While walking the streets of downtown New Orleans, it's pretty common to witness a parade or two. I've clapped and cheered on the sidewalk as a wedding party danced their way down the streets, and I've listened to the band play celebratory songs, like "When the Saints Go Marching," as a sea of people dressed in black dance and cheer on their way back from the cemetery. It seems there is always something worth celebrating in this bustling city.
Puzzled, I wondered how you could celebrate death with a parade. After learning about New Orleans Jazz Funerals, I realized I missed the funeral procession to the gravesite, where the mourners walk and a brass band plays heavy and sad tunes. I only witnessed the parade's end after the burial, where joy implodes. According to neworleans.com, "When the deceased is laid to rest – or they 'cut the body loose'– the mourners' cut loose' as well."
I wish we only needed to break out in song and dance to cope with the death of a loved one, but similar to the Jazz Funeral, there is first a process of mourning. Unfortunately, unlike the parade, the actual process of grieving and mourning generally lasts a long time before the heavens open and Jesus fills our hearts with peace, joy, and celebration.
1. Take One Day at a Time
When we first lose a loved one, we can hardly put one foot in front of the other, let alone deal with all of the preparations, paperwork, and new responsibilities. Death breaks our hearts, unsettles our souls, and shakes the very Earth beneath our feet. It is impossible to plan or move beyond the day at hand when grief is fresh. After experiencing loss several times in my lifetime, the best advice I've heard on coping with death is to “take it one day at a time.” Don't expect too much of yourself in this season. Let grief take its due course.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." This verse is a message of hope to calm our anxious thoughts, but it is also a guide on how to handle moving forward by taking it one day at a time. It is okay to live day to day when coping with the death of someone you loved dearly.
2. Accept That There is No Timeline for Grieving
Even when we believe in life after death and know that our loved one is spending eternity in Heaven with Jesus, there is always a time and place for mourning until we join our friends and family in Heaven. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing full well He's going to raise Lazarus back to life (John 11:34-36). This scripture gives us a glimpse of the depth of Jesus's compassion and understanding of human grief.
Grieving can impact us for the rest of our lives, and we must accept that this is just a natural human process integrated throughout our years. The course of grief is unpredictable, but we can prepare ourselves for dealing with the intense emotions of grief by leaning into the comfort of Jesus's arms through His Word, prayer, and our brothers and sisters (Matthew 5:4).
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Jacob Postuma
3. Connect with Others
Whether you get together with friends, family, or join a support group – connection with others is a crucial step to cope with death. You don't have to be alone with your feelings or pain. Gathering with others can provide you an opportunity to talk through the hard things if you feel comfortable doing so. It's also a great way to reminisce about your deceased loved one and hopefully share some laughs.
I've read many beautiful stories of new lifelong friendships and bonds formed at grief support groups. It's worth trying to connect with others walking the same path as you. Remember, one day, you will be able to support others through seasons of mourning and help them cope with loss.
4. Start a New Tradition
I recently read a story in the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do by Amy Morin. The author unexpectedly lost her twenty-six-year-old husband to a heart attack. She worked up the courage to ask her mother-in-law how she planned to spend the day of their deceased loved one's upcoming birthday. The mother-in-law responded, "What do you think about skydiving?" They created a tradition to celebrate his love of life and adventure by doing something adventurous on his birthday every year.
While not everyone is ready to skydive, Amy Morin offers other suggestions for creating a tradition to celebrate the life of your loved one and focus your thoughts elsewhere to cope with death.
Volunteer to help a worthy cause.
Perform a random act of kindness.
Do something active.
5. Reminisce about Your Relationship
Preserving memories and focusing on the good times you had with your loved one is another essential way to cope with death. You can write letters to them, create a memory box, plant a tree, or do anything you know your loved one would cherish.
Last year, I attended two funerals. One funeral was a full military service for the passing of a close friend, and the other funeral took place in the local church my young niece attended with her parents. Both services shared stories and testaments to the character and faith of the deceased.
My niece's celebration of life was beautiful, and we watched a video presentation of pictures of her life. We reminisced about all of the good things in her life and wholeheartedly laughed at her shenanigans as well. It was a cathartic process to help our hearts start to heal and cope with her death, and we will continue to keep her memory alive in our family gatherings.
6. Don't Forget to Look Up
"If what's ahead scares you, and what's behind hurts you, then look up above. God will guide you." I found this quote by an unknown source that perfectly captures the pain of the death of someone close to us. It explains the trepidation we feel looking ahead to life without the deceased and points to the ultimate Source of hope and comfort. Don't wait for "when all else fails" to start the healing journey with God and cope with the loss.
Sometimes, we can only pray, and even praying can be challenging. But friend, we have a God who knows our needs, our thoughts before we even think them, and who loves us like no other can. He is our compassionate Heavenly Father who turns everything good in His time. "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 our troubles so that we comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV).
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Ridofranz
Originally published Monday, 14 March 2022.