Coping with Loss
November 21st, 1993 I experienced one of the most shocking losses of my life. My dad (63) passed away of a heart attack after returning to his seat from singing a solo at a friend’s funeral. It was sudden, quiet, peaceful and painless. His death was a shock to the New Orleans community. No hurt, pain or disappointment I had ever experienced before, came close to this. For my mom and I, as I’m sure with many of you, with this unexpected loss, “shock” took 1st place. There had been no preparation, not even a thought in our heads that this day would come at that time or in that way. Grieving couldn’t even start until shock ran its course. I can remember trying to sleep the first night. I lay away next to my mom, eyes wide open, going over and over every kind of thought that came in my head. I asked myself, was this a nightmare? Could I will him to walk through the door? I asked God, can you take this pain and emptiness away from us? I had no words to describe this feeling.
I remember so well my life felt like it was on autopilot. There was no planning for strength – I just stepped into it. There was no meeting on administration – I just began administrating. There was no perception of living in a world without my father, but just like that, life forced me to start living it. My father had been my spiritual advisor, advocate, protector and life coach but mostly he was my daddy. In one remarkable moment God shifted my paradymn from me, my dad and God to me and God.
“Going through” loss also exposes the character of relationships, organizations, beliefs, values and even church families. It tests for fertile ground easily separating the wheat from the chaff. (Matthew 3:12) Loss demands sacrifice and discomfort. Unexpected or not, the void left from losing a loved one is one that equalizes humanity – Christian, black, white, Jewish, woman, or man – pain attaches to every human being the same.
I’ve learned God wastes nothing and will even allow death to transform the inner man. And while from a worldview we are all more alike than not, as Christians we are connected by a greater thread of “hope” in what only Jesus Christ the Risen Lord can provide. (Titus 2:13) It takes time to move through grief, but experience has taught me that God and His Spirit will actively guide and comfort through it, one day at a time.
This life is not the end for receivers of salvation. Over my season of grieving, I had many affirming dreams of my father that often soothed my aching heart. Every day, every year God strengthened me, and as time went on the pain lifted. God knows when we need Him, and He will never leave His children’s side (Deuteronomy 31:6). The Holy Spirit brings comfort even when everyone else has moved on. “”Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Ten thoughts I’ll leave you with in hopes to encourage all those navigating any stage of loss during this holiday season:
- Loss is a journey that must be endured, be patient with yourself and true to your feelings – when sad, feel sad, when angry be angry, when lonely, feel loneliness – denial doesn’t heal, truth does – trust God with your feelings (1 John 3:20)
- Trust God’s presence even when it feels like God is absent He isn’t – we walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7, Isaiah 43:2-2)
- Don’t fix the feeling – lean on God, don’t try to create a substitute for pain. God has designed time to heal wounds (Psalms 147:3)
- Keep moving forward – live one day at a time; put one step in front of the other each day. One morning upon waking, if you endure and lean on God and those He sends to comfort you, the burden will be lighter (Philippians 3:13-14)
- Stay connected to the circle – loss tests the character of relationships but amidst difficult times God shows you who’s real. “You will know them by their fruit” (scripture). True friends will never leave your side. They know what’s needed even when you don’t. They come alongside you and stand with you in the pain. They sacrifice their comfort for your healing (2 Kings 2:2)
- God is still working – just like with Job, God sees beyond the loss. He still has a plan for your life and destiny He is calling you to. He will not waste your pain if you allow Him over time to work all things for His good pleasure for you and through you (Jeremiah 29:11)
- It’s not over – salvation brings eternal life
- Draw close to God – even when I had no words to pray, my thoughts stayed on Christ. I cried out to Him; I invited the Holy Spirit into my space; I allowed those loving me to pray for me and with me. (Psalm 145:18)
- Joy Cometh in the morning – loss can propel you forward. We are not meant to stay in grief. Lack of vision dims hope. In time God will spark new vision and hope ahead. There is a time to grieve, yet life must move forward even before feelings do. Living is a decision and joy and peace is a promise from the Lord (Phillipians 4:7, Psalms 30:5)
- You are not alone, forgotten or abandoned – a big part of the pain in loss is the void left when the person we love leaves. It is real. God promises to come to you, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” (John, 14:18)