (Ps. 6:6-9 NIV). 

    In our season of mourning, when we feel that we will never stop weeping or know happiness again, let us take comfort in Jesus’ words to his disciples as the time of His death drew near

Cindy Granke 

“Verily, verily, I say unto you,

that ye shall weep and lament,

but the world shall rejoice:

and ye shall be sorrowful,

but your sorrow shall

be turned into joy" 

(John 16:20).

Why am I cast down

And despondently sad,

When I long to be happy

And joyous and glad?

Why is my heart heavy

With unfathomable weight,

As I try to escape

This soul-saddened state?

I ask myself often ...

"What makes life this way?

Why is the song silenced

In the heart that was gay?"

And then, with God's help

It all becomes clear.

The "Soul" has its "Seasons"

Just the same as the year.

I, too, must pass through

 Life's autumn of dying,

A desolate period

Of heart-hurt and crying.

Followed by winter

In whose frostbitten hand

My heart is as frozen

As the snow-covered land.

Yes, man too must pass

Through the seasons God sends,

Content in the knowledge

That everything ends.

And, Oh! What a blessing

To know there are reasons,

And to find that our soul

Must, too, have its seasons.

"Bounteous Seasons,"

And "Barren Ones," too.

Times for rejoicing

And times to be blue.

But meeting these seasons

Of dark desolation

With strength that is born

Of anticipation

That comes from knowing

That "autumn-time sadness"

Will surely be followed

By a "Springtime of Gladness."

~ Helen Steiner Rice ~

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~ Understanding Grieving Mothers ~
or, “be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
(James 1:19)
Cindy Granke

After someone very close to us dies, there is a time during our grief when we may be a bit oversensitive. A period when something as simple as a cashier saying, “Have a nice day,” or “Happy Thanksgiving,” can make us a little crazy. Then, several months pass, and others do not see us crying anymore -- partly because they are not with us during the lonely hours in the night, when our minds remember, and our hearts ache -- so they think we are over the death of our loved one.

An emotional time for me was about eight months after our daughter’s death, as Mother’s Day approached. Those who knew me understood, and often called to talk, weep with me, or invite me out for walks or lunch. However, others whom I met later, or who did not know me well, graciously offered their own version of encouragement. “You ought to be thankful for the children you have.” “You’re still Erica’s mother, even though she is no longer alive!” I understood their intentions were good, but I felt defensive. I do love my other children dearly, and I am thankful for them, but there is still an empty place in my heart for the child who is gone. The fact is that, if either of my other children had died in that accident, I would feel exactly the same way about them. And I know that I am still Erica’s mother even though she’s not alive, but somehow that little morsel of wisdom did little to ease my sadness, at the time.

I truly believe that most folks sincerely wish to comfort and help ease the sorrow of a bereaved parent. Yet the wires somehow seem to get crossed between the mind, and the mouth, of some who have even the best of intentions. Let’s take a minute to put ourselves in a mother’s place. Imagine that you have just miscarried a long awaited baby. Or that you have given birth to a infant who never took his first breath, or who lived only a few hours, a few weeks, a few years. Or that you have lost an adult child who had grown up to become not only your child, but a good friend, who has given you grandchildren, and so much more.

In frustration with his friends’ efforts to console him, Job told them, “Miserable comforters are ye all” (Job 16:1-2). The following examples are frequently offered to console a mother who has just lost a child. However they more often cut to the quick.

“At least, it didn’t go full term. You didn’t have time to become attached to it.”

“Be glad he was only six months old. It would have been worse if you’d had him longer.”

“You’re young. You can have another child.”

“You’re strong. You’ll get over it.

“It’s not the end of the world. You can always adopt one.”

“God needed another flower in His garden.”

“God needed her more than we did here, on Earth.”

“You must be strong for your family. Don’t let them see you crying.”

Expecting a bereaved family member not to cry is unreasonable, and unhealthy. It is a necessary part of the grief process. They need support in their tears, not to be made to feel guilt for shedding them. And they need time to do their grieving before we expect them to be strong again.

A young woman told me recently that, when her brother was killed several years ago, it was as if her mom had no other children, for the next two years. At the time, I didn’t know how to answer her. But here is what I wish I had said:

“To a mother, all of her children are like an extension of her body, her flesh. When one of them dies, it is like a part of her body has been ripped away. All of her other body parts may be in place and working fine, but her attention is now entirely focused on the gaping hole left by the part that was severed. None of the surviving body parts can stop the pain and the shock, or bring the missing part back to it’s place. It’s just gone, and recuperating from such a loss, whether to a body, or to a family, is a slow and painful process.”

Sometimes it takes us moms a lot longer than our children expect, to heal after losing a child, and to find a new “normal” for ourselves. Perhaps, as mothers, we need to be a little more aware of our other children’s need for us to communicate with them, during our time of mourning for our lost child. They need to be assured that, if they were the ones we had lost, we would be just as heartbroken and lost, without them. And we need to realize that they also are mourning the loss of their brother or sister.

And a word to the children, whether young, adolescent, or adult, who feel their parents have forgotten them after the death of their brother or sister: Try talking to your parents, and explaining how you feel. They may not even realize how you feel, or that they might be neglecting to give you the attention you need. Then, if you’re still having trouble understanding or dealing with your own, or your parent’s grief, talk to another adult, like a close family friend, a member of the church with whom you feel comfortable, an elder in the church -- preferably someone who has lost a member of his own immediate family-- someone who can help both you and your parents.

Grief is a learn-as-you-go experience, and we don’t always get it right, but no one wants the experience necessary to gain that wisdom, either. It’s best when we can learn by talking and sharing what we do know.



We enjoy
WARMTH
because we
have been
COLD.
We appreciate
LIGHT
because we
have been in
DARKNESS.
By the same token,
we can experience
JOY
because we
have known
SORROW.

Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness
be for my comfort, according to
thy word
unto thy servant.
Psalm 119:76

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What Do I Do Now?
By Cindy Granke

After my daughter’s funeral was over and my husband returned to work, and everyone else had gone home, a terrible loneliness settled over me. I wandered from room to room, wondering what I was supposed to do now. I felt so empty inside and my house felt empty. My whole life had changed. I suppose that feeling of being lost may be even more acute in someone who is now alone in the home so recently shared with a beloved spouse. Bereaved family members, who probably drifted through the past few days in somewhat of a fog, may now begin to feel the reality and true depth of their loss. This is the kind of grief -- the loneliness, and sometimes depression -- that often grows worse after the funeral. Depending on the individual and her particular circumstances, it may go on for a month, a year, or more. The following are some ideas which you may find useful in helping those you love who are struggling to get through those long, painful months that continue, long after the funeral of their loved one.

Please do not avoid visiting someone who is mourning, because you don’t know what to say. Just give your bereaved friend a chance. Trust me, she needs to talk, and needs for you to listen. All you need to do is be there and let her know you care, by asking her how she is REALLY doing. Call her often. You can’t take away her pain, but you can make her feel less alone just by being there to listen, or to weep with her when she needs to weep on emotional days, which may come and go for a long time. And don’t be afraid to talk about the person who died, and to say you miss him, too. It’s okay to talk about memories of him and to laugh at the funny things. Some of our memories are bound to be humorous, and it is perfectly normal to laugh about them, while we are mourning our loved ones (Romans 12:15). But remember, unless you are willing to listen, don’t ask how she is doing.

Drop your friend a note, or call on special days. Mark on your calendar the date the loved one died, his birthday, their wedding anniversary, along with reminders for Mother’s or Father’s Day, or other occasions that were special to them. The following year, you might drop a note, or call to let the survivor know you are thinking of her, or ask how she is doing, that day. A few words mean so much, and take only minutes of your time. Those first year times for everything are almost certain to be emotional days for your friend, and she will appreciate that you cared enough to remember. She will also be thankful that you are willing to share some of the heaviness in her heart, on that day. That is surely a part of bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Don’t be afraid to touch. Even when you don’t know what to say, the human touch is always comforting. Even newborns, who do not know what you are saying, will grasp your finger, and often stop crying. Hugs are comforting, too, but if you don’t feel comfortable hugging when someone is hurting inside, simply reach your hand out, and gently touch her shoulder or arm.

Sometimes the younger children in the family are whisked away into other rooms, so they won’t hear the grown ups talking about arrangements or things that might upset them. But we need to spend time with them, too. They’ve lost a parent or sibling, and they are hurt and confused, and in need of attention which their parent(s) may not be able to give, at that time. You can see it in their faces, at the funeral or cemetery. They need our hugs and our love, too. This is a good time for others their age, or slightly older, to spend some time with them, and give them some special care and attention of their own. Teddy Bears make wonderful friends to give children, at such times.

If you sense your friend is staying home a lot, ask her to go places with you. For me it was painful just going into grocery or department stores, where nearly everything brought memories of my daughter, especially when holiday items appeared. And don’t be surprised if your friend weeps during certain hymns at worship services, in the months to come. She may feel embarrassed at being so emotional, and may want to hide alone at home, but encourage her to come, anyway. If she has to leave the service briefly, take a box of tissues, follow her, and hold her, then when she has calmed down, you may both come back in. During the week, invite her to take walks in the park, or go window shopping, or have lunch together. It is only a tiny step from grief, to depression. So don’t give up on your friend. Assure her, “If you don’t feel like talking, that’s okay. But I love you, and I’m not going to let you go through this alone.”

Grieving is always a time of terrible sadness, but with your tender care, it doesn’t have to be such a lonely time.

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What I’ve Learned From
My Own Grief
By Cindy Granke

One thing is certain. We all must face the death of dear ones at some time in our lives. When it happens to us, we are afflicted with pain and sadness beyond what we could ever expect, and we cannot make it go away. A couple of months after our daughter was killed, I wondered if my whole life would ever be free of emptiness and pain. I eventually compared it to a pregnant woman in long, difficult labor. At some point the pain may be so severe that it is all she can think about. But there is no turning back or undoing what happened to cause the pain. The only choice is to go through it and endure it, no matter how badly it hurts or how long it takes. The difference is that when her pain is over, she holds her child in her arms, and that’s the way God intended things to be. Not so with grief, whose pain continues for months, years, and perhaps even a lifetime. There is nothing anyone can say or do to make it go away, and ultimately I am still without my child. The same comparison can be made in the loss of a husband, wife, sister, brother, mother, father, or for that matter, any loved one.

When we come face to face with grief from the view point of a friend or acquaintance of the bereaved, we are often unsure about what to say or do. I’m familiar with that feeling. I’ve been there, not wishing to hurt or make my friend feel worse. I do have one thing in my favor, in such cases – I’m an emotional person, and I weep easily when those I love are suffering. Although this is not always a blessing, because it is difficult for me to talk when I am weeping, the advantage is that my own weeping makes it difficult to say much more than, “I’m so sorry,” which, I suppose, keeps me from nervous chattering in such situations.

When I began planning what I should write about living with loss for Our Hope, I thought I would simply try to suggest how we might help those who are mourning. But it occurred to me that, until I suffered the loss of my own loved ones, I did not appreciate the extent of the pain or the fragility of feelings that exist in those who are grief-stricken. I thought I knew. I imagined I knew. But I didn’t. With that in mind, perhaps some first hand accounts from those who have experienced the loss of a loved one may benefit all of us. What is “normal” behavior in such circumstances? That is – if there is any such thing as “normal,” when one is grieving.

Every person reacts in his own individual way to the loss of a loved one, and a variety of factors may influence his reaction. What were the circumstances of the death? To a Christian, whether or not the deceased was a child of God is a major consideration. How did death come – peacefully, or painfully? Was it sudden, with no chance to say goodbye? Or was it expected, as in the case of the terminally ill or elderly? Many in this category long for release from their earthly body of pain. Under such circumstances, family members who have watched their love one suffer for months or years may consider that release a blessing, and even an answer to prayer, knowing their loved one has escaped to where there is no more pain. But even when we feel that way, it brings us no less sadness for our loss. The loved one will still be missed. In such situations, when we know that death is imminent, what psychologists call “anticipatory grieving” often afflicts family members prior to the loss itself. Handling this kind of loss, and the accompanying grief which characterizes the days leading up to death, brings its own special needs. Perhaps a separate article may be devoted to waiting and watching while the one we love passes from this life.

Whether the manner of death was a violent one – perhaps one which did not leave the family with a body to bury, may be another factor which affects how survivors respond to their loss. Every death involves separation of the soul from its earthly tabernacle (James 2:26). Those who lose loved ones in war, airplane crashes, fire, drowning, or crimes, in which recovery of the loved one’s body is not possible, often feel unable to find closure. Each of these circumstances may evoke differing responses in a family or in individual family members.

An individual’s physical, social, or emotional make-up may determine his direct response to death, and the grieving process. Reactions range from little or no visible reaction, to uncontrolled, destructive behavior. Some may weep inconsolably, while others may not be able to cry at all, for a time. Some become physically ill, nauseated, or unable to eat. They may lose weight, or experience any of a host of other ailments. One woman recently told me she developed hives after losing her only daughter, and grand child. Because each person is an individual, each responds to sorrow in his own unique way. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. No set length of time to mourn. Yet all need the love and support of those around them. Is it possible to make their sorrow go away more quickly? Not a chance. But it is possible to ease some of their burdens (Galatians 6:2) until they are able to bear them again, on their own.

Since I am more attuned to my own responses to grief, much of what I write, of necessity, comes from my experiences, but what I have learned can be applied to many kinds of losses. Daddy was 86 years old when he died of Alzheimer’s disease. Mom was 90 when she lost a long battle with obstructive lung and heart disease. My only sister and I were with them, death was expected, and our sorrow and needs were framed by those circumstances. In the months that followed these losses, I thought I understood mourning and the needs of a bereaved family. We were surrounded by friends and family who were wonderful, and I thought, “This is how helping a grieving family should be.” And it was – in those particular situations. But when my daughter suddenly died in an accident, in a distant state, my husband and I were not there, death was obviously not expected, and I learned another whole dimension of needs, some of which we never even imagined, until they were upon us and urgent. Again, we were blessed with the love and care of others. They were not trained psychologists, and they may not even have fully understood what we were going through, since they had not encountered that specific loss in their own lives. But because they loved us and cared (1 Peter 3:8), they looked upon our needs and wasted no time in addressing them.

In summary, what I have learned about grief is that each situation generates its own unique needs, which depend on the circumstances of death, and how each survivor responds to it. One thing is certain. All who lose a loved one need our love and compassion. The ability to provide those two things is within nearly everyone.

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At 6:30 PM on February 2, 2006, four weeks to the day after his niece died, Charles Spence’s father passed away. His sister had lost a child. His parents had lost a grandchild. Now the loss of a father and husband doubled their grief. This was quite unexpected, and devastating to the Spence family.

When his father was taken to the hospital, Charles commented:

When my family called with this news, I said that I cannot go through this again. Yet, where am I going to go and what can I do? I am reminded of the words of the hymn that says in its chorus, ‘Where could I go, O, Where could I go, Seeking a refuge for my soul? Needing a friend to save me in the end, Where could I go but to the Lord?” I take so much comfort in one of my favorite passages, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!" (Psalms 27:13-14).

Within a few days Charles’ father died, and in the midst of his grief, he wrote the following thoughts which he delivered in a sermon to the congregation where he worships. He graciously gave me permission to share his words with our readers. cg

When Crisis Comes
By Charles N. Spence, Jr

I had written brethren to tell them about the crisis that affected my father and my family. In doing so I had said that I couldn't take this anymore or that I didn't know what to do. However, now, upon much reflection, I have learned that with the Lord I do know what I have to do, for the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."

In the face of crisis many people may not know where to look, where to go or what to do. It took trials in my life to bring resounding clarity to my mind as to where I have to look, where I have to go and what I have to do.

Crisis directed me to where I had to look. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills - from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2). When I need help I know where to look.

Crisis directed me to where I had to go. "But Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). I can and you can go to Jesus for his words of life and comfort.

During a crisis, I now know where to look and where to go. Because I know where to look and where to go, I now know what to do: "Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait I say, on the LORD" (Psalm 27:14). I will wait, that is trust in God to take care of whatever the problem is in my life.

Let me conclude with the reading of Psalm 4. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the LORD will hear when I call to Him. Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There are many who say," Who will show us any good?" LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Tonight, I will lie down and be at peace. Though my heart is heavy and trial afflicts me sore, I am comforted in knowing that I know where to look for help, I know where to go for life and comfort and I know what to do to strengthen my heart.

I do hope that these words will bring you comfort and strengthen you when crisis comes in your life.
Charles Spence Jr.

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Stages of Grief
(You can get through it!)
By Netagene Kirkpatrick

“The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News” evolved into what is commonly called “stages of grief” (Elsabeth Kubler-Ross, "On Death and Dying", © 1969). Those stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. When a person loses something, they go through these. Rarely will a person totally skip a stage. In general, you cannot omit a stage and emerge whole. But you WILL emerge whole. Sometimes a stage is very short; another stage might be real long.

Remember the Shepherd psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me ...” (Psalm 23:4). You are not alone. Jesus walks with you! There are some operative words: the shepherd goes through and does not stand in the valley; the shepherd knows assuredly that God is there.

You might “lose” someone to death, whether a parent, child, or a pet. You might “lose” a job. You might “lose” a marriage. You might “lose” your house or your belongings. You might “lose” a friend if values change. You might “lose” your eyesight or your hearing.

Even if the worst thing that you can image happens, you WILL get through it.

Alcoholics Anonymous has some good “sentence sermons”. “Let go and let God” is one. Just like the shepherd, a person has to give their problems to God and get on with living! Because Jesus lives, I can face whatever happens to me!

We also should take “one day at a time”, work for “progress, not perfection” as we “trudge the road of happy destiny”, and know that “action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action” (these also from AA).

A car that is stuck in mud and has its wheels spinning only gets in worse. It can’t get unstuck by itself. It needs help. A person who is mired sometimes can’t get out without help. It shows strength to know that you are not self-sufficient.

You can deny there’s a problem, get mad, bargain, and get depressed. When you finally accept the things you cannot change, you will be able to get on with your life. Through your adversity, you will have gained strength. There is no such thing as standing still. You are in the Land of the Living!

Remember that everyone handles things differently.




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September/October 2017