Category Archive: Grief

When Tragedy Strikes

Like many of us, I’ve had a heavy heart this week. Another shooting in Southern California left twelve dead, others with horrific memories and their aftermath. And fires, in both Northern and Southern California. The town of Paradise decimated, 23 reported dead as of Saturday evening.

Amazingly, the Paradise home of dear friends of ours is still standing, as is their church. But for several days they didn’t know whether or not they still had a home. Others I know have lost everything, except in most cases, their loved ones. Homes are gone. Lives are lost. And even if you still have a home, there is currently no water in Paradise, no power. So as of yet there is no possibility of returning to the homes that remain.

Our friends who still have their home are in the minority. We’ve heard that 80% of Paradise is simply gone. Destroyed. Decimated How do you even begin the overwhelming task of starting over? And how do you move back into a home that is still standing when all around you is destruction, ash, rubble?

Others have certainly gone through that. In countries where persecution abounds because of ethnicity, or faith, or religious differences, many have fled their homes with nothing more than they could carry. Here in California, many escaped the Camp Fire, or the Malibu fire, or another, with only the clothes on their backs. Plans for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas or Hanukkah must change because people are now homeless.

So how do we help?

  • Tell people we’ll pray for them – and then DO IT! If the words are simply the “thing to say” in a tragedy, they are meaningless. Perhaps instead of just saying we’ll pray, we can stop and say “Let me pray for you now” and do it immediately, and then continuously.
  • Pray for the firefighters and emergency responders who so faithfully serve in these difficult times.
  • Ask what help they need. Someone commented that they went into Target to buy necessities only to see the store full of people walking around, dazed, not knowing where to begin. If you’ve lost everything, do you start with food or with medicines? With blankets or underwear?
  • Find ways to give where funds will be allocated in appropriate ways. The worship pastor at our Aptos church is from Paradise. He is there this weekend, meeting with the church from which he came to determine how we can help. Twin Lakes Church will give us opportunities to give in meaningful ways that are based on a real assessment of critical issues.

In the tragedy of these days we have an opportunity to come alongside those in desperate need, and love them in the name of Jesus.

My friend Shirley Fransen Holm posted this article on Facebook Saturday. What a beautiful picture of what it means to come alongside those in need.

At my synagogue, I’ll take 20 Mennonites over one armed guard

After telling the disciples he would soon leave them, their hearts were also heavy, Then Jesus said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our hope is in the God who is present, the God who has promised never to leave or forsake us, and who calls us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.

Grief Survival Tools

“What are some of the tools in your grief survival kit?” This question was posed on Quora, a site I sometimes respond to. I thought it was worth mentioning some of the items that helped me survive after the devastating loss of my first husband. They included the following:

  • Family/friends who allowed me to be exactly where I was–numb, inattentive, distant, glazed, aching–and didn’t try to “fix” me.
  • Faith in the God who has promised never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Participation in a grief recovery program along with other new widows and widowers. At www.griefshare.org you can enter your zip code and find a group, as well as resources in your area. Processing loss with a trained facilitator and with others in the same life crisis was very helpful to me in understanding some of the impacts, and the timeline, of grief.
  • Prayer – my own and those of others for me.
  • God’s promises through scripture, such as the one at right which He gave me following Jerry’s death.

    God’s promises encouraged my heart

  • Reading some excellent books on grief, its impact, process, recovery. I didn’t read these immediately after Jerry’s death. I needed a bit of time to get through the initial shock before absorbing others’ ideas about grief.
  • A body pillow I purchased to hug at night.
  • A heating pad for those times when my body, in shock, couldn’t get warmed through. A great tip from my nurse friend, Fritz.
  • Sleep.
  • Work, or projects (like cleaning out the garage!) that kept my mind from focusing only on my loss.
  • Writing … whether a journal, notes to others, or blogposts … was another way of releasing the feelings tumbling about in my brain and heart.
  • More sleep.

These were some of my tools. What has helped you deal with grief?

 

Grief at Christmas

At a memorial for our dear friend this week, close friends celebrated Steve Stybor’s life and faith through sixteen years’ struggle with cancer. The pastor spoke of Steve’s love for Jesus Christ. Friends spoke of this man’s care for them, always wanting to know how THEY were doing in the midst of his own struggles. I experienced this too.

“How’re you doing Steve?”

“Not great. But how’s your shoulder healing?”

Steve made friends everywhere he went, from the Safeway clerks he knew by name, to the orderlies, nurses and doctors in the oncology ward and chemo unit, to friends at Bible Study Fellowship and at church.

We miss Steve. Conversations, shared memories, and his humor. He had two memorable caps he wore often: one embroidered with “Chemosabe;” the other with a fringe of fake red hair sticking out the top. Steve could laugh at himself as well as at, and with, others.

I expect some of you are either experiencing your own grief over the loss of a loved one, or know someone who is grieving this Christmas season. Somehow all the “firsts” hit especially hard as the loved one’s absence leaves a gaping hole as we go through the motions, hearts numb, minds unfocused, eyes either wet from unstoppable tears or dried out from the sobs that have already wracked our bodies.

So I thought I would repeat a blog I wrote two years ago.

It was Christmas, 2005. Eighteen days after my husband had moved from my arms into the waiting arms of Jesus.

All I wanted to do was crawl under a warm blanket for about three years, until the aching void in my heart had eased, the elephant on my chest been removed. But you can’t sidestep grief. I slept about eleven hours a night, often with a two or three-hour nap in the afternoon. The ache felt so HEAVY.  It weighed me down. In a daze, I moved from one thing to another, planning and communicating with friends about his memorial, filing for insurance and social security benefits, and taking care of immediate needs.

I thought my life was over. “How do you go on when half of you has been ripped away?” I sobbed. And yet, the very day of Jerry’s death God gave me Jeremiah 29:11 to claim as my own: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you hope and a future.” I knew that withdrawing into myself would not honor either my Jerry or my God. I stumbled on, with a deep void I thought would never leave my heart, tears accompanying me to bed and again on waking, the body pillow I hugged a very poor substitute for that living, breathing man beside me. And yet, the God who is FAITHFUL and TRUE promised never to leave nor forsake me.

I felt His care through family and friends who loved on me, who didn’t try to “fix” me, who let me cry or talk or be silent or a distant guest, lost in my own thoughts as others laughed and talked around me. My brothers supported me in a myriad of ways during and after Jerry’s death. My nephew and niece, who rented an apartment from me, came to my back door every night for weeks, to check in and hug me. My sister-in-law and niece prepared and froze quite a few individual meals for me. On each Tupperware container was a scripture or note of encouragement. And, having been widowed three years earlier herself, Mom listened and prayed and grieved along with me.

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

A very loving note from my then five-year old niece

As we celebrated Jerry’s life a few weeks after his death, I knew my family and many friends who also loved Jerry, grieved with me. But two days later, during our family Christmas, I felt like I was in a bottomless hole. With hollow, red-rimmed eyes, I watched others open gifts. Their muted affirmations of thanks swirled around me. I wasn’t quite “there.” This was my first Christmas in 24 years without his love, laughter and teasing, his presence, his gifts, and gifts for him. It seemed surreal that life could continue when mine had been so radically altered.

It must have been hard for my loving family to watch me, as they reached out to me with hugs and tears throughout the day. They were dealing with their own loss, of a son-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle.

Friends expressed love in a variety of ways. The day after Christmas, a dear friend sat on the floor in front of me and listened. The first person to whom I told the whole story of Jerry’s last day on earth, she loved me by squeezing my hand and murmuring words of compassion as I spoke.

How about you? Are you lonely this Christmas? Can you reach out for help, to a friend, a local church, a counselor? Be with people who will allow you to grieve at your own pace and in your own way?

Conversely, if you know someone who is having a hard time this Christmas, look for ways to encourage them.

  • Don’t try to “fix” your friend. Listen meaningfully and hug appropriately.
  • And oh, avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling the person “this must have been God’s plan.” A woman approached me very soon after Jerry’s death, asking “What is the Lord teaching you through this time?” She must have caught my look, which said “Teaching me? Friend, I’m just barely hanging on by my fingernails.” “Spiritualizing” is NOT helpful. Listening IS.
  • Prepare a meal, or invite them to attend something with you. (And if they say no, ask again later–they may not have been ready yet to do anything public.)
  • Send a card or note telling them you’re thinking of them.
  • Offer practical help, such as grocery shopping, a ride to an appointment, or help finding resources such as grief recovery groups.
  • Allow your friend the freedom to express anger, pain, disillusionment, whatever he or she feels, without judging or trying to challenge those feelings. They need to be expressed in a safe place. LISTEN!
  • If many others are asking how they can help, offer to be the point person to coordinate so the grief-stricken individual doesn’t have to handle logistics at this difficult time.
  • Pray for them.
    • Now.
    • On the phone.
    • In person.
    • Privately.
    • However the Holy Spirit suggests.

Click on the link below for more ways to help a grieving friend.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/megan-devSupporting a Grieving Personine/death-and-dying_b_4329830.html

May you experience the love and comfort of our God, through Jesus Christ, no matter your circumstances, this Christmas season. “Immanuel” — God with us!

 

 

 

God … in the Storm

Hurricane winds, floods and storms are blighting our land. Irma closely follows Harvey, with Jose and others coming behind. People are dying, losing homes and worldly goods, and face a long reality of rebuilding their lives. On top of that, there are the personal storms of people we love … broken families, heartbreak, insecurity, fear, anger, loss, homelessness, and more.

Is someone you love going through their own personal hurricane? Troubled seas, high waters, loss of innocence. My heart is heavy for someone in my life who is carrying an overwhelming load. And I feel helpless. All I can do is pray.

And yet, isn’t that the very thing to which God calls me FIRST? When there are practical ways to help – food, shelter, rescue, emotional and physical support–all of which are happening in a major way in Texas, and now in Florida and along the East Coast–we do those. But sometimes there just isn’t anything our “boots on the ground” can do. So we pray: for wisdom, for others to come alongside, for courage, perseverance, long-suffering love, and healing. For protection of body, mind and spirit in the fight against the darts of the evil one.

So often I think “I can handle this …” And yet, there are times when everything needed is beyond any human control. And God tells us to call on His name for help. Lamentations 3:54-56 states this so clearly:

In the eye of the storm

“…the waters closed over my head,
    and I thought I was about to perish.

I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.’”

These are difficult times in the life of our nation. But God is able to bring good out of the storm. He is able to take the darts of the enemy and bring beauty out of ashes. He is able to impart His strength to the weak, His rest to the weary. My prayer for all going through turmoil, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, is Psalm 73:26:  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” May these be moments where God shows up in such distinct ways that we stand by, watching in awe.

 

So let’s discuss: what do you do when you can’t do anything?  

WHEN THE STORM OVERWHELMS

Harvey’s impact continues. This morning I saw a video of people and animals being rescued–beautiful horses who were caught in the underwater trees and couldn’t get free. The need is still overwhelming.

President Trump has declared Sunday, tomorrow, to be a NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER.

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 3, 2017, as a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for our National Response and Recovery Efforts. We give thanks for the generosity and goodness of all those who have responded to the needs of their fellow Americans.”

And oh, how we need to gather together before the Father, corporately and individually, confessing our sin, our need, and crying out “Jesus, help us. Help our unbelief.”

I’ve wrestled with some tough questions in my own devastating times: Why is this happening to us? What is God’s purpose in suffering? And when friends asked me these questions, I was able to share that as believers we are not exempt from suffering in the world, from the effects of sin and illness. God has not promised to spare us, but He has promised “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Heb 13:5, NIV), and to walk with us in all the paths of our lives, especially in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4, NIV).

Friends are dealing with critical illness, with crushing despair leading to harmful choices, with trying to access medical treatment with limited staff and facilities. How do we respond when the storm overwhelms, when it doesn’t seem to lessen? W. David O. Taylor wrote about this from within the storm. I am attaching a link to his article here.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/when-jesus-doesnt-calm-storm-hurricane-harvey-houston-flood.html?share=

Let’s join together Sunday in corporate prayer for those in need, and for all who are serving others selflessly in Houston and other impacted areas. Let’s pray, too, for God’s intervention in the lives of those we care for who are hurting and need the loving touch of the Father’s heart.

I wish you His peace.