Archives for posts with tag: grief

Today my grandmother passed away. Even though she was 90 years old and in frail health, you are never really “ready.” My memories of grandma are of a fiery, passionate woman of God who loved gum drops, root beer and Burger King. She had the energy of a hyperactive chipmunk after 4 monster drinks. She was so full of life (and orneriness) we all thought she’d outlive us all! At 80 years old she was diagnosed with cancer and the doctor told her she would need a permanent port because she was not going to survive it. She answered, “Well, just because you said that, I’m going to beat this cancer- just to spite you!” And she did. She was cancer free by 82. When I was feeling down or someone had been nasty to me, she would “preach” at me, “You get that chin up right now young lady. You’re a child of God! You are a Stevens!” Grandma had a great singing voice and was also a good shot at the shooting range. A few years ago I had the privilege of riding the Badger Ferry with grandma and my kids- we had a blast, even though Grandma sneaked her tiny dog on board and ate doughnuts the whole trip.

We are weeks away from Thanksgiving. And these holidays will be without grandma. You do not get to choose when you lose someone. You do not get to choose (sometimes) when a church transition happens. You may not get to postpone a heartache until January.

Some of my dearest friends are in the middle of fiery trials and ordeals right now. My heart aches for 2 of my friends who had major tragedies last week. Another of my close friends is in a gut-wrenching church battle right now. Perhaps you too are facing a different kind of holiday season this year.

If you are having a fantastic holiday and so is everyone you know, fantastic.  That’s wonderful. But this blog may not be relevant for ya, at least not this year. I would like to have a word with those of you who may NOT be having a great holiday season right now….

Several years ago, Christmas Day- As my little 2 year old daughter began opening her third gift, I heard my phone ring. I was confused at first seeing that my phone wasn’t on; THEN I saw it was the on call phone. I picked up the phone and answered.  On the other line I heard the tired voice of an older man.  He asked me, “I want you to give me one good reason not to end it all right here and now.”  Hey family, I need to go outside for a bit. I need to take this.

You have probably heard it said that the Holidays are the hardest time of year for some people. When I was younger I never knew how true that was. Coming on staff at a large church, I thought the reason none of the staff wanted to be on call during the holidays was purely due to family obligations. But having holiday time with the family was only PART of the reason that the pastoral staff did not relish being on call for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years. My first year, as the newbie on staff, I was on call during Christmas Day. It really changes your whole perspective on the holidays talking to people who are suicidal on Christmas. And your eyes are opened to the very large number people all around us who are hurting at the “happiest” time of the year.

Perhaps we are not as aware of this sadness in the church, because we have created a culture that says, “If you are really a good Christian, you will be happy all the time.  You will live in victory daily.”  This causes many Christians to hide their very real feelings, and the fact that they need a friend, because they are pretending to be “happy”. And some of these Christians wonder, “Is there something wrong with me, because I am not happy right now? Would other Christians understand or even be able to help?” We live in a broken, fallen world. The church and our American culture have created this artificial reality- that we are immune to heartbreak if we do the “right” things.  We can stay young, wealthy, have all we want and need.  As the poet aptly said, “Childhood is the Kingdom where nobody dies.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay. When you grow up, you begin to see, on planet earth bad things happen to ALL people, good, bad…etc. And if we will be honest, that is exactly what the Bible says- and what Jesus told us would happen: “In this world you WILL have trouble….they will persecute you and throw you out of synagogues for My Name’s sake….some of you will be delivered over to death…but the end is not yet etc etc etc” I do not believe Bible stories are just “stories”.  The accounts of certain lives are there for a reason! EVERY single one of the heroes and patriarchs of the Bible went through terrible times. And we are not exempt. We weren’t promised to be happy all the time.

I have two separate friends who lost their moms this year.  Another good friend lost a baby. One needs major heart surgery for herself, and she has 2 small children at home. I know they are going into the holidays uncertain.

I remember at least one holiday season that was  the worst time of my life.  I ended up curled up over the steering wheel of my car, listening to the sleet pelting the roof, outside of Lowe’s, crying my eyes out.  I knew I had to go home and make Christmas as wonderful as possible for my two young children.  But I remember thinking to myself, “Is this really Christmas for us this year??? This isn’t supposed to be how it is! Wait, where is the ‘holiday magic’ that somehow swoops in and makes this all ok?”

So if we know that the holidays are harder for us (even Christians) sometimes, then what can we do to get through the holidays on a difficult year? What can we do to help those in our lives who are struggling this season? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Know that you are not “bad” or “abnormal” to feel down at times during the holidays.  It is perfectly normal to be reminded of a loss at important events. It is normal to feel down, stressed and even blah. The thought of being on a huge emotional high through the whole holiday season is an unreasonable and unrealistic expectation for anyone.

2. You are not alone.  A lot of people have major lows during the holidays.

3. It is ok to go talk to someone and get help.  You owe it to yourself and your family to be honest and take care of YOU. That doesn’t make you less of a Christian, a strong person or a parent.

4. It is ok to have some happiness during the holidays even if you have had a major loss. Some people feel very guilty if they feel happy during the holidays if they have lost someone. It’s ok to laugh and have fun too…there’s no rule book for how you have to feel.  And more than likely the person or people you are missing would love to see you smile too.

5. Create some new traditions.  It is great to keep up old traditions. But one thing that is very healing after a loss is to incorporate a new tradition or two.  A tradition to remember the good that was, and a tradition to look forward to the good that will be. Which brings us to:

6. Remember that there WILL be better seasons to come. Everything in this life comes in seasons. In the middle of a tough holiday season, it is easy to think, “This is how things will be from now on. It will always be this way.”  But a good friend once told me, “There is life out there beyond this. And no it’s not the same as before.  But it’s a good good life.”  I hung on to that during a dark time, and it proved to be so true.  Life will continue to change; but good IS coming.  God’s Word promises us that God’s plans for us are GOOD.  And that “all things work together for GOOD for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

7. Last but not least: Make a list of all you are thankful for. Now before you shriek, “Wait? You want me to be THANKFUL after the year I’ve had?” remember that pain can blind us to everything that is still good in our lives. Remember the story in the Bible about the widow and her two mites? Jesus said she gave more than anyone else because she gave all she had.  Perhaps the one who is sad on Thanksgiving, but who stops to thank God for all the good still in their life, is so very precious to God, because it probably takes everything they have. “In EVERYTHING give thanks, for this is the will of God.” It is easy for someone in a good year to be thankful; but if you’ve had a rough year, your thanks and praise are much more of a sacrifice.  And I have found that stopping to thank God, when there seems to be nothing going right, is when I seem to feel Him here, and sense His working the most.

Are you having a wonderful, fun filled Thanksgiving and Holiday Season? Fantastic! That’s great. Are this year’s festivities particularly difficult? I am wishing to send you a great big hug right now through my laptop and say, “you are loved, and good IS on the way”. God bless you this Thanksgiving and Christmas and all through this next year- whether a good or a bad year- may you feel Him with you, working in your life. Love Trisha  and P.S. Grandma, I love you. So glad you made it home. I will remember to keep my chin up.

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This is one of the most difficult parts of my job.  This is one of the things they didn’t train me for in Bible College. A church member, who is also a dear friend, had lost their young child.  And I am standing in the doorway of their hospital room. Surrounding the child’s bed are the grief stricken parents, looking lost and blank, as well as several friends and family members. I’m twisting my hands behind my back, desperately praying in my head for wisdom. Just then, the husband’s well meaning aunt calmly states, “Don’t worry, you’ll have another child, and then you’ll hardly even remember this moment.”  Anger and astonishment boil up from my heart into my neck and turn my face bright red. I clench my teeth shut so I don’t erupt. This is not the time, nor the place- and confrontation is not what I am here for. I am here for these parents.

Most pastors have had people say insensitive, albeit well meaning, things at funerals. Here are a few of the more common things I really wish people would not say at a death or a funeral:

“Heaven needed another angel.” – Despite the obvious theological problems with this statement- humans and angels are NOT the same creations/species and humans do not turn into angels after death, the statement is very trite, and claims that God took the child because of heaven’s need. This adds to the feeling they may already be struggling with, “God TOOK someone I loved away from me.”

“too bad they didn’t make heaven”- Whether or not you believe that the deceased person made it to heaven or not, a death or a funeral is NOT the place to have that discussion. Your focus now has to be on the family of the deceased. And you may not have all the facts, some things we will not know for sure until we get to heaven ourselves.  And all the speculation is pointless, and may just hurt rather than help, at the funeral.

“When you have another baby, you won’t think about this one” (see story at the beginning)- No person can ever take the place of another person. Each child, each human is unique, and there will never be another them. Let that person recognize and grieve that loss- an individual who is no longer there. Having more babies, or having more children will not take away the loss or the grief.

“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”- This is a twisting of a Scripture in James that tell us that God will not give us more temptation than we can handle.  Many times, it seems to me, God allows situations in our lives, for reasons we do not understand- and these situations are far more than we can handle.  And it is in these situations that God has to carry us, because we simply cannot handle them in our own strength.

“We are here for you” and then disappear right after the funeral.- Do not say things that you do not mean. It has been well said before that people will not remember much of what you say after a tragedy or at the funeral.  But they will remember that you were there. Being there is so important. And not just right after the loss has occurred. When the funeral is over, and the cards have stopped coming, and the relatives have all gone home. and everyone else has moved on….that may be when that person/family needs you the most. Grief has no set timeline. Children especially will have a delayed response. They may suddenly need your love and support 6 months, a year or more after the traumatic event.

“Well, God took them because……” This one probably bothers me the most. As Christians, we are unnerved if we sense someone may be getting upset with God when they are grieving. Listen, we do not need to defend God. We humans always try to find the why in every situation. But sometimes we never know the WHY this side of heaven.  But we are called to trust His love anyway. God is big enough to handle the anger that comes right along with the grief. We shouldn’t try to make up desperate explanations to defend God when we do not really understand the situation ourselves.

“At least they were so old. It won’t be as hard.” It doesn’t matter how elderly the person was when they passed away; the family will still grieve. You are never ready to lose your father or mother etc. Their age made them no less precious. And you are never really “ready” to lose a loved one.

“They were sick so long, at least you were ready for it.” Like we said above, you are never truly “ready” to lose a loved one.  No matter how long they have been ill.  You will still grieve.

“At least they weren’t born yet so you didn’t get attached.”  AHHHHHH! Any mother who has lost an unborn child will tell you that the attachment begins right away- when you feel them move, see them growing, and watch those ultrasounds.  The attachment is a LOVE so strong- complete with hopes, joy and dreams that die along with that beautiful child. And I have seen fathers grieving right along with their wives after a miscarriage.

“just think of Job. Your loss isn’t that bad then.” Misery does not always love company. Pointing out someone else’s tragedy probably will not make a family feel better about their loss. And it almost comes off as “guilting” like “well, your loss isn’t nearly as bad as theirs……”. You cannot compare losses, tragedies or heartbreaks.  Scripture tells us, “Each heart knows its own bitterness” Prov 14:10 We all grieve differently. Comparisons don’t really help.

“The only grief counseling you need is a Bible and a prayer closet.” -Scripture and prayer are fantastic, especially during times of grief.  But I always point people to grief counseling as well. Most pastors are NOT trained in grief counseling or trauma intervention. There are specialists who ARE trained in these situations and are ready to help. It is wonderful to use Scripture and prayer; AND counseling- People going through a loss are going to need all the support and all the tools we can give them.

“Time heals all wounds”- That is not an actual Scripture verse. Although Revelation tells us that God will “wipe every tear from our eyes” (in heaven). Time does not take away the loss; we just learn to live with it and survive around it.  God gives us the strength we just don’t have, to find the beauty and smiles in life again.  But you will always miss that person, until you see them again.

What should we say to a grieving person/family? Not a whole lot. Be there for them- at the time of the tragedy, and in the many months to follow. Listen. Give hugs. Do send Scriptures and cards. Let them know you are praying for them (and mean it). Let them cry, let them be angry, relive memories of the lost person with them. Point them to Jesus- Who alone can get them through the unbearable. Be there for them.  Because eventually, inevitably, you’ll need them to be there for you too. “Your love for one another will prove you are My disciples”- Jesus  Matt 13:35

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