My Summer of Loss
One afternoon, while I was in a shopping centre, my phone vibrated. It was my older brother Steve. He said just two words, “Mum’s gone.” My stomach hurt as my brother sobbed into the phone 700 miles away—I felt helpless and alone.
It was surreal. Everything around me carried on as normal, but I felt like I was dying inside. I had to somehow live life without mum in the world.
Eight weeks later, I received a second call, this time from my younger brother. He told me Dad had finally lost his 6 year battle with Alzheimer’s. The tears came as I drove home. That was my ‘summer of loss’.
I have helped many in their struggle through different kinds of loss. What I’ve been learning on my own journey, a journey I’m still taking, is that faith is critical. God helps me cope with, and heal from, the terrible pain I have felt from my loss.
Grief is something we will all face at some point. This article is about how the Bible says we should handle grief, and why we can trust God to help us in our pain. Tim Jackson
Going Through Loss
People struggling with the death of friends or family often ask: “Will life ever feel normal again? Will the pain ever go away? Will I make it through this?”
Grief is the painful process of dealing with any loss we experience in our lives. Whether on tour on not, things get destroyed, relationships can be broken and people die. The closer we are to people, the harder it is when we lose them.
Even though grief is something we will all experience, no one can tell you exactly how you should grieve. Grieving after loss is a very personal thing. And there’s no single right way to grieve. However, understanding how grief works will prepare you better for coping with loss.
What To Expect
Expect confusion. One Christian author described his struggle with grief this way: “In grief nothing ‘stays put’. [You] keep on emerging from [pain], but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles . . . am I going up or down?”
Grief can be disorienting. No one goes through the stages of grief in the same order or at the same pace. We don’t need to be alarmed when things don’t make sense, or our minds just go round in circles. The process of grieving is far from straightforward. It’s messy and, at times, it may feel like you’re losing your mind. You’re not. There is no standard pattern for grief.
Don’t pretend. Be real. Attempting to ignore the pain of grief by ‘being strong’ won’t work. It will only chew you up inside. A man called Frederick Buechner realised his denial was stopping him deal with his father’s suicide. Buechner said that ‘steeling’ yourself against the reality of death may protect you from some pain, but that same steel can become bars that keep you prisoner. He went on to explain: “You can survive on your own. You can grow strong on your own. You can even [succeed] on your own. But you cannot become human on your own.” To not grieve is to stop ourselves healing.
It’s important for a grieving person to accept the reality that something or someone has been lost. Call it what it is. If you have lost someone, tell your Padre, Scripture Reader or someone you’re close to. Don’t bottle it up. As difficult as it is, viewing the body of a deceased loved one helps many grievers accept the finality of loss. Many who never saw the body of a loved one often say they feel like it could all be just one long bad dream.
Be Honest About How You Feel
Feel what you feel. The truth is that grief brings an avalanche of feelings and responses. The list can seem endless: shock, pain, disbelief, disorientation, disconnection, denial, anger, unfairness, fear, helplessness, loneliness, depression and worry. Before the healing process can begin, we need to sort through the jumble of emotions collecting inside us.
For example, anger is not unusual, including anger towards God. This anger is often because we want someone to blame. Sometimes it seems that God is the only one we can blame. After all, He had the power to stop our friend or loved one from dying, right?
I remember how angry I was when a friend was killed in a climbing accident. I screamed at God. It made no sense that He would take my friend’s life. It felt cruel and terrifying. But God is big enough, strong enough and loving enough to handle our emotions, even when we lash out at Him in severe pain. In the Bible, the book of Psalms is full of people shouting out to God in pain, asking for answers. Talking to others and talking to God, even if it starts as shouting, is an important part of grieving and sorting out your thoughts. Don’t try to go it alone.
Describe what you’ve lost. Telling God, and others, about what you’ve lost is really important. I meet regularly with a group of men for support. This has been a safe place for me to talk my way through my losses. Over many breakfasts, they’ve listened to my struggles and pain, giving me hope that I would eventually make it through my grief. They not only allowed me to be honest about my feelings, they encouraged it. Those times of sharing and honesty have been steps towards healing. It is important that we are open to the help and support of others. Isolation will only increase the pain. We need to share and be looked after.
In the Bible, David (a soldier and king), lost his kingdom and was betrayed by his own son (2 Samuel 15). Yet he encouraged his few followers: “pour out your hearts to [God], for God is our refuge” (psalm 62:8 niv). David knew that talking to God would help them accept their loss and their ‘new normal’. He knew God is faithful and loving, and that He understands death and loss better than we might realise. Jesus, who is God, suffered a terrible and painful death 2,000 years ago when He was just a young man in His early thirties. He chose to come to earth, even though He knew He would be executed on a cross of wood. God understands death and loss.
Become comfortable with your emotions. Some people say we should always have “a stiff upper lip”. But we shouldn’t try to be strong and independent when grieving. Don’t be afraid to express your grief honestly to God. He understands.
In the Bible, Paul (who wrote a lot of the New Testament) makes it clear that Christians don’t “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 niv). Instead, they grieve with hope because Jesus came back to life three days after His death. His new life is a promise of new life after death for anyone who trusts Him. And it will be a new life where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 niv).
While He was on earth, Jesus was “a Man of sorrows and [familiar] with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus felt pain when He lost a close friend, and understands exactly the pain we feel in our grief. But then He walked out of His own tomb after His execution. And now He offers all of us that future too. You can trust Jesus, the one who has been through death, to walk with you through your jumble of feelings and give the comfort only He can provide.
Live with Your Loss
Accept the new normal. Loss changes us. It’s unavoidable. How will you change? That depends on you. A significant loss becomes a marker in our lives. Phrases like “before the accident”, “after the tour” or “before they were deployed” are common ways to describe the ‘new normal’. Four months after my dad died, I spent the afternoon hunting, an activity my dad and I enjoyed together.
As I sat alone in the woods, I was overcome with sadness and began crying. I’m losing it, I thought. What’s the matter with me? Then I realised: Dad isn’t here to share this, and he would have really loved it. That’s my new normal. Although I’m moving on with my life, I’m never far from the pain of loss. Sometimes it catches up with me when I least expect it, and it reminds me of how much I miss them. But you are not betraying the person you lost if you laugh again, enjoy a drink with some mates, retrain or move on with your life in any way.
Be ready to help others. Going through grief will actually equip us to support others when they are struggling with loss. Any comfort, reassurance or support we are given during our loss isn’t just for us alone. We can share it!
Paul, the New Testament writer, made that clear when he wrote to one church: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 niv). The comfort God gives us should be shared. And when we are looking out for others, not only are they helped, but we are less focused on our own hurts. Giving care is a powerful way of healing and moving on.
What Can Never Be Lost?
It has already been said that we will all face loss at some point. But is there anything that will last forever? Is anything ‘un-losable’?
God’s love. As a Christian, this truth has helped me through grief when nothing else could. The clearest expression of God’s love for us was when Jesus died and rose again, defeating death for all who trust Him (romans 5:8). Whatever loss has left us grieving, we can find confidence and strength in God’s love (psalm 46; romans 8:35-39). His love lasts forever, because God lasts forever. And because Jesus defeated death when He came back to life, we can also live forever. But we need to give our lives to Him.
God’s reassuring presence. Comfort comes from knowing that, though we are surrounded by death now, we don’t need to face pain and loss alone. God longs to comfort and reassure us. There is no ‘easy’ answer to grief. But we can know that God shares our suffering. He gave us His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. He knows what it is to lose someone. But Christ came back to life, never to die again. If you trust Him, and bring your pain to Him, he will never leave you or abandon you (Romans 8:31; Hebrews 13:5).
Since the death of my parents, I’m closer to Jesus, who has made unending life possible for all who trust Him (John 11:25-26). I’m more aware of how short life really is and how deeply dependent I am on God. That knowledge helps me focus on what really matters in life: trusting God and relying on Him for everything.
When our world is hit by loss, the thought of something good coming from it sounds weird. But Jesus taught His followers that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Grief can have a good effect if it brings us to Jesus to seek His comfort, strength and new life (4:23–5:1).
God wants us to rely on Him (romans 5:2-5). His goodness and love is always revealed when we think we’ve got nothing left. Death doesn’t have the final say. Yes, it’s the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26), but Jesus, our hope, has crushed death in His resurrection (15:54-57). Therefore we can have certainty of new life after this one if we trust Him. And we can offer this hope and comfort to fellow sufferers.
The pain of loss never really goes away, and sometimes it will overwhelm us (as writing this did for me). But every time we grieve, we can also remember that Christ has defeated death—new life is available to all. Death doesn’t have the final say anymore. Jesus does.