I have two friends who have been dealing with the slow death of their fathers to cancer. One father died this last week. The other has a few months left. Thankfully, both of my friends have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and both of their fathers as well. Still, what do you do with all the grief and pain?
I wish I had some awe-inspiring words for my friends to ease their pain. Three years ago, my Grandmommy died at 95 years of age. She too knew Jesus and also died of cancer that rapidly spread in only eight weeks from diagnosis. When she was dying, she asked me to write a book about her life. It is almost complete. The book helped keep me distracted during those awful days and weeks. However, when the final moments were there and her death was done…there was nothing. I cried but I knew it was over. I knew she was no longer suffering. I knew I would see her again. But…there was nothing but an ache deep in my soul and I was drowning in storm tossed waves of emotional pain. I could hardly catch my breath. I told my girls in the morning. All three of us huddled on my bed as we all cried for ourselves knowing we would not see someone we loved again in this life. I went through the motions of funerals and dividing up the things from her house. I loved her deeply and hurt deeply. There were no words to soothe my grief. The waves of emotional chaos would hit again and again and I was a dripping mess.
Eventually, God dried me off and cleaned me up as only He could.
I still cry when I think too deeply about the ones I love that have died. Still, I keep moving. Grief, comes and goes like waves on a beach. Some of the waves are small and rhythmical and you can walk beside them and feel them tickle your feet. Ebb and flow. Good days and bad days. Then there is the one…that one… that suddenly without warning overtakes you and you are covered in swirling dirty sea foam and you are suddenly dripping emotional sadness on everything you do, think, or feel. You stagger forward. You wipe the salty sting from your eyes. Ebb and flow.
My friends are walking closer to the waves than I am right now. I wish there were some words or warnings I could call down the beach to them. Maybe something stoic like, “Watch out for the waves. You are too close and you are going to get wet” which translates into “Watch out for the personal items. If you hold them too long you are going to cry”. Or maybe I could call out something comforting like, “If you get wet, I will bring you a towel” which translates to “Call me when you feel like crying.” I remember all too well that people telling me things such as what to do, or how to avoid pain, or vague offerings to be there when I was sad, were not helpful. What I needed was someone to help carry my grief. No one could.
Jesus was the only person who could carry my grief. He could feel it. He could clean it from my soul. He could shield me from the waves threatening to overtake my heart. No, He did not answer the phone when I wanted to call Grandmommy. But He could listen to the running conversations I had with Him as I bared my soul while doing the dishes, or washing clothes, or packing away Grandmommy’s things. Jesus reached for me.
I know that I can’t say anything that will permanently soothe the pain. I know that only God can get my friends through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23). I am thankful that they know Jesus. I don’t know how anyone gets through deep grief without Him. Only He can clean your soul and mend the brokenhearted. However, I can walk on the high side of the beach with my friends. I can get wet with them when the high waves hit. I can be silent and offer a towel. I can be there while God cleans them up again and again.
I hope these words bring some comfort to you if you are in the middle of grief. I hope that you turn to Jesus often to let Him hear you cry as you continue living. I hope you remember He never stops walking beside you…even on the beach.
So I have some questions,
How do you survive grief?
What was most helpful to you?
What was least helpful?