By Donna Berger
This past week marked twenty-nine years since my husband, Gerry, and our three young children, Dawn, Stephen and Michael were killed in a tragic car accident. Throughout those years people have often said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” How do I do it? How does anyone do it?
Faith in God, does not take away our natural response to loss and our very first reaction is to grieve. “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Fully human, Jesus wept in sympathy with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother and His friend, Lazarus. Jesus’ sorrow, however, was not just for Lazarus, but for all mankind who must face the separation of death and His very human first reaction was to grieve.
We cannot choose to eliminate human death, but we can choose how we grieve it. The pain of grief comes in waves. It builds up to a crest and then drops off, only to build up and drop off, over and over. If we let those waves wash over us, and surrender to them and the tears that need to flow, the crashing waves will eventually subside. At that point we can see the past more clearly and envision the future again move as we from grief into acceptance. If we resist grief, it will go unresolved and can last for years and years. We all know of individuals who never ‘came back’ from the loss of a loved one, and I pray this blog will be the beginning of a new tomorrow for those suffering that pain.
Grief is not about resistance, nor is it about an obligation to prove that we are tragic heroes or love better than the next person. When we love deeply, the person or object of our love becomes part of us, an extension of ourselves. In loss, we are left with a gaping hole in our heart and grief is the natural response. The process of grief fills that emptiness by cataloging our memories for us and making them more precious than ever. Grief creates in us a sensitivity and depth of understanding that helps us to reorder our life. When we allow it, grief heals us by moving us out of its cocoon and releasing us into acceptance.
C S Lewis, in his book, A Grief Observed, said “You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. Passionate grief does not link us with [our loved ones] but cuts us off from them.” Allowing the pain of grief to subside, while we accept the separation from our loved ones actually preserves our relationship with them. Lewis said that the moments when he felt the least sorrow was when he had his clearest memories of his wife. “The less I mourn her, the nearer I seem to her.”
For those of us who believe in God, it is easier to move from grief to acceptance because we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Paul the apostle tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
But Lewis says, these words, “can only comfort those who love God better than the dead;” that is those who put God above all else in life, even above their loved ones who have died. In accepting our loss, we turn to God who is the source of grace and comfort and that grace and comfort gives us the strength to move forward in our lives. But Lewis adds, “If you’re approaching [God] not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.” We must choose to love God above all else and to trust in Him for who He is, not as a stepping stone to be reunited with our loved ones.
In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest of the Laws. 39 The second is like it, ‘You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” If we apply Jesus’ words during our grief, it is clear that loving God must be our highest priority and that being re-united with our loved ones will come as a result of our primary love of God.
So, how do I do it? How do we do it? Lewis says, “‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?” No, it means we surrender to our grief and allow it to heal us. “I cried until I had no more tears.” We accept the reality of our loss. “You are gone from this earth my love, but never from my heart.” We trust that our loved ones are experiencing the fullness of God’s love. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross told me “they are together in heaven and having a ball.” We love God above all and we move forward in faith that the Lord has a plan for us that will unfold with each step we take. “Lord, I know if I trust in You, you will guide my path. I lay down my heart before You and trust You with all my tomorrows.” (DB)
I am not saying this journey is an open highway. It is filled with twists and turns and there will be more than a few moments in time that feel like ‘ground zero,’ but our anger, doubts and anguish can all be part of our healing when we remember that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence and He will shower us with mercy and grace to help us through our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) How do I do it? Through the grace of God: that undeserved “love that cares and stoops and rescues,” (Stott) and the wonderful people who He put in my life to lift me up in prayer and encourage me.
To Him be the glory!