I would like to talk about something that, I believe, isn’t understood very well in our culture. This is an area where many people are misunderstood and because of it are deeply hurt by well meaning observers. Since no two people handle it the same and every person’s experience is different, there is the potential of criticism and even insensitivity from others who are observing from a distance. I want to talk about the unpleasant and often uncomfortable subject of grieving.
I received a blunt and anonymous letter this past week from someone who attended one of our services. I hasten to say that I believe this individual had well meaning intentions and we also have determined that there were some good points that she shared. Our prayer has been that we would not allow the things that felt insensitive and judgmental to hurt us and in this way, hinder our walk with the Lord. My intent in bringing up this subject is to be able for us to look at how our culture has taught us the wrong ways of grieving and how we can be quick to judge others from a distance without taking the time or effort to be able to accurately see how they are dealing with their difficulties and grief.
One comment that was shared in this letter was that life is for the living and that John the Baptist’ (whom Jesus said was the greatest born of woman) ministry ended with his death. This is what she commented regarding us showing the “Father’s Son” presentation….”There is a time when the last note is sung, when you all have to pack up and go on living, loving and growing in Christ. Food must be made and ate, school work done, laundry, etc….It is time (in your hearts and attitudes) to walk away from where you buried Austin..”
As we pondered some of these statements, we concluded that we don’t believe that John’s ministry ended when he died. After all, we still have the Bible and his life and ministry is recorded in all four of the gospels for a reason. His life (eternally) still continues and we are greatly affected by his example and ministry. An individual’s life and ministry doesn’t stop just because they are no longer living here on earth. And in reality…This life is for the dying and Heaven is for the living. Just because a person isn’t able to be seen by our human eyes, doesn’t mean that we need to forget about them and quit talking about them. Before sin entered the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve saw each other in the spiritual sense and it wasn’t until after sin entered their lives that they began to see each other primarily with physical eyes. We now also focus so much in the physical realm that we have a tendency to not see with eternal eyes. Austin is physically dead in this world’s sense but we know that he is truly more alive than he has ever been. I also believe that God allows him to be aware of some of the things that are happening in our lives. Austin now has eternal eyes so he sees in the spiritual sense and we believe that God allows Austin to see when someone comes to the Lord because of Austin’s life.
Duane’s Mom told me about a situation that her brother John shared with her recently. Her brother, John, talked to a man who was a long time employee at a local hardware store. This man was using a walker and when John inquired about his physical health, he informed him that the doctors had not yet been able to diagnose his condition. John saw him again a few months later and immediately saw a big change on this man’s countenance. He could tell that he had recently become a believer in Christ. Although he was now diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he had the joy and peace of Jesus on his face. This employee then continued to tell John about how he had been reminiscing and recalling all the conversations that John’s Dad, Merle, had shared with him over previous years. Merle would come into this hardware store and would share Jesus with him even though this gentleman was never interested in becoming a Christian. In the past few months, after he began facing his difficulties and trials, he started to reflect over his life and God used the life and example of Grandpa Merle to help this man see his need for Jesus. He finally gave his life to the Lord! The significant thing is that Grandpa Merle passed away twelve years ago! Does a person’s life and ministry end when they leave this earth? I hardly think so!
We all agree that a person has to go on living his life after a death occurs in the family and it isn’t healthy to stay focused on the past. So what is a healthy indicator that a person has been able to “move on” and “go on with life?” Is it when he stops talking about his loved one or when he forgets them? I don’t think so! At first it truly seems as if your whole life has completely stopped and you will never be able to “go on” again. With time, you will find yourself being able to do some things that initially were just to painful. I will give you a personal example of this. Brianna (our 15 year old) had a very hard time in dealing with the death of her brother and best friend, Austin. She said she never wants us to sing together as a family again. It felt to her like we were just forgetting about Austin if we did this. We gave her the time she needed and didn’t force her to do anything that she wasn’t ready for. With time and healing taking place, we are now able to sing together as a family again and God’s grace has been so apparent in her life. Brianna was also the last one to be ready for us to have our Friday night dinners at my in-law’s restaurant because this was something that was special for us to do when Austin was still here. This is again something special that we like to do. Others observing from a distance may feel like we aren’t moving forward but we see the ways that we daily experience joy and laughter in our home even as we continue to grieve the death of our dear son, Austin. Yes, we still shed tears and I believe that these tears continue to keep our hearts soft and it doesn’t mean that we are stuck in the past and not able to let go. Brianna’s heart would likely have become hard and she probably would have become bitter at God if we would have insisted that she needs to “get over it and get on with life.”
Another comment in my letter was that Brianna needs to be recognized for who SHE is and not to be known as Austin’s sister. I whole heartedly agree with this statement and we believe and are teaching our girls the most important element is regarding WHO they are in CHRIST. This has brought much security to them and Brianna has never felt threatened by the fact that Austin always received a lot more attention and recognition. This was indicated by their close relationship. In fact, Brianna stated that she LOVES it when she is known as Austin’s sister! This happened last week when she went for her driver’s permit and her driver’s instructor was the same one who had driven with Austin. We love to know that Austin isn’t forgotten and it is healing to talk about him. It was rather ironic that this letter was addressed to: Cindy Mullett (Austin’s Mom). I was honored by this.
So what does healthy grieving look like? I believe that grief does not follow a cookie cutter mold. It is different for each person. One person may find that it is healing to be able to talk about the loved one who has passed on while another individual has a hard time to be able to deal with talking about them. Some feel that after a set time has passed then it is very important to sort through the personal belongings and discard them. Let me hasten to say that you should only pursue this if everyone involved is ready for this step. Be sensitive towards someone who isn’t grieving in the same way that you are. Don’t hurry this process.
I believe that criticism and judgment typically comes from two types of people. There are many people who have never experienced losing a loved one and have found themselves judging and being critical with someone who is on this journey. I encourage you to be sensitive and “weep with those who weep.” Someday you will experience it and will find that it indeed is a journey and it is not something that you can, in a predetermined time, decide to set aside and forget about it. If you don’t properly grieve during the time of your loss, it will affect you later on in life and will stunt your growth and productivity as a Christian.
The other type of person is one who has become hurt because of not being granted the freedom to grieve when they were facing a loss or difficulty. I will share an example of a situation that one person shared with us. As a young child, this individual was greatly affected by the loss of a parent. The day after the funeral, he was told by an older family member that it was now time to “get over it and stop crying.” This was the last time that he shed tears for this dear parent. Is this what we have been taught regarding proper grieving? If this has happened to you then you may have the tendency to be critical and impatient with those who appear to be taking a long time to grieve. Jesus said that we (Christians) don’t need to grieve like those who have no hope but He also said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a time for grieving and only God knows what that should look like for each person.
Someone recently sent this email to us: “It takes just a moment to meet a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love, but more than a lifetime to forget them.” We will never forget our loved ones so please don’t make us feel like we need to and be offended if we talk about them.
Special friends of our family are going through a difficult experience with their son who was recently shot and badly injured. He has experienced a major physical trauma and will need more surgeries. He will also need much specialized, recovery time while in the hospital and it will likely be continued even after he is discharged to go home. We understand and sympathize with this situation because we have had so much experience in seeing in the physical world. Now if we could see people in an emotional sense, we would see many people who are badly bruised and handicapped because of loss and devastation in their lives. Why do we become insensitive and critical if we think they aren’t healing as quickly as we think they should be? We would never think to tell someone who is physically hurting…”Come on now! You’ve experienced a long enough time for recovery. It’s time to put it behind you and get on with your life?” When you have to say good by to someone who was very special to you, it is as if you have experienced one of the greatest traumas possible. Let’s try to be compassionate the way that Jesus was. Why did Jesus weep when Lazarus died? If Jesus was God then doesn’t that mean that He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead? I believe that Jesus wept because He saw how deeply Mary and Martha were hurting and He felt the sting of death that we would all have to face.
A close friend of ours recently passed away after dealing with cancer. We had the privilege of singing a few songs at her celebration of life service. We were so blessed by her life and the legacy that she left to so many individuals whom her life had touched. She had suffered a great deal from the pain associated with this disease and her son did so well in sharing the feelings that often go with the passing of a loved one. It was heart rendering to see his mom suffering and in so much pain. He prayed and told God that if there was any way possible, he would like to take her pain and carry it for her. He went on to say that, in a sense, this is exactly what has happened. She is completely pain free and enjoying the wonders and beauty of Heaven but now in return…he is carrying her pain. He shared that she is having a blast in Heaven and will never have to suffer any more. Because of his love for her, he is very willing to make this exchange.
We would like for you to be able to get a glimpse of why we continue to share our story about Austin. Our purpose has been to share the greatness of our God and the magnitude of His’ grace. When Austin was still here with us, our story felt positive and we felt that it reflected the goodness of God. After Austin’s passing, I struggled with thoughts of…”Now what do we share? Who wants to know about something that ends like this?” A few close friends shared with us how so many others are going through this kind of loss and need to be encouraged and that they felt that our ministry would be able to reach even more people because of this. What felt the most comfortable to us was to stop our traveling and to be able to grieve in the privacy of our own home. We strongly felt that God was asking us NOT do what is easiest and most comfortable but to allow Him to use our story for His honor and glory. We had previously never seen so many tears shared at each of our services and so many new believers brought to the Lord as we have in this past year. God has been using Austin’s life and his passing in such a mighty way and we give Him ALL the glory and honor. As long as we see Him using our story in this way, we will continue to be open in sharing it. We believe that Jesus will return very soon and if our tears and journey of grieving can be used to draw even one soul into eternity….It has been worth it all! To God be the glory!