BY DR. ROY W. HARRIS, PH.D.
Life was good. The kids were grown and the empty nest was even better than we’d imagined. Then came my wife’s terminal illness followed by her treatments, our times of hope, our setbacks then ultimately the death of my best friend. After thirty-three years of happy marriage, two children and three grandchildren, how could it come to this?
Isn’t it amazing how our lives can be forever changed in a moment? It may arrive like a slow moving shadow or suddenlylike a streak of lightening in the night sky. However it appears, it always brings emptiness and emotional pain. We pray believing that God has the power to heal. God may choose not to heal and our loved ones die. We hurt deep within. Sometimes we become angry. We do not understand why this has happened to us and our loved ones. Then the grief begins. Grieving is not an enjoyable experience, but one that is needed and healthy.
Grieving is OK
One of the most important things to remember when we lose a loved one is that it’s OK to grieve. As a matter of fact it is more than OK, it is normal and healthy. Some make the mistake of not admitting their pain and hurt and carry the deep wound much longer than God wants us to. That’s a big mistake. There’s no set way one should grieve or time frame of how long. But there is a timeline for grief.
Grief has a beginning and there is an end out there somewhere. Does that mean we should forget those loved ones? Absolutely not! Does it mean we should get over losing them? Not necessarily. It does mean that we have to go on living. We may never completely get over the death of a loved one but we can and must learn to live with it. Understanding that there are periods of grief we pass through and recognizing where you might be in the grieving process.
• Initial shock when you lose a loved one is the first period of grief. This could last from a few minutes after your loved one dies, it may last several hours and it could last for days. There are several emotions you might feel. One is false guilt. Another is false blame, blaming other family members, medical personnel and even God himself for not doing more to help or save your loved one.
• The second period of grief begins with our lives becoming disorganized. This could last for several weeks or months. This is the time when your lifestyle is forced to change. Hasty decisions and rash statements of what you will or won’t do should be avoided. Too many people make the mistake of sacrificing future happiness on an unneeded sense of loyalty to the past. Our loved ones wouldn’t want us to remain unhappy and grieve for them the rest of our lives. Reminders of the past have a way of surfacing and there may be some confessing to God and others because of actions and words spoken in shock or anger.
• The third period of grief begins with a conscious decision to reorganize our lives and move on. I remember clearly about nine months after my wife’s passing, on our anniversary I laid two dozen roses on her grave. I didn’t hear an audible voice but God spoke to my heart as I wept at her graveside. He reminded me that just as he had a plan for my wife’s life he also had one for mine. He had more work for me to do and it was time for me to move forward with his will for my life. I walked away from her grave that day leaving some of the pain and sorrow with a change of heart.
There is Help!
The word of God is a tremendous comfort. Deuteronomy 31:9 reminds us that God is with us at all times. We do not have to bear the burden of grief alone according to Psalm 23:4. According to Psalm 68:19, God feels our pain and bears our sorrow. We should also look to our church family for strength and encouragement. When friends offer help or invite us to be part of their lives, we should see this as one way God is seeking to begin filling an empty void in our own lives. Learn to say yes and thank you.
There is Hope!
Hope begins with recognition of where we are with our grief. We must grieve and others cannot tell us how we should do it or how long our grief should last. One thing’s for sure. Our grief must be a means to an end. Our goal should be to allow God to help us put the pieces back together and move forward with our lives. We must ask the Lord to help us and give us the wisdom and strength to press on.
We should take positive steps to move forward. We shouldn’t preserve our homes as monuments to our deceased loved ones. Consider cleaning out closets, rearranging rooms and donating clothes to Goodwill or passing them along to others who will get use and enjoyment from them. You may want to consider downsizing and moving to a home with less upkeep and maintenance.
It’s time to reorganize.
A Final Word
If you’re in the midst of grieving, I have great news. THERE IS HOPE. I’m a few years removed from the loss of my wife. God’s gentle hand has led me forward. He led a fine Christian lady into my life and the sunshine of happiness has returned. I am a living testimony of the fact that you not only can live through this, but you can live beyond it. God’s plan for you is certain and his will is perfect. There is a great life waiting for you just beyond your grief.