I have learned over my experience as a human being that there are moments that we are less than prepared for such as failure, loss, and death. Maybe that failure was academic, social, or economic. Maybe you lost a job, a friendship, or a significant item. And death…who can be ready for that in most instances? I don’t need to be speaking as a ministry leader to make these observations.
What I will do for the rest of this article is share lessons from this past year that I was never taught about in Bible college, books I have read, or even in church about loss, death, and grief.
1. Hospital youth ministry
I remember the night that my wife Jennica passed away that my teenage brother was sitting in the lobby sleeping when we heard the news that there was nothing else the doctors could do for her. My Mom told me that I should go and tell him because he needed me to show him love. My first thought was, “This isn’t something they teach you about how to do ministry to kids in seminary or Bible college.” I sat with him and cried and shared the news with him and he cried and I remember after a while saying this to him: “We shouldn’t be sad the way people that don’t have Jesus are sad when a loved one dies, but we should remember that times like this is when other Christians pull together and show us God’s love because we are all a part of his family.” Beyond that there was nothing I could say.
2. Writing and sharing a eulogy
My bachelors degree is in speech communication and yet, nothing could have trained me for giving a eulogy. I had always told Jennica that I hoped that when we were old that God would let me live past her so that I could share his love and faithfulness in our lives. That might be something weird to say, but I knew that between the two of us that I would have more of that desire realistically. It took me a few hours and a few people later to really come up with what to say. I still remember my opening line was, “Sorry reading a eulogy wasn’t something they trained me for in college.”
3. The physical and emotional toll of grief
I remember that I had headaches for literally 2 weeks. I could barely sleep. I didn’t like eating and I wanted to scream every time I saw something good in the world like little babies at the grocery store, couples holding hands, and people laughing. I think that what I heard most was “Grief is normal after an experience of the loss of someone you love.” That sounds all very simplistic but at the same time I felt like I might be dying physically or that locking myself away from people was going to turn me into a social outcast.
4. That God can handle all my negative emotions
Ok, maybe I had heard this from professors, but maybe for me it wasn’t so much that I disbelieved them but it was more that I had no category or reason to feel negatively about God until I reached the breaking point of losing my wife. I remember the day after her death that I went and journaled a lot and was so upset at the Bible. I felt like God had failed me and that his healing power wasn’t real. I was angry and I was pretty much ready to give God the boot when he spoke so clearly to me, “Andrew, it’s not about you. I have healed her, just not the way that you wanted me to.” Those were powerful words and it brought me to have to accept my humble position as a servant and mere mortal before the God of the universe. It took a process, but I truly have come to realize that God can handle all my negative emotions.
5. A theology for death and dying
Beyond the Sunday School answers of people who believe in Jesus go to heaven when they die, and people who don’t go to hell I had no real category of a theology and Christian praxis in the event of a death of someone that I knew. I didn’t know what to do with the dead body that I saw before me in the hospital bed or in the casket, and then in the ground. I knew that her spirit was with Jesus and so it felt weird for me to try and express my feelings of hurt, frustration, and grief to someone who wasn’t physically present with me. I still struggle with going to the cemetery because it is a place where a body is- no more and no less. This last week I was able to have lunch with a professor and I told him the way I felt about the cemetery. He told me that, “While it may not be the reality that Jennica is in the ground there, but that her spirit is with the Lord, that place is a marker that commemorates her so that you can find strength to keep going even in the midst of pain and brokenness.” He was right. I do normally pray there and cry out to God for healing. I know that while I can’t be with her right now I can rejoice that she is in God’s presence worshiping him.
These are just a few lessons that I wanted to share with you that I think are important in considering when dealing with grief, loss, and death. Thanks for hearing me out!