The View From the Other Side

17 Aug

In my six plus years as a pastor, I’ve done dozens of funerals. But for the last few months, I’ve seen things from the other side, as my dad passed away on February 19. I have experienced what so many others I have worked with have experienced, the pain of grieving the loss of one you love.

Now to some degree I’d felt this pain before, because when you’re at a church long enough, you begin to build deep relationships with the members, so that when one dies, you do feel a real grief. But of course this was different. So I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned over the last few months by seeing death from the other side. I am by no means an expert on these things, these are just things I have found personally. But I offer them with humility in the hope that they might help someone else.

1. Presence is important. The family does not need you to say just the right thing, they just need you to be there. Phone calls and cards and visits are a great comfort, not only in the days immediately following a death, but also weeks and months later. One thing this experience has taught me in a very personal way is how grief can linger as a kind of constant shadow only to break out at the most unexpected times, sometimes months or years later.

2. Offering specific help is better than saying, “if there’s anything I can do.”  People said to me countless times, “If there’s anything we can do, let us know.” But in the midst of my grief, I just couldn’t think of a thing. You can’t replace the memories, you can’t bring him back. You can’t make the grief go away. I found it much easier to be helped by people who offered something specific than those who made the blanket statement.

3. A heart deeply rooted in the sovereignty of God is a great help. The truth that God is the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of the universe kept my heart probably more than any other truth in this time. To know that God in His wisdom has ordered our days brings great peace. To believe that my dad was in the hands of chance or merely doctors or was under the control of evil forces brings no comfort and flies in the face of what I read in Scripture.

4. A heart that longs for heaven is a great help. Along with trust in the sovereignty of God, a hope in heaven is a great help. How hopeless my heart would be if I believed my dad’s life ended on February 19. But because of the risen Christ, I know all who trust in Him will be raised too. I know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This brings me peace.

5. A grieving person may be more susceptible to sins of the flesh. I have found myself more challenged since my dad’s death in the area of gluttony. I think this is in part an effort to deal with the pain of grief through the pleasure of food. On another level, I think sometimes with a grieving person there can set in a sense of entitlement to do things we ought not do. We can say, “Well I deserve to eat all this because I am hurting.” This is, of course, not true, but a grieving person can begin to believe such things. It may manifest in the lives of others in different areas than food but I have seen my susceptibility to sin increase in the last few months.

6. A grieving person can channel their grief in good ways. There are two ways grief (both for my own father and for other friends whose  funerals I have done) has helped me. First, experiencing the death of a loved one fills me with a greater compassion for those who suffer. I have a long way to grow in compassion toward others, but grief consistently helps me on the way. Second, death reminds me of the brevity of this life and fills me with a desire to not waste the life I’ve been given.

7. A grieving person needs other people and activity. Grief overwhelms us when we are isolated and inactive. This is why grief is often most difficult for those who are home bound when their spouse dies. To be alone with our thoughts all day is not good.  A healthy mix of activity, relationships and prayer is ideal.


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