Archives For loss

Early Grief vs. Later Grief

Jeff Olson —  November 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

The loss of anyone we love is one of the most heart wrenching experiences we can go through. Most grievers go on to discover that there are differences between the early grief they encounter in the first year or more and the grief that will accompany them throughout the rest of their days.

The pain of early grief is sharp and intense. It can literally feel like you’ve been run over by a bus. Emotions erupt often and without warning. And some of life’s biggest questions won’t stop screaming for answers.

Early grief is reflected in the ancient words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

Early grief feels like a punch in the mouth. Later grief is more like a glancing blow. Early grief crushes the heart. Later grief is less crippling. In early grief, memories tend to elicit mostly sadness and tears. In later grief, memories start to bring more smiles and laughter.

Grief changes over time, but it does not go away. In later grief, grievers don’t “get over” their loss. They don’t stop thinking or talking about (and sometimes to) their loved one. Holidays and birthdays are still hard. In many ways, they will always be grieving and missing those they lost, but not like in those early months and years. Tears and questions still remain, but they are not as fierce or as frequent.

The “Why” of Grief

Tim Jackson —  November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

Melaten Cemetery Cologne, flickr/Creative Commons/Henning Mühlinghaus

When something bad happens, especially when it’s the excruciating loss of a precious loved one, we are often left with some form of the haunting question: Why? And usually it’s directed towards God: “Why, God? Why did You allow this to happen? Why didn’t You prevent this from happening? Why, God? Why?”

A recent conversation with a dear friend and colleague has provided me with a helpful new perspective on both the intensity of the question and the illusive answer.

Dave Branon’s 17-year-old daughter, Melissa, and my son were in the same class in school. Melissa was killed in a tragic car accident 11 years ago on the last day of her junior year of high school. Dave’s friend and former pastor spoke at the funeral in Melissa’s honor. He didn’t avoid the question that drifted through the room that June afternoon. Instead, he tackled it head on with these words:

“If you knew why God took Melissa, would it make it any easier to bury her?”

No. Nothing would make it easier for Dave and Sue and the rest of their family and friends to say goodbye to Melissa that day. Nothing makes them miss her any less each subsequent day since then.

When we’re hurting, it’s natural to want to know why we’re hurting. It seems logical that if we can find the reason for our pain, then we also might be able to find a way to make it stop or even avoid it all together. But when you’ve lost an irreplaceable person, the pain never ends. The harsh reality is that your loved one is gone and there’s nothing you can do to bring him or her back. The pain is perpetual. No answer changes that reality.

However, there is hope. Hope in the God who has a heart for reunions and who will someday orchestrate the greatest family reunion of all time, not just with our loved ones who have preceded us in death, but with the One who has given us all life, hope, and joy—Jesus. And even while we await the best that’s yet to come (Rom. 8:23), we still grieve. But we grieve with a hope that makes the grieving bearable (1 Thess. 4:13). For those of you who may be experiencing your first major holiday without a precious loved one, search “holiday heartache” and check out some of our previous blogs and videos.

We’d also like to highlight, a wonderful ministry that provides training for a group experience to help grievers navigate the holidays with others who are struggling just to get through them. Check out their valuable resource: Surviving the Holidays.

No More Tears

Alyson Kieda —  November 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Snowy Road, Red Hill, VA, February 2010-Flickr/Creative Commons/Janet Moore-Coll

My childhood friend Brenda died over 30 years ago, yet I can still recall much of her funeral in sharp detail. I primarily remember being overwhelmed with emotion (and tears) as I viewed her body in its casket (it didn’t look like her—makeup and styled hair weren’t Brenda) and then as I sat through the service.

Both my grandfathers had died when I was a child, but her death was different. She was only 25—my age. Too young to die. She was just getting her life together, and there was so much that she would never experience: a career, a husband, a family.

Through the pastor’s eulogy and her loved ones’ remembrances, I learned that Brenda had been attending college and making strides in her life. She was on her way back to school after Christmas break when a car accident claimed her life. Yet despite the sadness of her death, there was excellent news. The friend who had lovingly done her hair shared that Brenda had just become a Christian.

The news of Brenda’s salvation led to more tears. I felt tremendous relief that Brenda was now in heaven, but I also felt intense guilt. Until we moved in my mid-teens, Brenda had gone to church with my family and had spent lots of time at my home, yet I didn’t recall ever talking to her about God. What if she had never come to Christ?!

I got through the day and eventually the grief. And I came to realize that I wasn’t personally responsible for whether or not Brenda came to Christ (yet I wasn’t entirely off the hook either). I also learned some elementary, yet valuable lessons.

First, life on this earth is very brief (James 4:14). Coming face-to-face with the death of someone my age made this abundantly clear. Since then I’ve been reminded of this reality again and again through the news media and the death of loved ones—including just recently when my father-in-law died a few weeks ago.

Second, I need to be willing to be used by God to spread the gospel; and I need to take advantage of the opportunities when they do arise. This is the Christian’s calling. Out of gratefulness for our salvation, we are to sow the seed of the Word (Mark 4:1-9, 13-20)—and God will see that it comes to fruition.

One day I’ll see Brenda again. That brings me great joy!


Sunrise, New South Wales-Flickr/Creative Commons/Chris Betcher

Almost every time I am asked to perform a funeral, I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I read it because it’s a passage about hope. And hope is the one thing a grieving person can’t be without. Paul knew this. That’s why he said to the church of Thessalonica, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v.13).

One of the reasons death is so painful is that it is the clearest example of what we lost at the fall—life and relationship. Physical death demonstrates powerfully that earth’s reality does not match heaven’s ideal. If this life is all that we have, then death is the end, our losses are final, and we grieve in hopelessness.

But for those of us who follow Christ, there is hope beyond the grave because Christ exists beyond the grave. We believe, with the apostle Paul, that, “Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep [died] in him. . . . We who are still alive and are left will be caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (vv.14-17).

Hope doesn’t speed up the grieving process, but it can make all the difference as a person moves through the process of grieving the loss of someone or something significant. This is hope that this world is not all that there is; hope that life extends beyond the grave; hope that there is a God who cares for us and loves us and can sustain us through unimaginable pain.

All of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, suffer loss—we all grieve. The difference is that those of us who know and trust Christ grieve with hope. And hope can make all the difference.

“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v.18 TNIV).




ShepherdingOthersThroughLossCThe path of grief after a loss is perilous. Walking alongside someone grieving a loss is a holy calling. And that’s what pastors and ministry leaders are asked to do on a regular basis. But regular is far from routine.

Unfortunately, most of those who prepared for ministry never received any specific training to know how to deal with a hurting population of grievers.

Dave Branon and Dennis Moles each bring a unique perspective and a passion to better equip pastors and ministry leaders to meaningfully engage in ministering to people who are adjusting to the loss of a loved one. Dave lost his 17-year-old daughter in an auto accident. After the funeral, the church had no idea how to help Dave and his hurting family face and work through this tragic loss.

Dennis is a pastor with 13 years of experience. One of his first funerals as a young minister was for a family who lost a child. Within a month, he also buried that child’s grandfather. Dennis understands the complexity of ministering to the grieving.

Both of these men bring their experience and passion to this much-needed topic in Shepherding Others Through Loss.

To listen to the audio recording from the webinar, click the link: Shepherding Others Through Loss audio.

As always, we receive many additional questions from the live webinar event that we’re simply unable to respond to in the webinar due to time constraints. However, we sat down in the studio and responded to those additional questions that may be of interest to you. You can download the audio of these answers to your questions by clicking the link: Additional Webinar Questions & Answers.

To download the PowerPoint of the webinar, click the link: Shepherding Others Through Loss.

Click the following link to download or order a free copy of our 32-page booklet Life After Loss: Grieving with Hope.

To get a free download of Dave’s book, click Beyond the Valley: Finding Hope in Life’s Losses.

For further resources on grief and loss from RBC Ministries, click the link: Grief & Loss.

The Last Enemy

Alyson Kieda —  November 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

Orchid by Bahman Farzad, Creative Commons/flickr

Dad was falling often and more frequently. Even though he had a walker, he didn’t use it. (We’re not sure if it was forgetfulness or stubbornness—or both.) Last New Year’s day, Dad fell getting out of bed, and Mom couldn’t help him up. After a stay in the hospital, he was moved to a nursing home; and then we agreed he would not be returning home. He needed too much care. We couldn’t expect our mom to be a good caregiver when she was becoming more and more forgetful herself.

Over the next few months Mom kept trying to pack up Dad’s stuff and bring him home. She was becoming both irrational and emotional. Due to her behavior, Dad became even more confused and depressed. We finally convinced Mom to be tested. Our suspicions were confirmed—Mom had Alzheimer’s.

Dad died last November, just days before his 89th birthday. During the months preceding that, we took away Mom’s checking account. (She was writing a check to every charity that sent her a request—and she was receiving scores of them. Her account was overdrawn and the fees were piling up.) And then her driver’s license was taken away. A neighbor in her retirement village caught her driving—and none too well—after her license was taken away, so we disabled and then removed the car.

In December, my youngest sister took in Mom. But after 10 months, Mom was moved into an assisted living facility. Her care required too much of my sister.

Watching parents decline is heart-rending. It was painful to watch my dad, who was a hardy outdoorsman, lose more and more of his physical abilities—and then take his final shallow breath. And it’s heartbreaking to watch my mother, who was “sharp as a tack,” loose her spark and fade into forgetfulness and confusion.

I know it’s inevitable. “Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” (Psalm 89:48). But I hate it—and it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the dead in Christ will be resurrected and death, “the last enemy,” will one day be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).

Until that day, we press on in the strength that only God can provide (Psalm 28:7). And we take comfort from others in the community of faith who have walked through grief before us.

To learn about helping others deal with grief, tune into our upcoming Webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST.

Angel of Grief by Mike Schaffner, Creative Commons/flickr

Sometimes there are no words. There are only tears and hugs. Sometimes the best answer to the question “Why?” is, “I don’t know.” And sometimes goodbyes aren’t forever.

Every pastor learns these lessons at some point in his or her ministry. Most of us learn them on the fly or from a wise sage who through long years of faithful service has learned how to care for the grieving well. More often than not we learn these lessons by watching, doing, struggling, and failing. Classroom lectures often fall short when people’s lives are falling apart.

I’ve learned most of what I know about pastoral care by trial and error. Lots of trying and lots of error. I think I got it wrong more than I got it right. Walking into Billi and Bob’s house just minutes after Bob died, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But out of that experience I learned that sometimes caring is more about being rather than doing.

I learned it the day I drove to the hospital after receiving word that a young couple in our church had lost their baby. I learned that sometimes there is no good answer to the question of why, but that in the absence of answers there is still Jesus. And because of Jesus there is always hope.

I learned it in the wee hours of the morning when Leonard pulled off his oxygen mask to tell those of us standing around his hospital bed goodbye. As he went around the room that night, his message to me, his 33-year-old pastor, was, “I love you. I’ll see you later.” We all prayed the Lord’s Prayer. My dear friend began the prayer with us on earth and ended it with his Savior in heaven.

Sometimes there are no words . . . there is only presence. Sometimes there is no why . . . there is only Jesus. Sometimes a goodbye is not really a “goodbye” . . . it’s a see you later.”

With the incarnation, Jesus gave us His presence. At the cross, God the Son chose to enter into suffering, grief, and loss for our sakes. And with the empty tomb, He communicated a redemptive hope that trumps all loss, sorrow, grief, and pain.

Pastor, when there are no words, give them your presence. When there is no “why,” love them well in Jesus’ name. And when all hope seems lost, remind them that the empty tomb can turn “goodbye” into “see you later.”

Please join me and Dave Branon along with our host Tim Jackson for an upcoming webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST. I believe we have some unique insight to share with pastors and ministry leaders. To register for the live event, click the link above. Our prayer is that you will be a little better equipped to enter into the pain of others and to bring the comforting presence of Jesus Christ into the darkness of grief.

Ambulance NSW by alexkess, Creative Commons/flickrWhen you’ve lost someone that matters to you, who do you turn to to help you navigate the next steps in your journey through grief? A friend? A family member? A pastor or spiritual leader?

People of faith often turn to their minister for help and comfort. Professional clergy and ministry volunteers alike—youth leaders, small-group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and Bible-study leaders—are often the first to hear about someone’s loss, making them “first responders” to those ambushed by grief.

For pastors and ministry leaders, being called upon as a first responder to grief situations is a common occurrence. Pastors are called at all hours of the day or night to come to the aid of those who are in the process of losing or have just lost a precious loved one. Pastors and ministry leaders are regularly put in positions of dealing with the death not only in their congregations but also in the surrounding communities. They are often asked to enter into the pain of strangers who are sorely in need of redemption during times of great loss. This is a remarkable act of courage commingled with love, empathy, and understanding.

In In MemoriamHenri Nouwen’s reflections on his mother’s death, he wrote: “I realized that sorrow is an unwelcome companion and that anyone who willingly enters into the pain of a stranger is truly a remarkable person” (p. 8).

Unfortunately, many ministry leaders have been ill-equipped for this kind of ministry. Theology, biblical interpretation, and preaching classes are insufficient preparation for the comfort and understanding required to connect and care for those being crushed under the weight of an irreversible loss.

Just ask Dave Branon and Dennis Moles. They know what it means to lose someone close to them. They’ve experienced comfort and have shared the comfort they’ve experienced (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Dave lost his 17-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident 11 years ago. While his pastors did a phenomenal job in helping Dave and his family through the first days of shock and the funeral, they were not trained on how to help them grieve.

Dennis invested a lot of time and energy into becoming a pastor, and yet when he found himself standing before a 24″ casket, he felt woefully unprepared to adequately care for the family who had just lost their precious child.

Both of these men have something unique to share with pastors and ministry leaders in our upcoming webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST. To register for the live event, click the link above. Our prayer is that you will be a little better equipped to be that “remarkable person who willingly enters into the pain of others” to bring the comforting presence of Jesus Christ into the darkness of grief.

No one goes looking for sorrow. It finds us. No matter how we try to outdistance it, run faster, take a quick left, slow down, or tuck in behind the bushes and hide. Nothing changes the reality that sorrow will eventually sniff us out and hunt us down.

In her forward to A Sorrow SharedHenri Nouwen’s reflections on his mother’s death, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote: “Every death lays bare what really matters” (p. viii).

Those words take me back to what at one time seemed like strange words of ancient wisdom from the writer of Ecclesiastes: “The day of death [is] better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Eccl. 7:1-3).

How can this be? The day someone dies is better than the day that person was born? Seriously? Does anyone really believe it’s better to go to a funeral than a party?

Only the grieving can understand the irony of those words. Until we’ve loved, lost, and are heartbroken, we just don’t get it. And the understanding doesn’t come quickly. It’s a process that takes time.

As grievers will tell you, grief is an isolating experience. While grief is common to all, every experience is unique to each individual. No one griever can say to another, “I know exactly what you feel.” No, you don’t. No one knows exactly what you feel except one. Jesus knows, cares, and has felt everything more acutely than any of us.

The timeless wisdom from Ecclesiastes is that all the distractions, demands, and responsibilities of life clamoring for our attention, time, and energy are all but silenced in the isolation of grief. Any significant loss jolts us out of our routine malaise and vividly sharpens our focus on the things that matter most in life. The author doesn’t say that going to a funeral is a fun or pleasant experience. That would be morbid and weird. What he says is that it’s important. It helps us refocus on the things that matter.

When we are forced to view the end of our lives—our mortality through the loss of those we love—it can and should change the way we see, understand, and live life while we still can. Death is the destiny of everyone. That’s true. But while we’re still alive, let’s live every one of our todays with a passion to know and love Jesus more and to serve Him faithfully.


Living with Loss Webinar

Tim Jackson —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Grief is an unwelcome intruder. It invades our normal and wreaks havoc. In grief, nothing stays put. Every loss, whether sudden or anticipated, initiates an invitation that can neither be refused nor ignored.

Dave Branon and Margaret Nyman are intimately acquainted up-close-and-personal with loss and the journey of grief. In this webinar, they not only share their respective experiences of losing a daughter and a husband but also the wisdom they’ve gained and are still learning on their journey through grief.

Whether you were able to join us for the live event or not, you can download the audio of the webinar and the resources offered to help you navigate through your journey of grief, because no one should ever travel alone.

To listen to the audio recording of the webinar, click the link: Living With Loss.

To download the PowerPoint of the webinar, click the link: Living With Loss.

Click the following link to download or order a free copy of the booklet: Life After Loss: Grieving With Hope

To get a free download of Dave’s book, click: Beyond the Valley: Finding Hope in Life’s Losses

To get a free download of Margaret’s book, click: Hope for an Aching Heart: Uplifting Devotions for Widows