Dealing with the loss of something you love or the death or someone you love can be devastating. You feel like your world has ended and it is hard to pretend everything is okay, because in reality a part of your own life has died with the person or thing you love, yet those around you expect you to get back to normal, for whatever normal is worth, within a few weeks as if you were recovering from a head cold, even though you might be grieving for years to come.
Even the loss of a job, failure to meet a goal, inability to take that dream vacation or enter that competition because of lack of funds or an injury or obligations to someone who suddenly needs your help desperately can all lead to depression, gloom, anger, angst. It feels like a part of you has died and often you feel hurt and anger because you can’t have the life you desire and think you deserve.
When someone you love dies or you lose something you love, you may be so attached that you actually forget they are gone. When John’s car was stolen he reported it to police who told him he would probably never get it back. He knew it was gone, but kept going outside after work looking for his car in the parking lot as if it would magically reappear and would wake up each morning expecting to find it in the garage. He even nearly bought a Groupon coupon for a discounted car detailing and when he misplaced his glasses he went out to the car to see if they were there, even though the car was still missing. Habits can live on even when the object of our affection is no longer with us.
It is hard to let go of someone or something you love and there always seem to be reminders.
Lisa said that when her mother died, she grieved for months, but tried to keep it hidden.
“The hardest thing was when people who had not seen me in a while or weren’t close to the family would run into me in the supermarket or the mall and ask, “So how’s your mom doing?”
“A lot of times I didn’t know how to react. If I told them she was dead, they would react the same way my friends did on the actual death of my mother and I felt as bad for them as I did for me. I actually dreaded running into people I used to know, but I finally can talk about it more casually.”
Lisa said that even now, ten years after her mother’s death, she will still find herself thinking, ‘mom would think this is funny, I need to call her and tell her;’ or she will find a kitten figurine in the Goodwill store and buy it for her mom even though she isn’t there.
“I have a special curio cabinet with mom’s pictures and old cat figurines on it and when I see a new one I think she would like I buy it and put it on one of the lower shelves. I thought about dating them and putting a comment on it of a memory I had of her, but there wasn’t enough room on the bottom of them to do that and it really made me kind of weepy, but having the figurines there makes it feel like she is still physically with us. I guess some people might think it is creepy, but it is not like we have scattered her ashes around the cabinet so I guess it is okay.”
Lisa said she had read an article about people making alters to their dead loved ones and putting out food and flowers for them every day.
“That would be a little too much like idol worship I think. We wanted to honor mom and we planted a garden outside with some of the roses and camellia bushes from her house and put a wooden swing bench out there. It is kind of a nice place to go and ‘talk’ to her, but I know she is in heaven now and I am okay with that. I just miss her so much and it is comforting to have a part of her still with us.”
Many who have lost loved ones, both animals and humans have said they almost forget they have died and subconsciously pick up the makings for a special meal or find themselves feeling the need to get home early to check on them or plan a trip to someplace they knew they enjoyed.
“You form a lot of habits around the ones you love and find yourself making concessions,” said Mark who lost his brother and his mother over a two year time period.
“The rest of the family just doesn’t get together anymore. My mom sort of held the family together and now that she is gone, we hardly talk. It’s just not the same without her.”
Mark said his brother always hated country music, even though Mark liked listening to it.
“I can’t stand to listen to it anymore because it makes me think of him and I get sad. It is silly I know, but it used to drive him nuts if I scuffed my feet in the hallway. I used to do it on purpose as a kid to annoy him, but now if I do it because I am tired or something, I will think, ‘oh, I need to stop that or he will get upset’. It really is like he is still with me in some ways.”
Some people set up shrines for pets and people who have passed and go to grave sites to talk to dead loved ones or decorate the grave for each season. If it is a child, some people will actually set up a Christmas tree with gifts. For most of us, it is hard to let go of someone or something we love.
If you have ever pulled out an old photo album or looked at your high school yearbook and felt a pang of loss for those days when you used to act goofy and do silly things and share special memories, you know loss, even if you have never had someone you know pass away.
When we go to lick the last ice cream cone and the scoop of ice cream falls to the ground; when we are given a special Polaroid photo and spill coffee on it or drop the mug our children hand painted for us, there is an immediate response of dread and sorrow.
While these things are small, we often see them as irreplaceable and so they come to mean more to us than other things.
While we tend to talk ourselves out of that sick feeling of losing a watch or sweater or leaving a hat or sunglasses behind on vacation and not knowing where we left them, it’s a lot harder to talk ourselves out of that sick feeling we get when someone we love dies.
We go through all sorts of emotions depending on the situation. When my friend died of a brain tumor that had kept her immobile for the last two years, there was no real sadness for her, just for the family she left behind. In one sense, there was almost a joy that she no longer had to deal with the pain and lack of freedom. She had suffered for a long time, but when a funny young man with his whole life ahead of him died in a car crash the day after we had talked, I was in shock. I had only known him for a day, but he had such plans and was so brilliant that it did not seem fair that he went too soon and it wasn’t just his loss of life, but the loss of his dreams and plans that sickened all of us. What could he have done if he was still alive?
When people are healthy and have dreams and plans and do good things to help others, it seems an even greater loss when they die suddenly and it is easy to blame God for taking them, but death is a part of life and none of us are immune from it.
We can take precautions; wear seatbelts, drive the speed limit, look both ways before crossing a street and don’t go out late at night walking in dark clothing and jay walk across a busy intersection or get drunk and stagger into the street, but if someone decides to reach for a fallen French fry and pulls head-on in front of a tractor trailer that turns sharply and hits us… well, we don’t stand much of a chance.
Things happen. Whether or not God causes them to happen; whether he wants us to suffer to test our faith is something we wonder about.
We recall the story of Job and how God allowed Satan to take everything Job loved away from him to prove that he was not following God just because of all the good things God gave him.
Satan reasoned that if Job had nothing and that God took everything good away from him, that Job would curse God rather than praise him, but Job, though he argued with God and questioned why he would do something to one he created and loved, did not give up on God and did not curse his name and he was rewarded with greater blessings.
Still, it takes a while for those greater blessings to make a showing and in the mean time most of us feel like God hates us or is testing us or is toying with us to see if we will still be faithful like Job.
Job 1:21 paraphrased says, “Naked I came into the world and naked I shall return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
It’s hard to bless the Lord when you are hurting, but ask just about anyone who has suffered a loss if things got better and the vast majority will say, “Yes”.
It is hard to lose a child, a spouse or a parent because the ties to them are so strong and you spend so much time with them. They often seem to be the most important people in your life and they share a part of you in them.
The closer someone is to you, the more hurt you feel. Even if it is an actor or singer; if you identified with them strongly and they made you feel deep emotions, you will feel connected to them in a way you do not feel connected to others and it is this connection that causes such grief.
In a strange sort of way, this grief is a good thing.
When a friend’s father committed suicide, the whole neighborhood gathered at his funeral. It was standing room only and it took two hours of standing in line just to see the family at the funeral home the day before the funeral.
The man was so well loved by everyone. He was always fixing things for people and giving his time and money to help people in need. He was bright and funny and engaging and no one ever suspected he was fighting depression or that he would take his own life the night after spending a holiday evening with family telling him all how much they loved him.
The more grief we feel for someone, the greater good that person has done in our lives and that is why it is okay to feel such sorrow.
We shouldn’t blame God for the grief. We should be thankful for feeling such pain.
When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was dead, he wept for him and rushed to his side and brought him back to life. Jesus felt grief too and Lazarus must have been pretty special to deserve such emotion from the Son of God.
While we wish we could bring things back to life sometimes or at least prevent their death, most of the time that is not possible and if someone is saved and going to heaven, we should not mourn for them, but be happy that they are moving on to a wonderful new transition.
It’s harder to accept when a young child dies or a favored family pet that has done no wrong in life. Like Job we ask, why was the cherished one allowed to be born into this life if they were just going to die?
While we don’t have a finite answer for that, the Bible tells us that we all have purpose- great or small and that we all affect others even in small ways. Sometimes how a person or family deals with loss will profoundly affect someone else’s life and this alone may have great change on the world. We just don’t know, but the loss of someone or something we love can turn out to be a life changing event for ourselves or someone near us and this change can be necessary and even good, though it is hard to see it as such at the time.
We say that we grieve for the loss of someone, but when someone touches you deeply, they are never lost or gone, they will always be in your life, not as ghosts or angels as the so-called heathen believe, but as lesson teachers and memory makers who taught us to feel love when we did not think that was possible and taught us that we could survive no matter how badly we wanted to give up, and that by surviving we would be able to help others further down the line.
Think about all the teachers and friends you have had or that special tour guide in a foreign place that showed you wonderful things you would have never found on your own, or the scout leader that showed you how to start a fire without matches and build a make-to shelter that may have even saved your life one day.
Think about the doctor who found out what was wrong with you when no other doctor could or that old woman in the grocery store who told you how kind you were when you reached on the top shelf to get the baking soda down for her when she couldn’t reach.
All these people have become intricately woven into your being and are all a part of you and will always be with you in some shape or form, the same way Christ will always be with you even though his death was tragic and seemingly without reason or purpose.
Why would a good man die young? Christ was only in his early thirties and healed and helped more people than most of us will ever help in a life time. He had the potential to bring about much needed change in a chaotic world and yet he was killed in his prime.
While we may mourn his death and the circumstances of it, we also take joy that he died for our sins and set us free and helped to guide us to become better people.
Think of the countless people who followed Christ and built hospitals, democratic governments, reformed all manner of evil and created organizations to care for those in need and provide the skills for others to care for themselves. All of that came about because of Christ’s death.
While it is difficult to see the ways we touch people and change their lives; each of us, by our presence have made a difference in the world around us. Sometimes we might actually be a bad influence on others and say and do things we really regret, but most of us strive to leave the world better than we found it rather than worse and we can continue to do that even after we pass into the next life. Again, not through spiritual séances and messages from beyond the grave, but through those we touched while still on earth. Like pulling out an old photo album, when people think of us, they will recall the words we said and deeds we did and possibly be inspired to do more with their lives to honor us in our death, even if we may now feel we haven’t done much to inspire anyone, chances are we all have.
If we lived our lives as if everyday with someone would be the last time we saw them, we would probably all be a lot kinder or more attentive, but instead of focusing on the grief and sorrow of loss, we should focus more on the great love that causes us to feel such separation from those we love, because no one really grieves for someone who is mean spirited, self serving or derogatory, so if someone grieves for you, that means you are worth grieving and that grieving is a way of connecting with all things good about who you are and were.
The loss does get less over time. As we form new practices without the loved one there; as we meet new people and experience new events, we learn to let go of the loss of the old ones, though often all it takes is a smell, a thought, an old picture and all those feelings come rushing back in.
While the Lord may indeed give us something or someone wonderful for a time and that something wonderful goes away, it does not mean we are being punished or that God is an Indian Giver (promising something great and actually giving us something awful as if to trick us into trading something valuable for something of little worth).
In the case of Job, the Lord did not take away anything, but he did allow Satan to do so. This fear of loss lives strongly in us, but if we never take risks, never allow ourselves to love another or give our heart to someone special, we will suffer another kind of loss which may actually make us grieve the loss of who we might have become and what we could have done.
It is like the parable of the three servants each given the same amount of money and being told to safeguard it until the master returned. Two invested the money and made more for the master, the third was afraid he would lose the money so hid it and had nothing to show when the master returned.
God gave us our lives as an investment, to do something with them. Some of us invest long term, some barely make a presence and are gone, but if we touch the lives of others and they feel grief for our leaving this earth, then they have made an investment with us and have received return rewards. It is not all loss.
It’s strange because as humans we are always trying to overcome great obstacles. We train for races, climb mountains, go to boot camp to shape our bodies into lean mean fighting machines, take IQ tests to show how intelligent we are and we marvel at the things we can do if we push ourselves and how we can do things we never thought possible, but we want to avoid the grief of losing someone we love.
The death of a loved one is one of the greatest challenges we will ever face. It is taller than Mount Everest, deeper than the Mariana Trench, wider than the Saharan Desert and pulls us further out than the outer reaches of space, yet none of us long to go there or conquer it, we only hope to survive it and move on.
As Christians we are comforted in part that we will go on to a better life, but there is always that shadow of what will happen to people who do not believe in Christ or are not saved and do not practice the tenants of the Old Testament to the letter of the law or believe that God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us.
As Christians we all grieve the loss of Christ, but we see the overall picture. We see the necessity of his sacrifice and we do not blame God for causing the death of his son, but realize it is our own sin nature than brought the need about.
If we could stop sinning, maybe we could stop death, but that is easier said than done and so it is something we must accept as part of life and while it is okay to grieve and okay to have a stern conversation with God for the hurt and pain and suffering, ultimately we need to come to grips with the fact that we gain so much more when someone we love passes away.
When they are gone, we now hold the responsibility of taking what they taught us and teaching it to others. We are to keep them alive with us and share what they have given us with others and hopefully someday we will reunite and exchange sadness for joy and be filled with the love these beings have brought into our lives and strive to share that love with others.