Navigating Grief: Families in the Shadow of Death

Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

February 19, 2023

Because we lose people we love, grief is a natural and inevitable part of life. It is the dark side of being deeply connected; it’s the hole we feel when our love has nowhere to go. When someone close to us dies, the loss overwhelms and drains us emotionally, making it difficult to move forward. It’s okay, even important, to grieve fully in order to move through the valley; there are healthy ways to cope with this difficult time. We need to grieve, but we do not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

Feel your emotions

When facing grief, allow yourself to feel your emotions. It is okay to feel sad, angry, confused, or any other emotion that may come up. Your emotions in loss mirror the depth of your love in attachment. They are not predictable or linear, but they are real. Feeling them is healthy. John tells us that, when Christ was told about the death of his friend Lazarus, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Even Jesus experienced and expressed grief freely among his friends.

Enlist support

It can also be helpful to find support during this time. We are not alone, but belong to the full body of Christ. Perhaps a pastor or a Christian support group, as well as friends and family members, are willing to listen and offer support.

“Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

It can be helpful to talk about your feelings and memories of the person who has died, as this can help you to process your grief and find some sense of closure.

Practice self-care

It is also important to take care of yourself during this time. Grief can be physically and emotionally draining, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This can help you to feel more grounded and better able to cope with the challenges of grief. You deserve much grace in a time of deep loss. Jesus invites us,

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Jesus offers us rest and comfort; he is willing to bear our burdens with us.

Be gracious with one another

With your spouse, be open and honest with each other about your feelings; support one another actively during this difficult time. Set aside time to talk about your grief. Give each other space to navigate the ups and downs. Be patient, recognizing that everyone grieves differently and at their own pace.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Be patient and kind to one another, even in the midst of our grief.

Guide your children through the valley

For parents, here are some tips on how to care for grieving children:

  • Help your child express their emotions: It is important to allow your child to express their emotions and to validate their feelings. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and to express themselves through art or play. It can also be helpful to read stories or watch movies that deal with grief and loss, as this can provide examples, images, and language for your child to understand and process their emotions.
  • Be honest and open: Children often have a hard time understanding death and may have many questions. It is important to be honest and open with your child about both the facts and your feelings regarding death. Answer their questions as simply and honestly as possible--they don’t need great detail, but they need to discuss it with honesty and willingness to share at an appropriate level.
  • Keep routines as normal as possible: Maintaining a sense of routine and normalcy can be helpful for children who are grieving. It is important to continue with regular activities and routines, such as bedtime routines and meals, as much as possible.
  • Seek support: It can be helpful to seek support from a pastor, counselor, or support group, as well as other family members and friends. This can provide a safe space for your child to express their feelings and to find comfort and support during this difficult time.
  • Turn to God: Reading Bible passages and praying together as a family can provide comfort and hope during this difficult time. Encourage your child to turn to God for comfort and strength and to find hope in His promises.

Remember that every child is different and will grieve in their own way. Be patient, offering support and love as your child navigates this difficult time.

Grief is a journey and that there is no right or wrong way to cope with it. Take the time you need to process your emotions and to find healthy ways to cope with your grief. By seeking support from others and turning to God for comfort and strength, you can navigate this difficult time and find your way forward.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).

Your grief is real, and you are not alone; God is with you every step of the way.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

Steven Koster is a writer, speaker, and producer with Family Fire. Formerly the Director of ReFrame Media, Family Fire's parent organization, Steven currently serves at Grace Church and consults on ministry through The Joshua Lab. He also leads a hospitality ministry at The Parsonage Inn and enjoys family tree research as time allows. Steven and his wife Deb enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars to encourage people in their most intimate relationships. The Kosters are the parents of three awesome young adults and reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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