Dealing with any loss is tough. It’s even more challenging when it comes suddenly and unexpectedly to a young person, and you don’t know where that person stood with the Lord. My family has struggled through this situation after the unexpected death of my 36-year-old younger brother on September 1, 2019. There were no chances to make any last goodbyes. No chances to make everything right. No last hugs. No last visits. No last anything. How do we handle this type of loss? How do we find peace with God? Thankfully our merciful Father gives us many comforting verses on this subject. Here are 4 reassuring truths about God’s character, and other tips on getting through that difficult first year.
4 Reassuring Truths
The Bible tells us much about God’s character! God can be trusted, He is merciful, and He loves us. And more importantly, God is the judge – not us. Only He truly knows our hearts and our loved one’s final moments.
1 God Can Be Trusted
He is worthy of our trust! He created all things and every event in our lives is under His control. Cling to Him even when nothing makes sense! He tells us to go to Him at all times – he is our refuge! The Bible tells us:
Psalm 62:8 (NIV)
8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Isaiah 26:4 (NIV)
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
2 God is Merciful
God’s nature is merciful and compassionate. The Holy Spirit made it clear to me after my brother’s death that God had been merciful to both my brother and our family in the months prior to his death and in the circumstances of his death. My brother died in his sleep in his bed. He did not die alone. It happened on a weekend my dad came to visit. God had arranged for our family to see Jonathan several times in the months leading to his death.
Lamentations 3:22 (NIV)
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Psalm 145:9 (NIV)
9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
3 God Loves Us So Much!
God does nothing lightly. He has so much love for His creation…and that includes you and your loved ones!
Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)
10 Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
In the depth of my despair the morning of Jonathan’s death, the Holy Spirit reminded me of how Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus in John 11. I knew then that Jesus was mourning with me!
John 11 (NIV)
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
4. God is the Judge – Not Us
Only God truly knows our hearts and whether our names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27). We are not for judging, just loving. Judgment is God’s business – not ours. We must just keep our focus on God – he is trustworthy, merciful, and loving!
Luke 6:36-37 (NIV)
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
When Jesus was crucified, the Bible tells us in Luke 23 about 2 other men who were also crucified at the same time. One was a thief who ends up giving his life to Christ! We don’t know our loved one’s final moments; take heart!
Luke 23:39-43 NIV
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
All the “Firsts”
This last year without my brother was tough. Despite our rough childhoods, I did get to grow up with my brother. He wasn’t a talker, and we did grow apart as we became adults and went different directions. But the last 9 months before his death was such a gift from the Lord. We got to see him several times and talk more than we had in years. I still mourn all the things my brother never got to experience. Children. A healthy, long-lasting marriage. The fullness and purpose of a life with God at the center. Joy. My brother did not have much happiness or joy in his life.
Going through all the “firsts” without him was sad. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Mother’s Day. His birthday. The 1 year anniversary of his death. My mom, remaining brother, and I did get together for his birthday and celebrated his life. We went to one of his favorite restaurants and ate some of his favorite foods. Fajitas and cheesecake at Chili’s. We did something similar for the 1 year anniversary of his death. We went to my brother and mom’s house and enjoyed some of his favorite foods – enchiladas and cheesecake. It was really paramount to us that Jonathan was not forgotten. He was created by God and therefore important!
Grief Takes Time
Focus on the Family shared a helpful article on the grieving process:
“But how does a person “get over” the death of a loved one? How long after a loss should one still be grieving? It is generally agreed that there are four “tasks of mourning” every bereaved person must accomplish to be able to effectively deal with the death of a loved one:
Accept the reality of the loss. Experience the pain of grief. Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. Take the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvest it in another relationship. J. William Worden, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner (1991).”
This last year I found myself crying quite a bit. I would hear or see something that reminded me of Jonathan and it would hit me hard. I have learned that this is natural and will gradually lessen. My family went to Universal Studios in Florida this past February and I came across so many rides that my brother would have loved…The Fast and The Furious…The Transformers…The Simpsons. Thankfully my husband and kids have been so kind and compassionate when I lose it!
6 Lessons Learned
Jonathan’s death taught me several ways to better help people through loss. Before my brother’s death, my experience of death had been relatively gentle. I had buried two grandparents. My step mother. My father in law. Two miscarriages. A few classmates, a former boss, a few elderly great aunts/uncles, a few neighbors, a coworker and a few elderly people from church. But overall I was not super close to most of them, or I knew where they were headed in death.
This loss with my brother was the toughest loss I’ve had to date. Here are 6 tips to consider when helping others through loss:
- Timeliness is Key
- I so appreciated the quick response from a few family and friends.
- Sit with the Mourning
- This is also recommended in the book of Job! Your presence can be so comforting!
- Bring Meals to the Family
- Call, Text, or Mail a Card
- Come to the Funeral
- Remember – funerals are not for the dead. They are for the living. Even if you didn’t know the person who died, if you are acquainted with the living family/friends, make an effort to support them at the funeral. It is very comforting!
- Flowers or a Plant May Be Appreciated
- Even my husband’s coworkers and boss were so thoughtful (most of whom I had never met) and sent a beautiful peace lily that I still water and care for. It is a beautiful reminder to me every day of my brother’s life.
Grace and Forgiveness
Some close family/friends/church members may have disappointed you with their lack of response during your loss. I think social media and the constant barrage of news/information can make us insensitive. We read a blurb, are sad for a few seconds, and then move on to the next thing. When a person has a tough loss, their life can just stop. Everyone around them continues to move, but that person may be stuck for a while. Some may never recover from the loss. Even if you haven’t experienced loss or don’t know the deceased, make an effort, and be there for your circle.
With that being said, God also reminds us to forgive! Death can bring out all kinds of ugliness, yet we must never stop loving and forgiving. If for nothing else, forgiveness will set you free of the burden and energy of being upset with others.
Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
In addition to lots of prayer time and talking to family, here are some resources that helped me during the 1st year:
- Imagine Heaven by John Burke
- Grief Devotionals on the YouVersion Bible App
- Articles on Sibling Grief
- Youtube videos by The Gospel Coalition and MarkInc Ministries
Life is SO precious. It can end in an instant. Don’t waste it! My daily prayer is for everyone to know God and spend their lives serving Him, loving Him, and loving others. Live with the end in mind! So many of those who have had near-death experiences and met Jesus, came back to report that it’s all about relationships. How we love and treat each other! Not about stuff or wealth or how high the ladder we climbed or our accomplishments. How did we love each other? How did we care for each other? Even in the depth of grief, remember that God is trustworthy, merciful, and loving…and our only job is to love!
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Edited by Allie Anson