comfort death

How to Grieve: A Step-by-step Guide

11:26 AMHeather

She stood in a pretty red dress, and I greeted her with a big hug. She was her usual bubbly self with a big smile and warm greeting. I slid in to sit beside her for church, and soon noticed another friend moving forward to her seat. 

During the part in the service where you greet each other, I slipped forward and held my friend as she cried and told me that indeed, the family member we'd been praying for had died the night before. 

"I just don't know how to do this. I have so many questions. How do you grieve?"  

Moments later, I went back to my seat and explained the circumstances to my seat mate, lest she think me rude for pressing past and not chatting with her.

"Oh, wow," she expressed. "I just lost a friend, and I have the same question. How on earth do you do this? This grieving?"

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I don't believe in coincidence, just divine appointments. This post is for them. It's also for the others I know in seasons of great loss and unfathomable pain. It's for the ones in the pit who are paralyzed by the voids left where loved ones once were.

I am a former pit dweller. I've sowed in tears through multiple losses. No one is ever an expert in grief. Grief is a thick fog that suddenly consumes the path ahead, and then within moments, it can dissipate as quickly as it appeared, ever ready to cloud the day with the most unexpected reminder of what once was.

Here's what I've learned. There actually is no step-by-step way through it. There is no handbook on grief, and no one way. What works one day to press you forward will hardly move you the next. While the whole family may lose a member, each relationship is unique and individual. Each loss is wrapped up in it's own complex package, unpacked day by day by day.

When it comes to how to grieve, I've learned to turn back to the Word of God as my compass. I look to David when he lost the son with Bathsheba. I look to Jeremiah, and I greatly encourage you to camp out in Lamentations 3, as I did for many years. 

And I look to Mary.

Dear Mary. Seen at the feet of Jesus over and again, during various points in life.

Mary. Who sat and listened to Jesus' teaching, sitting at his feet as was the traditional posture in that day for students and mentors, while her sister Martha was busy in the kitchen.

This is where we grow the roots of faith that will anchor us in the seasons of weeping. Posturing ourselves flat out before the Savior, choosing to turn to him with all of our feelings.

So that in the days of darkness, we fall back on what we know of Jesus, and we remain like Mary, throwing ourselves at his feet.

Now, Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb [of Lazarus her brother] to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
John 11:30-32 

Step 1 of Grieving: Run to Jesus.

Step 2 of Grieving: Fall at his feet and go ahead and ask the questions. Lamenting with reverence before the God of all creation is Biblical.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 
"Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
Jesus wept.
John 11:33-35

Step 3 of Grieving: Preach to yourself the truth that we have a Savior who is deeply moved and troubled by our sorrow.

Step 4 of Grieving: Preach to yourself the truth that we have a Savior who wants to go to the place of suffering and loss with us.

Step 5 of Grieving: Preach to yourself the truth that we have a Savior who weeps WITH us.

Step 6 of Grieving: Repeat. As often as you need it. Minute by minute.

This picture of Jesus and Mary sings comfort loudly over our mourning. Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He was not weeping over the loss -- he knew the ultimate victory was his.

He was weeping for Mary's pain. 

This Biblical account of grieving shouts loudly to the truth that we never grieve alone, for our Savior not only goes to our dark places with us, but he went to the darkest tomb to prove that death has lost its sting.

I have found that in my darkest nights of sorrow, knowing that I was not alone helped me grieve forward. 

There is no one way to grieve. It will look different on different days and for each person. It can be oppressive and defeating. Time does not heal all wounds, and it's not true that God doesn't give us more than we can handle.

It is true that in time, we begin to build new normals and new rhythms and we learn to co-exist with the holes in our lives. We may even find a way to redeem the loss by using it as motivation to find purpose through it. 

Most important to remember is that God does not give us more than he can handle.

We are held up and met by our Savior in the pit. 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Step 7 of Grieving: Preach the truth to yourself that God is the Father of compassion and he is the God of all comfort. 

Step 8 of Grieving: And then, as you grieve forward, you show up and repeat this rhythm for those who are grieving. Be comforted so that you can comfort others. Here, we learn to buy back the years the locust have eaten-- by seeking how God might redeem our pain for his kingdom.

God does not require a happy face or demand that he never be questioned. He wants to be invited in and sought in our sorrow so that he can offer his comfort to us. And we just grieve forward. We sow in tears, we allow the sadness, and we fall at the feet of Jesus with our burdens. 

We lean in to the birthing pains of sadness, asking God to bring new things from it and we choose to believe he can and he will. 

Some days, this might look like how we expect it to look. Other days, we barely function. Two steps forward, three steps back. We must have grace on ourselves and on those who are grieving. Hold each other up in prayer. Meet tangible needs. 

Allow the questions, and pour them out in prayer or journaling. Dive into the Scriptures. Read through Psalms and Lamentations and John 11. Pray those passages over yourself and others. Tether yourself to the anchor of God's Word in the midst of the howling winds of loss.

Don't try to explain the reasons or offer platitudes. Then, you may become like Job's friends who did more harm than good the minute they opened their mouths. Just sit with the hurting. Dare to step into their muck.

Remind yourself that we do not have a Savior who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. So, approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Be Mary. 

Let the tears fall, and know that although eyes cannot see and we often cannot sense it, the Word of God assures us that we have a Savior who stays near in our weeping.

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