What I Am Learning About Grief

Suddenly, life pulls the rug out from under him and he finds he’s the master of nothing. He cries like a newborn.

To say I’m no authority on grief is the understatement of the year.

Readers who have spent their whole careers studying grief, reading the endless books on the subject, writing and teaching and counseling, will smile at my naivete, no doubt. Perhaps it’s like cancer. There are so many different kinds and the treatments vary. After my little bout of cancer in 2004, I feel guilty when friends tell me of the scary aspects of their cancer with radical surgeries, bizarre procedures, stem cell transplants, and the constant trips to Anderson or Sloane-Kettering. Mine is hardly worth mentioning.

Maybe it’s that way with my grief. Like the suffering Paul mentioned, my grief is momentary and light (2 Corinthians 4:17) compared to so many. Certainly my understanding of it is so limited.

Here are six realities I’m learning about grief …

1. It’s different for each person. There does not seem to be one kind of grief for mankind. The length and depth and degree of grief all differ.

2. Isolation is the worst possible choice while one is grieving.

The Lord added believers to the Body of Christ, the church. We need each other for mutual comfort, teaching, encouragement and a thousand other things.

However, a grieving person is not going to call friends with “Hey—let’s get together.” They have to take the initiative. And at times, to be insistent. “Come on, friend. You need to get out of the house. My wife and I are taking you to dinner. We’ll be over in 30 minutes.”

Friends don’t let friends sorrow alone.

3. The Lord’s disciples will still grieve, even while holding firmly to the teachings of eternal life, eternal presence with Christ, the defeat of death and the resurrection.

Just because I believe my loved ones—my parents, two brothers, my wife—are with the Lord does not lessen the sorrow caused by their departure.

4. Grief seems to come in waves.

I can go an entire week with hardly a thought about Margaret, but then every day something triggers the memories and I weep.

In the months since she was taken, I have preached in numerous churches from California to Florida. Almost invariably, when I leave a church and climb into my car to travel home, my reflex is to call Margaret and report in. She’s been praying and will want to know how things went and when to expect me home. Then it hits me.

Durn. There go the tears again.

5. Grief never completely goes away. We just learn to cope.

After Margaret’s death, my friend Joyce called from Orlando. Her evangelist husband, Jim, was a precious friend. I said, “When do the tears stop?” She answered, “I don’t know yet. It’s only been 14 years.”

What are the skills we need to cope? I don’t know, but these come to mind …

1. A strong belief. The sorrowing survivor will learn quickly whether he/she believes the promises of the Lord Jesus. And since “faith comes by … the Word of the Lord” (Romans 10:17), the best thing is to stay in the Scriptures, reading, thinking, digesting, believing.

The gold standard for believing in the face of adversity comes from one who knew a depth of suffering the rest of us can only imagine. And yet he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

2. Self-talk. The ability to get tough with ourselves and say what our drooping, sagging spirits need to be told.

The Psalms are saturated with examples of great self-talk. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2).

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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.