Your loved one has passed away. Maybe they’ve been gone two months, two years, or two decades. You don’t want to forget them. You don’t want your children to forget them. It’s hard to know what to do with a birthday of someone you love who has died. It definitely should not be forgotten. Yet it’s stressful to remember. Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “The day you die is better than the day you are born.” Then why does remembering feel so painful? It’s helpful to consider these questions in working through our grief:
Will this pain ever end?
Grief is a process I must go through. I’ve got to continue to put effort into working through my grief; I must remind myself this is how I heal. At the beginning of my Grief Share class, we learned to “lean into your grief. Embrace it. Let it take you where it will, like waves of an ocean, feel every emotion it provides.” In the busyness of life and ministry, I must continue to make time to grieve.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors though Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:36–37
Does healing mean no pain?
Facing my pain means understanding there are two kinds of pain involved in loss of a loved one:
Emotional: Depends on the depth of the relationship
Historical: Cherished memories of the loved one lost
The Five Tasks of Grief listed below, remind us to be honest emotionally and recognize the nature of the relationship of the loved one we’ve lost. I was married to my spouse for 28 years and we dated for 2 years before we married. It’s been just four years since the untimely, unfair, unexpected accident took his life and interrupted mine. It’s okay for me to mourn his passing for as long as I need. It’s necessary for me to share my emotions with God – that’s the only way healing takes place.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night and am not silent.” —Psalm 22:1–2
Will my life ever return to normal?
I must accept a new normal. You and I must remember, we don’t go back as if the situation did not happen. The absence of the person shapes the contours of our lives. It’s essential to make a list of losses because the relationship has ended. I’m getting used to thinking of Paul in the past tense. At first it seemed like Paul was away on a trip, now I’ve accepted the fact that he is never coming home. I must move into the new normal of being remarried now, to another wonderful man of God, who Paul introduced me to.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Does this mean thinking or caring less about your loved one?
No – no one has the right to ask you or me to forget our loved one. I won’t ever forget my marriage. I won’t ever forget the father of my children. I won’t ever forget our happy family memories. Recovery means we haven’t forgotten the person. Recovery means we no longer live where thoughts of the past are overwhelming. We have the emotional and spiritual strength to keep on. We can remember the cherished memories of our loved one by God’s grace and move on in the future.
“My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But as for me, it is good to be near God I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73:26 & 28
On this fifty-eight-th birthday of Pastor Paul Giesbrecht, I’ve decided to spend the rest of my life remembering. “Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there is deep love.” —Zig Ziglar
I want to remember our life and love together. I’ve learned how thoroughly I loved Paul and continue to love him even in his death. You might ask, “How can this be, since you are remarried?” My love for Paul didn’t end, although his physical life on this earth did. I know he is alive and well in heaven. I loved our life together; we had twenty-eight years of fun family times and fruitful ministry opportunities. Biologically, we had two great children, Sarah and Ben, along with countless spiritual children who were products of the numerous hours of prayer and ministry. Grief is described as: emotion-filled, change, intense emotional suffering derived from a Latin verb meaning burden. My memories involve bearing the “burden of grief.” Although Paul is physically not with us, I have fond and cherished reminiscences of our life together. These recollections keep that part of Paul’s life contributions vibrant, and his legacy is revealed in innumerable ways.
I want to remember how difficult it is to lose someone you love. “You and I will be different because of our grief,” H. Norman Wright says in his booklet Experiencing Grief. This is true. However, the griever has a choice. Will you let grief take you to a place of compassion for others? Or will you be stuck in selfishly running awful-izing circles around your own losses? (Awful-lizing circles convince us that our situation is worse than anyone else’s and that God doesn’t care about us. This is a lie.) I chose to refuse to believe the lies grief tried to tell me by working through the “Five Tasks of Grief” by Dr. De Vries, shared in Nancy & David Guthrie’s GriefShare Recovery Group:
Accept the fact your loved one has died and is not able to return.
It takes about six to nine months for the heart to catch up to what the mind knows is true. Take time to grieve.
Give appropriate release to all of your emotions.
Emotions need to be expressed, not pent up. Don’t store them; they always come out, one way or another.
Separate and store the memories of your loved one.
When your loved one died, their history has stopped. When you treasure or recall memories, it makes room for you to move on. “My loved one died. Their history ended; everything now about my loved one is in the past tense.”
Separate your own identity from what it was with your spouse.
Accept and understand you are now a single. “I am no longer a couple. I am a widow.”
Reinvest in life—fully in what God has called you to be and to do.
Realize you still have purposes that far outlive your spouse.
I want to remember to continue to let grief change me. “Grief changes us, the pain sculpts us into someone who understands more deeply, hurts more often, appreciates more quickly, cries more easily, hopes more desperately, loves more openly.” —Author unknown
Grief can change us when we “lean into our personal grief.” This means to “grieve our own grief” and let our grief take us where it will. We can’t go around, over, under our grief, but we can put effort into moving through our grief. If people pressure us or make comments about how we should be doing, we can show grace and let them talk, then answer, “I will let you know what I need, thank you for your prayers.” Grief support groups like GriefShare™ are essential to help with this process.
I want to remember that Jesus’ death and resurrection provides comfort for all. Last June, my eighty-two-year-old father passed away suddenly. I thought, I’ve got to remember to tell Paul. And then I thought, Oh yeah, Paul already knows. Paul is there in heaven, too. Now Dad is with Jesus and with Paul. I want to remember Paul. I miss him deeply. Pastor Paul, Rock, the father of my children, has left a gaping hole in all of our lives that no one else can fill. Wait a minute—yes—there is One who can fill the hole. His name is Jesus. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” —Matthew 5:4
I want to remember God’s promises are enough to help me stand firm and look forward to my future. Today, I stand on His promises. Won’t you stand with me?
“God heals the brokenhearted, he binds up their wounds.” —Psalm 34:18,
“The righteous pass away; the godly often die before their time. And no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For the godly who die will rest in peace.” —Isaiah 57:1–2
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” —John 14:2
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.” —Revelation 21:4
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for eternal life. Thank you for allowing us to know without a shadow of doubt that you are preparing a place for us. Heal our broken hearts, bind up our wounds. Thank you that you provide peace, comfort, and hope. May we freely give to others what you have so generously given us. In Jesus’ name, amen.