What I Learned About Grief (a reprise)


4 years ago, on 12/29/2015, my wife stepped into eternity. A year after her death, I wrote the following. May the Lord use these thoughts to comfort those who mourn today.


Well Dad, it’s been a year. What would you tell somebody in your place about grief?” Sean asked me over breakfast. A little later, walking on a South Florida beach, I kept thinking about that question. What have I learned about grief in this year-long journey?

Grief a process not just an event.

Just like physical healing, the healing of our heart takes time. There is no miracle cure, no instant relief.  I found the rituals that surround grief so very valuable.  The day of her burial, in freezing cold on top of that New Jersey mountain, helped me know that she was not coming home. The words about our hope in the One who is the Resurrection and the Life echo in my memory a stark comfort. Seeing that coffin lowered into the earth and the soil pushed over it, made me know the reality of her departure. I cannot pretend she is coming home. The funeral service where songs, tributes, and God’s Word were another step ahead.  Her birthday, trips to see the kids, Easter, my birthday, the first day of school (she taught for many years), Thanksgiving, and Christmas each came with unique reminders; each season presenting new reasons to cry and to thank God for her.

Grief is easier to endure with people- friends and family- than alone.

How people go through this loss without a community is beyond me. Phone calls, emails, Facebook notes, visits with family, invites to dinner, and the ordinary interactions day in and day out with people who cared, who remembered her with me, kept me from sinking into depression. My children listened to me cry on the phone. Friends helped me to see the sunshine, and to know that there is more ahead; different but still full of promise. All of the crises of life are better endured with a circle of friends who love.  Are you loving and being loved? Don’t wait ‘til it is necessary.  Love today!

Grief opens a person to a wide array of temptations that have the potential to destroy life.

Shocking? I am only human and I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say when the heart aches, there are a hundred voices that offer soothing. By the grace of God, I’m largely without regrets. I did not realize how badly a soul desires some solace when the pain feels like it will never end! When my heart was ripped open I saw, in new depth, both the beauty of His grace and the depravity of human nature. Momentary pleasures sparkle with allure and it is so easy to fall prey to retail therapy, over-eating, toxic relationships, poor decisions. I am glad for people in my life who were ready to speak the truth to me, to remind me that God was greater than my pain, and to urge me to go steadily forward.  Be patient with those who grieve even as you encourage them to obedience to the Spirit’s leading. Don’t add shame to pain. Offer a hand or a shoulder!

Everybody’s different.

I have read at least a half dozen books written by people about their grief. In each I found echoes of my own thoughts as well as things that were non-existent for me.  One man wrote of feeling the need to completely shut the door on his life with his late wife. He quickly emptied the closets, disposed of her things, sold the home they shared, and moved to a new city.  He said that it was the way he survived his grief. Good for him! But, I still have Bev’s clothes hanging in the closet and I find being in the same house, doing the same work, living with the same people a great comfort.  Remarry? Several wrote of their happiness and I am glad for them.  Perhaps that will happen for me but certainly not at this time. Some said that they chose to stop talking about their dead spouse.  I like to talk about Bev. I visit and care for her gravesite. Some never go back after the burial.

Lesson?  Other than avoiding the sinful and the toxic, we will all make the journey in ways that reflect our personality, training, and experience.

The pathway is not straight!

Each month’s passing should bring about a measurable kind of healing, a lessening of grief, right?  Not for me.  There are wonderful days, when laughter comes quickly, when my thoughts are clear for the future, when I feel great hope. Then, a day will come when the wound feels as tender as it ever did, when tears turn into sobs.  In my experience, those kinds of days are fewer with time, but they still show up.  Just before Christmas I went to our attic to look for wrapping paper and saw rolls neatly taped and stood in a corner, just like Bev left them. It was a moment of devastation that led to a day of sorrow.

The past will take on a rosy glow and you will be tempted to try to live there.

With time, Bev has become something of an angel in my memory. I forget the arguments we had and the disappointments that we struggled to overcome. I remember the brightest moments, the sweetest words.  I have to tell myself not to canonize her and to refuse to look back too often. Her life is a closed book, now in God’s hand. Mine goes on and He has, as I reminded by a dear friend, “immeasurably more” (Ephesians 3:20) for me ahead.

Sorrow has deepened my faith and tolerance for Mystery.

I still have no answer for why God allowed my wife to die. Someone asked me a day or so ago, “Aren’t you angry at God?” Honestly, no.  Puzzled by His ways?  Surely, but angry, no.  He’s God, I am not. I choose to trust Him.  The words of the Scripture fill up my mind, a deep reservoir of hope and assurance. My worship is not as experiential or emotional these days. But I can sing, “praise God from Whom All blessings flow,” with conviction and for that I am grateful.  Don’t wait for the crisis to try to create faith. There was a foundation and the storm shook the house but it stood because it rested on the Rock of my salvation.

Tears are our friends.

Really what I mean is that expressing emotions is critically important. Pretending to be happy while sad twists a person’s soul into crippling condition. Ignoring the reality of loss is a sure way to get sick – in every way. God has found me in my tears, late at night in my bed, when silent tears slide onto my pillow, He whispers peace.  Yes, I have had a few friends walk away, unwilling or unable to cope with my sorrow. And, that’s fine. I bear them no ill will.  My tears have made me a more tender man with a much greater capacity for love and greater patience. So, yes, tears are my friends and they fall from my eyes without any shame.

Do I know it all? Of course not. Will everyone’s pathway through grief look like mine? No. But those are my ‘take aways’ in year one. Sorrow is a common experience among us humans, as much as we try to avoid it. But, we serve a God who is loving and good, the God of all comfort.

As we look into 2017, here is the benediction that blesses me. May it bless you as you receive the Word of God.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)


Good, Good Father

I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper
Of love in the dead of night
You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

 You’re a Good Good Father
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
It’s who You are
And I’m loved by You
It’s who I am
It’s who I am
It’s who I am

 I’ve seen many searching for answers
Far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers
Only You provide
Because You know just what we need
Before we say a word

 You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us

 Love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
As You call me deeper still
Into love love love

Anthony Brown | Pat Barrett

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