I couldn’t sleep last night. A lot of things were rambling around in my head. Last week was a long one for me. There was a lot to do at work and in the midst of it a young colleague in our extended network passed away unexpectedly of a brain aneurism. And then the news of the massacre of innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
So in the middle of the night some of my mental ramblings coalesced into 10 thoughts on dealing with death and grief. I am by no means an expert on such things, but it was helpful for me to jot these things down. Hopefully, they are helpful for you as well.
It should be noted that I write from a Christian perspective, and wrote these thoughts down with that particular community in mind. However, I hope people of any religious (or non-religious) background will feel free to read and comment.
1. Grief and mourning are natural responses to death. These are powerful forces that often result in emotional (and sometimes physical) pain as well as great sadness and crying for some people. This is normal and to be expected.
2. Everyone grieves in different ways. Some express their emotions intensely and at the beginning, others hold everything deeply and only let it all out gradually over a long time … and some, not at all. It is easy to become judgmental of people who don’t grieve in the same way we do. We may think they are too emotional or perhaps too uncaring. Why are they crying so much? Why don’t they cry at all? How can they laugh at a time like this? As a community we must remember to pray for each other and not judge.
3. Everyone grieves in different ways. Yes, I am stating this again. It is so important. Some people cry and mourn in response to death. Others laugh and celebrate the good things that were. Neither is the wrong way, nor the best way to grieve. Culture and upbringing often dictate our response to death. As believers we should show mutual respect and love to those who deal with death differently than we do.
4. Grief is a long and winding path, and not a superhighway. Some would prefer that grief were a set of orderly directions to be followed for a set amount of time and then cleanly exited from by a convenient off-ramp. Grief is not like that. It is more like a mountain path that curves back and forth and dips and climbs. The journey lasts for quite some time and there are often unexpected twists and turns.
5. When comforting someone it is better to listen than talk. Most of us don’t really know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving. Usually there is no need to say much. It is often best to just be present; put an arm around someone, hold their hand and just be together. There might be a time for talking later and when that comes it is best to be a good listener.
6. There is no need to defend God. God can handle himself. He doesn’t need anyone to come to his defense or speculate about his will. God doesn’t like death anymore than we do and is greatly opposed to it. Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, and Hebrews 2 make this clear.
7. But isn’t God in control of everything? Yes. And when it comes to death it is a tool that he sometimes uses. When an old woman suffering from a variety of diseases dies in her sleep, death seems like a grace from God. But when children are shot or a young man is robbed of life unexpectedly, there seems to be something devilish at work rather than divine. Hebrews 2:14 tells us that the devil holds the power of death … and he often uses it. Don’t blame God for the devil’s work.
8. It is ok to ask why. God is not afraid of your questions. If you are asking “Why?” in your heart, God already knows this. Don’t try to hide your anger and pain from God. Ask Him the hard questions. Let Him sit with you in your grief and pain.
9. God has not forsaken us in moments of great loss and pain. It is the filter of our human emotions and reasoning that often make it seem to us that God has abandoned us during times of grief. The intensity of what we are thinking or feeling can block out both the people around us and the fact that God is right there with us. We must cling to faith even if we don’t feel it and have faith for others who can’t stand fully on their own at this time.
10. There is something more powerful than death. Romans contains the cornerstone of Christian belief on death, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)