By Lane Noble
I pulled into the church parking lot, feeling more depressed than I had in a long time. I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions I was struggling with, how long I would be struggling with them, or even if I would make it through the day without becoming psychotic. All I knew was that I shouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t stay in my own head.
I finally broke down into tears, got out of the car, crossed the parking lot, and rang the doorbell of East Frankfort Baptist Church. Our church secretary answered the door, saw immediately what was going on, and brought me in.
I was brought into pastor Kyle’s office and given a box of tissues, and I just said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Up until that week in early October, I had never faced the kind of psychologically disturbing and emotionally turbulent grief that so many experience every day in this broken, sin-cursed world. That week, on Monday, October 4, 2021, I had lost my grandfather.
Death took on a new meaning for me that week. It went from being a serious reality to a horrendous hallmark of the kind of world that we live in. Although grandad was never infected with COVID-19, the idea that there were people out there losing loved ones to this disease motivated me even more to slow the spread of it. I began to develop an even deeper hatred for death than I had before.
While I hadn’t known truly disturbing grief until only a few weeks ago, I had always believed that when such grief struck that I would have the right tools to handle it. I knew that it would hurt for awhile and that it would be extremely difficult, but I also thought that I would be able to heal more easily with coping techniques that I had learned. This just goes to show how little I knew about just how overwhelming, distressing, and debilitating grief and bereavement are.
Don’t get me wrong, I was acquainted with grief, but I had never gotten to know it at the level that I had a few weeks ago. While coping strategies did play a crucial role in recovering from the emotional distress that I experienced, they didn’t do what I was depending on them to do.
It’s difficult to truly know how to deal with grief until it arises. The horrible nature of it doesn’t quite hit us until we go through it. To rub some more salt in the wound, twenty-first century western society has forgotten how to grieve properly
In light of this, I would like to share some thoughts on what I’ve learned about grief since the worst day of my life took place. I didn’t come up with all of these insights by myself. Most of these are lessons that my wise and loving church family and friends helped me discover.
A Word of Wisdom to Those Who Haven’t Fully Experienced Grief Yet
Unless Jesus comes back prior to such a tragedy happening, every single person reading this will have to go through the grieving process. Thankfully, many people reading this are likely not going through that process right now. I would encourage you, even thought you may not even be near a crisis (something which you can’t really know for sure), I urge you to prepare for suffering before it comes. That doesn’t mean to obsess over it. I just mean to have a plan in place. Here are some questions to ask yourself to prepare for a season of suffering.
- How am I doing spiritually? Do I meditate upon and regularly remind myself of the promises of God?
- Do I have reliable people I can reach out to during a time of intense suffering?
- Do I have people in my life who can give me wise, godly counsel that I can take to heart when grieving?
- Am I taking care of my own mental health now so as to make it less vulnerable when tragedy strikes?
- How can I be there for my loved ones who are also grieving this loss?
These are just some things to think about. Again, I would caution against obsessing over these questions, but I would encourage you to at least have an answer, even if it’s a vague or ambiguous answer, to all of these questions. When the time comes to grieve, you may find that you need a different answer to these questions. That’s totally fine if that’s the case. Just make sure that you don’t neglect the wisdom that I’m about to give next.
This next part is for both who haven’t been through tragedy yet and for those who have. If you’re currently in the midst of tragedy, don’t panic. Let’s turn to the Word of God for answers, because it does indeed have answers (2 Timothy 3:16).
Here are three lessons that I’ve learned for surviving grief:
Lesson #1: You’re likely not going to see a light at the end of the tunnel for awhile, but you will
Some of you likely don’t believe that sentence. “You mean I’m actually going to feel better? How is that even possible?” Some may even feel guilty at the thought of feeling that kind of hope. Some may even believe that such hope wasn’t meant for them. How could they possibly learn to live a happy life without their loved one? Perhaps that’s true for others, but certainly there’s no way that that could possibly be true for them.
Take a deep breath. Listen to me. It is true for you, and it is completely okay for you to have trouble accepting that right now.
Here’s is a freeing and shocking truth for those who are going through the grief process: You’re going to go through a period of time where it’s going to feel impossible to move forward, but you will move forward. The key here is to remind yourself of that even though it feels like you can’t accept that fact.
It’s very much akin to being in a dark room where everything is pitch black, and you can’t see a single thing, but you’re told that there is a one hundred percent chance that you will be able to find the light switch on the opposite end. No one knows how long that will take you, but you have to remind yourself that there is a one hundred percent chance that you will find that light switch.
To add some more shock to the situation, you will not only heal from the emotional turmoil that your grief has caused you, but you can and will find joy and peace beyond what you understand right now. Like I said, you probably don’t feel like you’re capable of believing that right now. That’s okay. Use your intellect to assure your skeptical emotions until your emotions one day, perhaps, a long time from now, accept them. Jesus offers the promise of joy and peace beyond what we can comprehend. That’s a promise. Your emotions likely won’t believe it, but preach it to your emotions anyway. It will happen. I promise you.
I believe that this is at least part of what the Bible meant in Hebrews 11:1 when the writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We can now put faith into practice. God will heal us. It’s okay if you don’t know how and when, but I promise you that He will. If you want assurance of that, the Bible is littered with stories of terrible tragedy where God healed the victims. Trust that promise, even if every fiber of your being wants to reject it. You’ll see what I mean eventually.
Lesson #2: It’s okay to be vulnerable.
When you lose someone you loved deeply, it’s likely going to feel like every breath you take is a chore. In light of this, you’re going to feel very vulnerable, and that’s okay.
You need people that you can be vulnerable with during this time. Good friends, family, and/or mentors.
Grieving with the family may be helpful, but you’ll likely want to reach out to people who love you who are not grieving as well. This way they can make sure that you’re taking care of yourself, even when you don’t feel like it.
This is one of the most important points I can emphasize. Reaching out to others that you trust is essential. There are very few things that you have to do while grieving. Reaching out to others is one of those that you have to do when you can. Which leads me to the next one…
3. Do the Few Essentials
Like I said above, there are very few things that you actually need to be doing when you are going the the process of grieving, but there still are things that are necessary for you to do. This is a small list of those things:
2. Read your Bible
3. Consistently reach out to loved ones who can support you during this difficult time.
5. Exercise (even if it’s just a ten minute walk a day. Do at least a little bit.)
6. Get enough sleep (to the best of your ability)
Be patient with yourself if you don’t manage to do all of these perfectly. The best thing to remember is to take care of yourself. You will regret it later on if you don’t.
I would not wish this kind of bereavement on anyone. It would be an understatement to say the the grieving process is excruciatingly painful.
It’s also worth noting that everyone grieves differently. You often hear about the “stages of grief.” That model is sort of misleading. The process of grief doesn’t always, or usually, happen in a set of neat, orderly stages on a specific time table that is generally true for everyone.
The major point is this: you will heal. Right now, it’s likely that every fiber of your being will refuse to believe it, but keep saying it to yourself and keep going until, eventually, you do.
Most importantly, preach the Gospel of Christ to yourself over and over and over again. Preach to yourself that Jesus conquered death at His death and resurrection and that He will take this broken world and make it new. You now know from first hand experience that this is a very broken world. Preach to yourself the fact that Jesus will make all things new and restore His creation. The indignity of death will be no more. All evil will be punished in the just fires of damnation and God will do justice. God will leave no evil unhandled. Be sure if that.
God will make all things new. Swallow that pill. Even if you regurgitate it. Swallow it again. Keep preaching it to yourself until you come to believe it and love it, because you will.
Jesus has conquered death and will make all things new