After the funeral

The sadness when someone you love dies cannot be described by a newspaper report. Only those who stay behind can feel it: you cry until you are exhausted, the grief plagues you constantly.

When the funeral is over, the people who tried to support you leave. But then the truly difficult time starts: I must work through this loss.

How does one work through the sadness one feels about the death of a loved one? Why do we deal with it differently? What is the best?

Someone tells us to stop speaking about her or him. But I have this terrible longing!

Sometimes a mother cannot stop crying. And sometimes the father then responds by saying: “This is enough now!”

Some people become very busy in order to forget, while others simply want to move away, also in order to forget.

One person finds it easy to pray. Another has difficulty in doing so and is angry with God.

Grief is like a journey. You can go on this journey either with God, or on your own.

The journey with God is healing.

The journey without God leaves you wounded.

Let us go together to three stations on that journey. Other people have already gone there and can tell you how God accompanies you and heals you.

The first month: THE SHOCK

The death of a loved one shatters you. This is why you do not have to be “strong” and go on without crying. You are allowed to cry and to pour your heart out to people and to God.

Be gentle and patient with yourself and your people in the first month.

Just hold on to God for the moment without having to be calm and strong.

It is difficult to pray in this time. So simply ask: “Keep me God.” (Psalms 32:10)

The first year: THE SEARCH

You must, accompanied by God, look for answers and balance regarding the following big questions:

1. To understand what happened and why. Talk about the events by all means

The accident, illness or circumstances. Do find out until you know the facts. But do not get stuck there or try to unravel every single detail. The most important thing is not to ask God the reason why it happened. Rather look with God for what you must do now that it did happen. Romans 8:28 says that God can turn anything, even disasters, into something good. I must ask God what I can do after this disaster.

2. To work through unfinished issues

Maybe I have not made peace with the person who died. Maybe I was angry or still wanted to say something to her or him, or maybe she or he did something to me that leaves things unfinished. Ask God to help you to focus on what you have done rather on what is left unfinished. If necessary, write a letter to the person who passed away – this gives one a feeling of closure. Then give your words or letter up to God for him to forgive and to finish.

3. To calm turbulent thoughts

There is a poem that calls it the “grief of mind” – that longing and aching that cuts deep into your being. Having feelings of depression is a normal response to loss (and sometimes clinical depression sets in for which you can get medication). God does not ask of you to suppress your feelings as if it would mean that you were an unbeliever if you were to cry or be upset. God asks of us to do the same as many of the psalm writers did: they expressed their feelings honestly, they did not suppress them. Take your feelings to God and pour out your heart in prayer. Sometimes you need support from a minister, counsellor or therapist to bring order to your troubled mind. And then only comes rest. God never forbids tears. But he dries them.

4. To return to faith

Sometimes grief makes you angry with God or bitter about life. Sometimes it makes you feel as if you cannot believe anymore. This, too, is surprisingly enough not something that I need to hide from God. When Job dared to be honest about this (Job 7:20; 30:20) God listened with love and helped Job to come even closer to him (Job 42:5). The most important thing is to speak to God about this continually in prayer. Sometimes it helps a lot to write down your thoughts as if you were writing a letter to God. It helps incredibly much to read what other believers wrote when going through times of loss in the form of a book, a prayer or a story.

5. Making decisions and taking care of one’s health

Sometimes one takes drastic decisions when the pain is still raw, such as moving away. It is mostly a mistake. Actually no big decision should be taken before about a year has passed by so that it will be a calm, reasonable decision. Some people struggle taking decisions, become passive and do nothing. Sometimes you have to force yourself to do healthy things and to accept the help and support the Lord provides. It is therefore important to keep on visiting people deliberately, to go to church, to attend a cell group and to keep on doing things that used to give you pleasure. It is especially important to get some physical exercise, even if it is just going for long walks. Physical exercise helps to relieve stress and depression.

After the first year: LIVING WITH THE PAIN

Life after the death of a loved one must never be “normal” again. God wants us to grow through such a loss and to change positively.

Romans 8:28 is a text that can be very helpful:

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

This is a promise that God will work with me to let something meaningful flow from this. You must therefore work so hard with your suffering so that you will become a different, more mature person, especially with regard to the following three spheres:

1. To be even closer to God. Maybe you will now fight less to understand everything because this is paralysing. Maybe you will now focus on doing what you do understand instead because this makes a difference. Maybe you will now speak to God more deeply and openly.

2. To be even closer to others. The great regret almost everyone experiences is the longing to have spent more time with the loved one that passed away. That chance is over, but you still have time to spend with other loved ones. Therefore you should not waste time by being angry with someone or by being busy with the less important things in life. People are more important than money or success.

3. To find a purposeful task in life. Somewhere God has a calling for you where you can live out your deeper maturity and love. Use your pain to do good. If you can use your loss positively in a task where you can help people with love, you have found a better way of remembrance than putting flowers on a grave.

It is nevertheless good to visit the grave. Celebrate your loved one’s life on birthdays or on other special occasions and dates. But focus on the life God granted you until we can all be together with God again.
Because after the funeral God gives eternal life.

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