My father passed away suddenly. There was no time for goodbyes. No time for making peace with the idea of losing him. Afterwards, I felt responsible for my mother’s well-being, and the truth was that I hardly knew how to be responsible over my own life. I could barely breathe for the tightness in my chest.
Grief is a universal experience. We all experience loss, but everyone expresses that grief in their own way. In this season of suspended family gatherings in which we would have processed our grief together, we need to care well for one another. In the best of times, when families are grieving together, it requires grace and compassion. We may not be gathering in person, but can still come alongside one another and strive to carry one another's burdens.
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We follow God's heart when we step in to care for the emotional needs of others.
Communal grieving works better when we have the grace to drop some unrealistic expectations:
At first I was busy taking care of the things that had to be done, trying to shield my mom from as many decisions as I could. And as long as I was busy, I was okay. It wasn’t until about a month later that I realized that the sun didn’t shine as brightly as it had before my father passed away. Sometimes panic or fear would rise up in me. The rest of the family had had a good cry, but every time I felt grief swell up in me, I would carefully pushed it off to the side. I was sure I would break in two if I let the tears come.
Other people could talk about memories with smiles on their faces. Yet, I wanted to avoid the subject of my father altogether, which in and of itself made me feel guilty. It was a difficult season. But years later, the sun does shine brightly again, and I am able to talk about my wonderful, godly father. God was in the process all along. He is faithful even in our darkest times.
My mother and daughter shed pools of tears. They held one another and laughed at funny family stories. My sons desired hugs and connection from my mother and me. I kept myself busy; washing dishes, planning out the details, writing a eulogy; busy, busy, busy.
But God was in each person’s coping, and he will guide each beautiful individual to a place of peace. Trust that God is leading each family member on a careful journey designed for each one’s healing. Give some space and time. Don’t fall into the immature trap of thinking that everyone must deal with situations the same ways that you do. Romans 12:15-16 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
Do not judge the person who still grieves after what you feel is “too long.” Feel free to encourage family members to receive counseling. Virtual counseling visits over the computer can connect us to resources for processing our tangled emotions. Many churches offer Grief Share and other groups to help in the process of grieving. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult times that a human being experiences. Getting help can be a healing and fulfilling experience.
This is one of the beauties of family life. We help one another. We watch out for one another. Community is an important component of the Christian life. We are the church even when we are not gathered under the same roof. Be careful not to isolate yourself emotionally or allow a family member to isolate themselves during a time of grieving. We can give each member some time alone as well, but we should be attentive to the isolation that people are feeling. Tune in even when you can't gather together:
When my father passed away I called my mom every day for three years! Sometimes we would talk for hours, other times just for a few minutes. I tried to be sensitive to what she seemed to need on each phone call. If you notice a child, spouse, or parent beginning to pull into isolation, see if you can draw them out with a simple personal connection. Offer your time to chat together or care for a need. Our burdens are lighter when they are carried together. Make yourself available to your family for whatever they might need. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.”
Above all, remember that the Father promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us. He is the Comforter. Grieving can be a time of growth in your relationship with God. Read the Psalms. Trust and pray that God is also caring for each of your loved ones as you walk together in this process. Grieving together can draw your family closer together, if you give up unrealistic expectations and allow each individual to process their grief. Just as Psalm 23 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema