The death of a family member is perhaps the most traumatic event that we as human beings can experience. Whether the one who passed did so suddenly with little warning, or whether the loved one suffered through a lengthy illness, it is difficult. Even when we think we are prepared, we then realize there is no way to be fully prepared.
Please allow me to share some thoughts that I hope will help you if you have lost a family member.
The Lord is completely aware of what has happened. In fact, the Lord knows everything that happens to us and our family and friends. The song “His eye is on the sparrow” is based on Luke 12:6-7. The song goes something like this, “His eye is on the sparrow, so I know He’s watching me. If the Lord notices when one sparrow dies and falls to the ground, do you not think that He is fully aware of the death of your family member? The omnipresent and omniscient God of the universe, who even knows the number of hairs on your head, knows about and is concerned about the smallest detail of your life.
Hear these words from Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”
In the days and weeks ahead, you will be walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Remember that the Lord is with you in the valley. But remember that the time of being in the valley is temporary-it will not last forever. Keep walking until you come out of the valley. Do not stop in the valley.
Not only is the Lord with you in the valley, but family and friends are there for you as well. As they reach out to you, don’t reject their efforts to bring you comfort. There is a temptation to isolate yourself after the death of a family member. Isolation is not good for anyone of any age under any circumstance but especially in a time of grief. (Attending a grief support group can also be helpful.)
Grief experts tell us that after the death of a loved one, we should not make any major decisions quickly. Some have suggested even up to a year. This would include such things as moving, selling the house, or remarrying. While there are exceptions in every case, my experience ministering to those dealing with a death in the family would validate this advice.
An awareness of the stages of grief that most people experience is also beneficial. As you experience one or all of those, you will know that it is normal, and that most who grieve are experiencing them as well. Most grief experts agree on these five stages of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. God wired the human spirit to be resilient, and part of that resiliency was including certain emotional reactions that allow us to cope with our loss.
Keep in mind that these stages are not necessarily on a linear timeline, leaving one and entering another after a certain time. We can experience any one at any time, for hours only or days and weeks. Each person’s grief is unique.
Experiencing these emotions, including the shedding of tears, facilitate the healing process from a loss. By trying to be strong and fighting the tears and other emotions, you are actually short circuiting the healing process. When you think you are past the crying stage, the tears will turn on when you least expect them. That is normal. Don’t fight them or feel like you have taken a step backwards.
Jesus, who was fully God, was also fully human. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. And he weeps with you in your time of mourning. He fully understands what you are going through, and is there for you.
As you go through the grief process, don’t play the “what if” game. What if I had only taken my husband to the doctor sooner, he might still be alive. If only I had taken my wife to get a second opinion, she might still be alive. Playing these scenarios over and over in your mind are not healthy, and can even cause you to blame yourself for the loved one’s death. (This is the bargaining phase of grief mentioned above.)
As human beings living on earth, we are subject to disease and accidents. Medical professionals who care for us are only human, and are subject to an occasional misdiagnosis and in some cases negligence. It is all part of our imperfect and fallen world, as is death. When God placed Adam and Eve in Paradise, death was not part of the plan.
The death of a family member or even a friend is a good opportunity to evaluate our own life. In the busyness of life, we sometimes forget that we are mortal and that death will come knocking on our door unless Jesus returns first. By the way, I think some people stay busy on purpose so that so they don’t have to think about their own mortality. It is amazing how some people act like they are going to live forever and never die.
The most important thing to evaluate is your relationship with Christ. You have either turned from (repented) your sin or trusted Jesus as your savior or you have not. There is no middle ground. This is one thing in life that a person must be certain about because it determines his eternal destiny. If you are certain about your relationship with Christ, then evaluate your daily walk with him. Is your faith increasing? Are your priorities right? Are you living in such a way that you are leaving a legacy for your kids and grandkids that is worthy of following?
Chip Warren is the past president of the Albertville Ministerial Fellowship.