I recently sent a sympathy card to a dear woman who just lost her father.
I signed it, saying how sorry I was for her loss. I mentioned that I'd lost both of my parents years ago, but that God has been faithful in providing comfort. I sealed the envelope and put it in the mail at work. I walked away wondering if I'd written too much.
Experts in grief counseling will tell you that the best thing you can do for the bereaved is to just be there and tell them that you're sorry.
Grieving people typically go through the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression and finally acceptance.
I know, because I've been there.
My mom, Evelyn, died in 1993. My dad, Glenn, died in 1996.
I'm an only child.
I am blessed to have a wonderful husband and children, but the loss of my parents still hurt like crazy.
I don't say that to try and discourage people, even though people who've lost dear ones know that I speak the truth.
But I do want to say how faithful and loving God is and how much comfort he provides.
I didn't write this in the card, but if I were going to tell someone what grief was like I'd mention some of the same things that were told to me and which I experienced:
1. The first year is the hardest. The first holidays - Mother's Day, Father's Day, the dates of your loved ones' birth and death won't be easy. However, sometimes the dread that you experience in the days beforehand is worse than the actual day.
2. You need to cry. I read a Guideposts magazine story in which a missionary went to an African village where he saw men wailing over the death of their father. An old man there noticed the missionary's rather surprised response and explained: "It is good to cry over the deaths of our fathers, for the tears help wash the pain out of the heart."
I know from experience that if you have a lot of pain, you need a lot of tears.
3. You need to give yourself a break. Grieving people sometimes forget things and get distracted. That's natural.
4. Seek support. The Lord blessed me by guiding me to a grief support group. It was encouraging to see how much the deceased had been loved. I bonded with the other people in the group and still appreciate that time today.
5. Grief comes in waves. It rolls in and out like the tide. You'll be going along, thinking you're doing pretty well, and then something will hit you and you'll cry. That's normal. It should lessen with time.
6. Know that well-meaning people will sometimes say things that hurt your feelings or upset you. They don't mean to. They're just trying to help. Forgive them. And if anything I say here upsets you, please forgive me. I just want people to know that while they'll go through some tough times, there is hope.
7. Know that Jesus understands grief. Remember how he wept over the death of Lazarus - before he resurrected him? Jesus has compassion for the grieving.
8. Trust God to steer you through the loss. At one point, I'd cried so much that I wondered what I was still crying about.
That's when I really understood what it meant to have a loss.
I wanted the very thing I couldn't have: I wanted my dad back - not sick like he was before his death - but healthy and funny. I wanted him to be able to see my sons graduate from high school and get married and have children - and I'd never have that.
Now I look forward to the day when I'll see my parents - healthy, happy and well - in heaven. I think about all the people I'll be able to introduce them to and all the things we'll have to talk about.
We'll have all eternity to talk and laugh and make new memories - and nothing will ever tear us apart again.
Best of all, we'll be with the true lover of our souls - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - in a very wonderful place.
As it says in the Bible: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev. 21:4).
9. Know that time will go faster than you think. Life on this earth is short. Just wait. You'll be with your loved ones in due time. In the meantime, make the most of every day. Love those around you. Do good to your fellow believers in Christ. Cherish your family and friends. Help those in need. Leave a legacy of love.
Remember what a dear young 4-H'er shared with me recently. After years of fairs, she could tell me this: "It's what you do before the fair that counts."
It's the same here on earth. It's what we do beforehand that counts - not that we earn our way to heaven by works. We can't do that. We're saved by grace through faith, lest any man should boast, but faith and actions work together. (Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. James 2:18).
We exercise our faith muscles by helping others and we please our Lord.
And I want to please God.
At the end of my life, I want so much to hear him say: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
10. Maintain your relationship with God. Pray. Read your Bible. Seek comfort through the word of God. Talk with fellow believers. And know that "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18.