“The funeral is over. The good friends who have supported you during these days since the death have returned to their homes. They will resume their way of life, and things will return to normal.
But for you, things are different. You may feel you cannot return to normal because your life has changed. The funeral may be over, but you are just beginning to feel the impact of what has occurred.
The death of someone we love can be one of the most difficult experiences of life. Friends try to comfort us by saying, ‘you mustn’t cry’, or, ‘you must be strong’. Some may even suggest that what has happened is ‘for the best’. They mean well, but they do not fully understand our feelings. More than likely, you feel that the worst has happened. You may be struggling to come to terms with everything. Some may feel as if the world has come to an end, as if their life is over.
That is how I felt when my wife died. Her death was completely unexpected: there was no warning of the heart attack that would so abruptly end her young life. Even as I drove to the hospital behind the ambulance, I kept thinking it would work out all right. This could not be happening to us. Tragedies occur, but always to others, not to us. There was a sense of unreality about the situation.
The reality was that Carolyn had died!
Nonetheless, the days that followed were like a dream. I went through the visitation and the funeral in a daze. Some mistakenly thought I was strong and doing well; in fact, I was numb and in shock. I felt as if I was in a bubble. People would be present and talking with me, but I felt as if I wasn’t really there.”
“Some of the feelings and behaviours that occur around a loss can seem strange, but there is always a reason if we care to find it.”
“These thoughts and emotions are a part of the normal process of grief.
However, very few people understand what is normal after a loss. Some expect us to ‘get over X’ relatively quickly. As they see us apparently being strong during the funeral, often they are surprised when, later on, we may not seem to be doing quite as well. They confuse shock with strength. Because we have not learned what to expect after a loss, we are often caught unaware by the avalanche of emotions that may occur weeks or even months after the funeral.
Grief is a human response to a significant loss. During the years since my wife’s death I have spoken with many people who have been through a grief process. I would like to share with you some of the emotions and reactions that are part of the early days of grieving. Perhaps these observations will be helpful to you as you struggle to come to terms with what has happened. What you are experiencing is not unusual and is the first step on the journey that can lead you back to life.
Consider the following phrases:-
• Maybe it’s for the best
• Be thankful they aren’t suffering
• Well, at least they lived a good long life
• You should rejoice because they’re in a better place
• Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise
Such sentiments are intended to reduce the impact of the loss and make the situation a little easier to bear. However sincerely intended, they show a lack of understanding of the grief process. People mean well, but in fact they are trying to move us in the wrong direction.
“It is not easy to lose someone we have counted on for support, and indeed the confidence to face the world. When that does happen we find ourselves struggling to cope with many unexpected and surprising emotions.”
The road to recovery leads toward the pain. We must experience the pain of loss - we can’t avoid it, go around it, over it, or under it. Tranquilizers or alcohol don’t end the pain: they merely mask it or provide a temporary escape. Anything that encourages us to avoid or suppress the pain merely delays coming to terms with our loss.
After a time, the intensity of the pain will not be as severe. Grief has a way of simply easing off. As we have seen, just when you think you have finally recovered, you may have a sudden grief attack.
“No matter what has shattered our dreams, our expectations,
our hopes or even our lives, we are not beyond repair.”
Pain is a gift. Okay, it is probably one you wish you could exchange for something else, but it warns your body, mind and spirit of danger. Because pain is our teacher, we must never ignore or suppress it. This hurt needs to be tended, this wound needs to be bound. Your pain is telling you that you cared about someone. It shows you that you need to attend to the healing of your broken heart.
The best pain is shared pain. Find a friend who is willing to listen, willing to accept that you are in pain, and who will not give you easy answers or try to ‘fix you’. Someone who simply accepts you as you are. As well, there are support groups available where you can find friends who will share in the fellowship of sufferings. You don’t have to do it alone.
Hope brings us comfort. While we must not minimize the pain and difficulty of grief, we need to trust that someday this pain will subside and life will have meaning again. There is a purpose, even though we may not see it right now. As you are given the grace and the strength to carry on, the feelings of grief will become less painful and occur less often. You will begin to pick up the threads of your life. You will look toward the future with hope and even pleasure.
Attending a support group can help bring you hope. People whose loss is recent, who see nothing but despair and darkness, can share with others who have experienced the anguish and have recovered. When our pain seems so great, we may question whether others know how we feel. To see the possibility of recovery will provide that first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
But sometimes, hope is not so much for getting through the entire process as for getting through one more day. Can 1 get through a Sunday or overcome one more challenge. Remember, even the smallest victory can be a major triumph.
More often than not, grief takes much more time than society has been willing to allow. I recently found the following quote by a woman reflecting on her experience after the death of her husband:
I needed to set my own pace for the journey. It might have seemed to someone looking on from the outside that I was walking in place, or even dragging my feet, for I was not ready to turn my attention to the future for many months. But from inside the experience, I was moving as quickly as I could, covering enormous segments of land with a rapidity that used all my energy. Only I could know how much time I needed to make each leg of the journey.
Yes, only she could know how much time she needed. Yet society has often forced unrealistic expectations on people. We expect them to be ‘over X’ in a relatively short time. While it is commonly accepted that the intense reactions of grief will subside within six to twelve months, it is also widely acknowledged that some may take years to resolve their grief. We are all different. Not everyone goes through the identical process, and no one travels at the identical speed.
You have begun your journey. Sometimes it may seem that the road is too difficult and too long. You may be wondering if you will make it. The answer is: ‘You can if you want to.’ Although that may not be the answer you expected or wanted, it is realistic.
“The purpose of a grief process is to enable us to come to terms with our lost, hopes and open our eyes to new ones.”
Every time we experience a death or a loss, we confront a dragon. We have to choose whether to slay the dragon or be vanquished by it.
While we can do nothing to change the fact of our loss, we can choose what we are going to do in the circumstances. Loss is inevitable, but recovery is optional. The real question is: will we allow what has happened to force us into the role of victim, or aid us in becoming victorious? Every time we are willing to allow even the most adverse circumstances to move us deeper into discovering who we are, we slay the dragon.
Your mourning is helping you to come to the place where you can choose life. After Carolyn’s death, a friend gave me a poster which remains on my wall to this day. It reads:
“You are never given a wish without also
being given the power to make it true.”
No doubt you wish you could be over the pain and the hurt of your loss. You wish that you could just finish this grief process and move on.
But at the bottom of the poster are these wise words:
“You may have to work at it, however.”
Grief can be a challenging experience, but not more powerful than your ability to work your way through your many emotions. No one else knows how you feel. Do not let anyone try to squeeze you into their expectations of what grief should be like. Express your grief in a way that is right for you.
The healing I have experienced in my own life, 1 have seen take place in the lives of others. Although the possibility of your recovery may seem distant right now, this healing process can happen for you.
“While grief is a universal experience, it is at the same time unique and personal. How YOU experience grief will be different from anyone else.”
Nonetheless, I am very sorry you are going through this difficult time. I grieve with you.”
- Taken from writings by Dr. BILL WEBSTER.
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“The purpose of a grief process is to enable to come to terms with our lost hopes and OPEN OUR EYES TO NEW ONES.”
[Picture above: Part of a tract by Rev. Warren Peel.]
“While grief is a universal experience, it is at the same time unique and personal. How YOU experience grief will be different from anyoneone else.”
The coming days, after the sudden death of a loved one, are certain to test us to the utmost limits and may provoke depression and despair.
“The ablest and holiest leaders can collapse under their burdens; not having grasped that burdens of responsibility, with the heart-breaking disappointments they bring, instead of being a sign that they ‘have not found favour’ with the Lord, can be the highest honour from God. At the moment Moses was asking for death, he little dreamed that forty years of as wonderful a service as man ever knew lay before him; and he suddenly learns that he had overlooked – that God is always equal to every crisis.” – D. M. PANTON.
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AN EXPOSITION OF John 11: 32-36
32-35. ‘Mary, then, when she came where Jesus was, and saw Him, fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Jesus, then, when He saw her weeping, and the Jews that came with her weeping, was indignant in spirit, and roused Himself and said, “Where have ye laid him?” They say unto Him, “Lord, Come, and see.” Jesus wept.’
The feeling of Mary is like her sister’s. She uses the same natural words. She, too, would have preferred that this sickness should never have run on to death. But to her the Lord Jesus makes no verbal reply. Perhaps, He saw in her spirit, and in her attitude of reverence, that the truth to which her sister had not attained, was received by her.
Our translators have misrendered the uncommon word used concerning our Lord’s feelings in ver. 33. It should be, not ‘He groaned in spirit,’ but ‘he was indignant in spirit.’
The reference here is so distinct to the history of the first King of Israel, that a few remarks on it will contribute to edification.
the true King of Israel, and so answers, in a measure, to Saul; while Samuel
answers to John the Baptist. John was to
make Christ known to
Saul the king,
is the test of the men of
Saul was forbearing, and wisely held his peace at this rejection by his people. Jesus is still more patient in the presence of His plotting and malignant foes.
Soon Saul’s opportunity of
showing Himself to be God’s deliverer arrives.
It comes in the distress of
This answers to the mark on the forehead, which Antichrist, the blaspheming king, will compel, to the provocation of God. Our dispensation of mercy is the time of respite.
In Saul’s day the people, at this news, weep through sympathy with the anticipated suffering and insult offered to their brethren. Saul, in his lowliness, was still the herdsman; and coming out of the field, enquires, what is the reason of the weeping? They tell him. The sense of compassion towards his own people, and indignation against Ammon, visit him strongly (1 Sam. 11: 6).
‘The Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard, those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.’ Thus our Lord, sorrowful at the sorrow of His friends and people, weeps with them; but rouses Himself to indignation against Satan - that old Serpent - and his might of death! Saul wins the battle against Nahash, by the aid of the army of Israelites. Jesus singly girds Himself against this foe, and overcomes.
Jesus’ victory, then, over the tomb, bespeaks Him the true King of Israel. He was so owned before by those whose hearts God had touched; as, for instance, Natnaniel; (1: 49), and Jesus approves his confession, and expands it. Our Lord is addressed as King after this miracle, and in consequence of it, by His disciples: though with but little intelligence, as they confess (12: 13-15). His foes, on the other hand, ridicule His kingly pretensions: specially in the hour of His weakness before and on the cross (19: 3, 14, 15, 19).
After Saul’s complete victory
over Nahash, the tide of feeling turns strongly in his favour, and many wish
him to put to death those who refused him.
But in our Lord’s day,
Saul would not slay His despisers then. Nor is Jesus doing so now. But He will by and bye, when the malignity of His enemies is come to its height (Luke 19.). For they will then be visibly worthy of death. They will have gone over, and by a literal mark, to the party of the Old Serpent ; and be cut off as incurably evil.
After Saul’s victory came the
renewal of the kingdom before the Lord, amid the joy of
How (some may say) should there be two such opposite feelings as anger and tears? Because two opposite parties are in question - friends and foes; Satan and death. Men are, as usual, one-sided in their comments on this sign given by our Lord!
The sorrow of the sisters and
their friends awakes His tears; but it awakes also His anger against Satan, the
liar and murderer, through whom came this war. If men saw a family whose father had been
murdered, while they mourned with them, they would feel indignant against the
murderer; and seek to deliver him over to justice. Well might Jesus be also
indignant, personally! How wicked of
‘But (say sceptics) why, if Jesus was about to raise Lazarus, should He weep, when the cause of sorrow was so soon about to be removed?’
We are not able to see all the reasons of any procedure of our God; but we can see enough to silence objection, if not to satisfy our soul. Jesus was a man, and He showed then His sympathies as a man. He has taught us by His apostle to ‘Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.’ Here He gives us the perfect pattern of sympathy. Though about to remove the cause of grief, He could not but feel for the past suffering of the sister and their friends.
And it is the character of our Master’s wisdom in the small things to view the larger; to dive deep into the reason of things, and from His large view there He speaks and acts. It is His to see the oak in the acorn. Suppose, then, that at His outlook from this one window of death, He casts His glance over the vast field of misery which Satan and sin had introduced, and would still produce, and you have an ample reason for any manifestation of sorrow exhibited by our Lord.
He enquires next - Where the corpse had been laid? But He does so in words which imply, that man is to be an embodied being for ever. He does not say - as those might who hold the spirit-state to be the final one - ‘Where is the husk of the man?’ He does not teach, that the body is a part of man finally to be laid aside [forever]; and that each at death enters on his eternal portion. This history gives the clearest contradiction to any such idea. ‘Thy brother shall rise again.’ ‘Where have ye laid him?’ What had they laid down of their brother? His body!
The man has been laid down in the tomb, because His soul has departed. The man is to be raised up, because his soul has returned: re-called by Almighty power to his body.
Resurrection is not death; much less is it burial - the conducting of the spoils of death to their dark den, far from the living. Resurrection is death’s undoing. It sometimes took place after burial, and was as visible in its result as death; restoring the one removed as unclean, to the place and companionship of the living.
What then was to rise? His body! His soul they had not laid down. The restoration of that was to re-animate the body, and to restore to them their brother, the embodied person they had known. Anyone holding Spiritist views, must have conducted himself differently both in word and deed throughout this whole scene.
On those principles, Lazarus had arisen when he died! To re-call him to his body would be to him a disservice; for he had, at death, entered on happiness and his eternal portion, which was not to be interfered with. And as for the surviving family, the Israel of that day, and the Church of all times after it, the Saviour was just misleading them into the belief that the body, in spite of its corruption, is again to be restored, in order to be our final house of abode. A Spiritist, then, would have comforted the sisters by assuring them - that death was no enemy brought in by sin, but man’s best friend, and part of God’s counsel from the first; that to die was not to sleep, but to awake; that man was designed to be a naked spirit; and that all the body’s use was only as the scaffolding to the mansion: a something to be taken down and thrown aside as useless, as soon as the house was completed.
But why did Jesus ask ‘Where Lazarus was laid?’ if He knew already? And I ask in return, What would the infidel have said, if Jesus had at once led the way to the tomb? Would lie not have inferred, therefore, that this scene was merely a collusion; and that Jesus was merely playing a part? Jesus was a man, and acted in all as became a man. ‘Come and see!’ what death hath done to thy friend! The aspect of death brought a shudder to the Lord of Life.
Had God no meaning in His call to Adam – ‘Adam, where art thou?’ or in His questions to Cain, ‘What hast thou done?’ and ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’
Jesus’ tears sanctify ours over departed friends. Had there been no tears, would not the infidel have declared, either that Jesus was no true and perfect man, or else that it was a proof of collusion?
They lead the way then to the field of death’s victory, trodden first by weak men, confessing their weakness; now trodden by the David, who was to lay low, by His word of power, this champion. The [Holy] Spirit of God then gives us the comment of the bystanders on the Saviour’s tears.
36, 37, ‘Therefore said the Jews, “Behold, how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind man, cause that even this man should not die?”’
It was true that Jesus loved Lazarus, and these tears were a proof of it. Blessed be God, that the Saviour can and does look on believers as His friends, and that death does not sever them from Himself! ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’ ‘We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are, without sin.’ But Jesus did not merely love him in the past, as though he were then a being past away, but He was about to prove His love, not alone by the tears of weakness, but by the word of power.
Some of the Jews wonder why He did not prevent this calamity by power, rather than weep over it when wrought? What was there in this case that should take it out of His range of succour, Who opened the eyes of the born blind?
Thus both parties are destitute of any expectation of the resurrection of Lazarus. They consider the case, now that death and corruption had come in, as so utterly beyond the Saviour’s power, that they do not even conjecture that He means to encounter this Goliath in the day of his might, to bind the strong man, and despoil his den of this his last trophy.*
[* NOTE. Is there not in all of this a foreshadowing of a select resurrection of those whom Jesus loves? That is, of those who seek to obey His commandments? “Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be fulfilled. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you:” (John 15: 9-14, R.V.). cf. Luke 20: 35; Phil. 3: 11; Heb. 11: 35b; Rev. 20: 4-6. ]
“O visit me with thy salvation:
That I may see the prosperity of thy chosen,
That I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation,
That I may glory with thine inheritance:”
(Psalm 106: 4, 5, R.V.).
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