I’m apt to think I’m the only one who didn’t know this lesson.
Maybe the grief myths I’ve been writing on this month aren’t news to you. Maybe you came into your season of grief much wiser than I did. Or you had fewer expectations – I’ve always been one to set these internal expectations for myself and then hold myself to them.
There was a time I thought loss was something you get over. Like getting over a broken leg, it would hurt hard for a while; it might even cause a slight limp, but there would be a time where it would heal and the once-wound only showed up in an internal scan.
That was before my heart broke. Of course, even in those first weeks, I had a vague notion that after the debilitating hard lifted – if we made it through that – wa-lah. We’d be healed.
When I read books on grief in those first weeks, I’d flip to the end first. I wanted to know how the widow was doing now. Was she remarried? Were her kids doing well? Was life good again?
Experientia magistra stultorum. Experience is the teacher of fools. How foolish I was. I understand now that loss is not something you get over.
You don’t get over loss. You learn to live with it.
We grieve because we love. Not lovED, but love. You don’t stop loving someone because they died.
Love that’s forged in all the struggles, the hopes, the vulnerable shared moments, the belly laughs through tears, the fights, the make-ups, the glorious everyday ordinary.
All of it so formative. All of it slowly, daily softening the hard edges, shaping who you even are.
That doesn’t disappear. You can’t just shut it like a read book and pull out a new one. You’ve been indelibly inscribed by the one you love and the one you grieve and there’s no erasing that. There’s no shelving it. Instead, you keep the book open and learn to live past the unexpected ellipsis . . .
Grief is not the cost of a love relationship; it’s part of the love relationship.
Though we don't get over the loss, grief does change. It lessens and lightens and becomes part of you.
In the warm memories that begin to fill the hollow aching.
In the hard, good lessons you never would have known.
In stewarding the lives left and entrusted to you.
In honoring through stories and traditions and celebrations the amazing gift they were.
In finishing well.
Grief means learning to live with the love and without the loved one.
Feeling the loss three or five or 15 years later doesn’t mean you’re stuck or you've done it wrong; it means you love. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you need to get over it.
When something triggers tears, it’s because you love. When my 10-year-old crawls on my lap for a story about her dad, it’s because she loves. When you long for one more conversation, one more hug or smile – it’s because we love. If we have a thousand good days and plunge on a sad day, it’s because we love.
That love is forever part of us. What a gift.
We get to carry it forward, past the ellipses that could have tripped us altogether, and into the fullness of the rest that God has for us. We, the grievers, of all people, are foolish no more – loss is the mark that we’ve been loved and the motive to lavish our love in every page God gives us.
*This post originally appeared at LisaAppelo.com.
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Six years ago, I went to bed happily married and woke up a widow and single mom to seven. That day, as I stared at the pieces of my shattered life and my shredded heart, I also began to think about the road of grief that lay ahead.
I had no idea what it would entail. How long does it actually take to grieve a love story that had taken 30 years to write? How could I even detach from the man who’d been my best friend since 11th grade? The one who had wooed my heart, called me his, loved me more ferociously at 46 than 16? Whose commitment pushed through hormonal pregnancies and years with a bare bank account and days when all the shine had dulled in the mundane ordinary?
How does a person grieve that?
I found there are pithy statements and even some formulas given out to those grieving. Some of it was helpful and healthy information, but some it just didn’t hold up.
This month, I want to uproot some of the grief myths.
Maybe you’re not in a season of grief. You probably know someone who is. And at some point, we all go through grief. It may be a broken marriage, the death of a spouse or child or parent or friend. We can grieve someone who is still living and we can grieve something, like the death of a business or dream.
Today, let’s start with this entrenched grief myth.
Grief Myth #1: There are 5 stages of grief
The conventional notion that grief has 5 stages was popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the late 60's. She noted these 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
But this assumes that grief is linear; that we process each stage before moving onto the next; and that we all go through each of the 5 stages.
The truth is that grief is not linear. There’s no ordered procession from one phase to another.
Take denial: most people who grieve go through a long period of foggy disbelief. I had to continually remind myself that Dan wasn’t going to walk through the back door. I white-knuckled the life we’d had and couldn’t imagine what the next chapter even looked like.
But it surprised me that even a year or three after Dan’s death, I’d still reflexively pick up my phone to call him. I wanted to share a funny story about the kids or a good thing that had happened. Each time was another reminder that, oh yeah, he’s gone. That was the old life; this is the new. Moments used to be shared; now they echo in my own heart.
It's also myth that we wholly process one "stage" before moving into another.
Grief is a turbulent mix of emotions - sometimes even conflicting emotions.
We can feel the cavernous pain of missing while also being more filled with the presence of God than we’ve ever known.
We can feel cheated by all we’ll miss out on and yet grateful for everything we’ve had.
We can feel drowned by despair one day and buoyed by hope the next, only to later fight through another trough of despair.
We can feel the heavy cloak of sadness and, without ever taking it off, experience a moment of belly-laughing joy. (Remember this scene from Steel Magnolias?)
No, there are no neat and tidy stages we walk through in grief. It can feel messy even when we're grieving well. And that’s okay.
Finally, it's a myth to assume everyone experiences each stage. I never felt anger after Dan died. Choking loss? Yes. Despair? Oh, yes. Fear? So much. (I don’t see that mentioned in any of the stages.)
I expected to get angry at some point. But it never came.
And I’ve had two friends deeply betrayed in broken marriages who never went through an angry stage.
Are there 5 stages? No.
The truth is that everybody grieves in their own way, at their own pace, with multiple emotions in play at the same time.
Grief is intensely personal. The circumstances that cause loss and the environments after loss vary widely.
And yet, in our grief, God meets each of us so tenderly and so personally. He is all sufficient. He is a good Shepherd, who alone can lead us through the most barren deserts and darkest valleys to places of quiet water and green pasture.
"He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young." Isaiah 40:11
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P.S. This post first appeared at LisaAppelo.com. Click here to read other posts in the Grief Myths series.
I’ve worked out so many hard questions with God over these last six years. As hard as Dan’s death has been for me and our children, for the most part I’ve been at peace with God’s will and His sovereignty.
In fact, I’ve begged God not just to help me accept his will, but to agree with it. And in time, I believe God will answer that as he opens my eyes to understand his truth and conforms my heart like his.
For us, I’ve less often asked why? and more often asked what now? God in His kindness answers that question not for a lifetime or for this year, but for today.
This week, though, I’ve been mulling over old questions of why God allows some so young to die. When I learned of Nabeel Qureshi’s death at 34, and learned even more of his amazing testimony and ministry, like many of you I wondered — why did God allow Nabeel Qureshi to die so young? So capable.
Nabeel had a powerful testimony. He was doing great work. He had an amazing mind and a passion to see people come to Christ. He was a young husband and a new father.
He could do so much for God. Why let him die at such a young age?
Nabeel’s death causes us to step back and wonder — what are you doing God? Why this one?
Maybe you’ve asked that in your own life or your own grief — what are you doing, God? Why?
While even our collective finite minds fall short of fully knowing the infinite purposes of God, we can know these 3 things about Nabeel Qureshi’s death.
1. Death for the believer is not a tragedy.
It is loss for those who mourn. It is painful for those left – the wives and children, the mothers and fathers, siblings and friends. But it is gain for the believer.
As a believer, Nabeel never tasted death. He went from life to life.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25-26
As believers, we have a promise from Jesus that because of him we will never die. If we’re gone from this body on earth, we’re at home with the Lord.
This doesn’t dismiss the pain of mourning. It is gut-wrenching and physical. I’m already praying for Nabeel’s wife and daughter.
But we grieve with hope. This separation isn’t forever and we live looking forward to seeing loved ones again in eternity.
2. Death for the believer is never untimely.
He was so young, we argue. Couldn’t he be home the Lord when he was 90? He had so much he still could have done for the Lord.
If we believe Nabeel’s death was untimely – too early – we must picture God in heaven, wringing his hands because one of his children left earth without completing the work God had for him.
God is sovereign over time, his purposes and the length of our lives.
Because of that, each of us has the perfect amount of time to accomplish exactly what God has for us in our lifetime.
We may squander that time. We may procrastinate or never take that first step in faith to walk out that work. But if we abide in Christ, we can trust that God has measured the precise amount of time needed to accomplish the ministry he has for us.
3. Death for the believer leaves a legacy.
The impact of a believer never ends with his death.
“Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.” Psalm 112:6
This week, we grieved a friend’s father who passed away at 86. He leaves an enormous legacy – teens discipled under him, missionaries supported and sent by him, scores of men taught by him, children and grandchildren following Jesus like him.
This seems fitting for someone who had decades to sow and labor for Christ. But what about the young believer who died so young?
Read the devotional My Utmost for His Highest? Oswald Chambers died at 43.
Heard of Jim Elliot’s work with the Auca? He died at 28.
Keith Green, the gospel singer songwriter, was 28.
David Brainerd, the missionary to Native Americans, was 29.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran martyr, was 39.
Nate Saint, the missionary jungle pilot, was 32.
Rich Mullins, the contemporary songwriter and missionary, was 41.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the great Scottish preacher, was 29.
And Jesus was 33.
Their lives have ended, yet their influence has flourished.
The impact of their ministry has far outlasted the length of their lives.
Now another name has been added to the list. Just this week, hundreds of thousands across the globe heard about a young Muslim man who gave up all to follow Christ. In the paradox of God, I have no doubt that God will continue to multiply the ministry of Nabeel Qureshi even in his death.
Our job is to faithfully trust. God’s job is to bring fruit. And the glory is that God does that not only in our life, but in our death.
*This post appeared first at LisaAppelo.com. If you’d like to get encouragement delivered right to your inbox, subscribe here and I’ll send you my free 100 Days with Christ Bible study & journal.