What I Am Learning About Grief

We grieve, but not “as others who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13).

No one volunteers to become knowledgeable about grief. Life hands you the assignment by robbing you of someone whom you love dearly. Suddenly, you find yourself missing a major part of your existence—an arm and a leg come to mind—and trying to figure out how to go forward.

You discover this ache in you goes by the name “grief.” Synonyms include mourning. Sorrow. Loss. Bereavement.

Without warning, you find yourself experiencing an entire new lineup of emotions—all of them devastating—about which you had heard only rumors before.

The second discovery you make is people think you ought to be able to help others deal with it. Surely, they imply, if you have come through it and lived to tell about it, you must be wise.

I’m so unwise.

People are kind. To this date—and I’m almost eight months into this bizarre condition called widowhood—people I hardly know continue to send notes that they’re praying for me. I thank them for their kindness and stand in awe.

As a pastor, I never kept on ministering to the hurting this long after their initial loss.

I didn’t know.

I’m now getting invitations to speak to groups of ministers on the subject of grief. “Grief and humor.” “How to have a grief ministry.” “How to deal with loss.” “Getting over the death of a spouse.”

Margaret would smile at that. Dealing with emotions of any kind was never my strong point. My wife of 52-plus years was the one who felt deeply, thought profoundly and analyzed everything, while she would have said, “Joe denies he has any emotions.” I would protest, but her point was that I had learned to discount my feelings—they can be so fickle and counterproductive—and to go forward, ignoring them.

There is truth in that. Pastors learn to stifle their feelings if they are to minister to church members who have been working to get them fired but who suddenly find themselves going through a crisis of some kind. Pastors learn to stifle their feelings when they make pastoral visits into the homes of leaders who battle them on every side. Pastors learn to stifle their feelings when they walk into the pulpit to preach God’s Word five minutes after hearing from a committee that they are being terminated.

Pastors learn to stifle their feelings when they leave an angry wife at home in order to drive to the nursing home or hospital to minister to the hurting. They send up quick prayers for help to the Father of all comfort, and they walk into the sick room ready to love and care and serve.

Pastors learn to stifle their feelings when they preach the funeral of a precious child they love as they do their own. They learn to stifle their feelings when they go from a heart-wrenching funeral of a beloved young adult, raised in our church and killed suddenly and tragically, to a wedding two hours later involving other members of our church. In every case, you “suck it up,” to use a crude expression, and give it your best.

The veteran minister thinks he has this down to a science and that he can endure anything.

Then he finds out how mistaken he was.

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.