In our society, death is both pursued for the greater good (euthanasia and abortion) and avoided like the plague. Death has become something we think we can control. It has become very clinical. At the same time, society has moved away from healthy spirituality.
The fact is, we can turn off machines (or on as the case may be), but we still do not control death. Reports of near death experiences that defy simple explanation should give pause to those who deny life after death. It is a great irony that an event that can cause the greatest turmoil is treated as no big deal. We see death all the time in movies and television. It is generally treated as inconsequential (unless the movie has grief as a theme). Yet, when confronted personally and individually with death, we find that it is of enormous consequence. The self help books offer little comfort.
Having been there several times under various circumstances, I would like to offer an alternative view. The topic about which I am writing is grief - specifically grief following the death of a loved one.
It is mysterious.
It is lonely.
It is inevitable.
Almost all people will have cause to grieve at some point in their lives. It is one of the most profound, yet misunderstood processes in all of humanity. It is not a simple matter of sadness, even substantial sadness. Grief effects the griever on all fronts and in ways not evident even to the griever.
To the griever,
Take care of yourself. Your life, as you knew it, has ended. By the time you emerge from grief, you will find that you are a different person. This is not to be taken lightly. Be gentle with yourself. Seek spiritual guidance. This is important because death is our first real encounter with non-earthly life. Until we experience the death of a loved one, death is not really real to us. Now we must face it and all it means. Without theologically sound spiritual guidance we can be left confused and empty.
People will try to help you. Let them. It is a work of mercy and is good for their soul to help you. Tell them what you need and let them do it. It is good for your soul as well.
People will sometimes say the wrong thing. Please realize that they are hopelessly ignorant and cannot help themselves. They do not know what to say so they are relying on things they've heard or read. They genuinely want to comfort you, but genuinely have no idea what they are doing. Don't let it eat at you that they are clueless. Unless and until people allow death back in to the conversation, the ignorance will persist.
How can something so very terrible be good?
The night before I buried by beautiful little boy, I could not sleep. Dale and I had left home and traveled to Alabama where Gabriel was to be buried in the family plot. We were staying at my uncle's house. It was the middle of the night and I didn't want to wake Dale, so I went and sat in the bathroom for a few minutes to think.
After some time I decided that God wouldn't leave us out in the cold on this. He talks about everything else at great length in the Bible. Surely He would advise people on death and grief.
I wandered around in the dark in a strange house looking for a Bible until I found one.
Then I started to search. I was right. God says a lot to us through the Bible.
In 1 Samuel 12 we find the story of King David losing his baby:
And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, "Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm." But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead." Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshipped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food." He said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?' But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."
This line in 1 Thess. 4 remains with me: But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Jesus then blessed me: Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted. Mt 5.
Wow. I could stop right there. As one who mourns, I am blessed. Still, I have to remember to "not grieve as the unbelievers who have no hope."
We have hope. What does that mean?
I know that Gabriel is where he was created to be and where I yearn to be. If this is so, and I truly believe it, is this not cause for joy, in spite of and in the midst of my grief?
Next: Embracing Your Cross