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AT SOME POINT IN OUR LIVES, WE ALL ENCOUNTER GRIEF, LOSS, AND HEARTBREAK. For some it may be the death of an aged parent whose long and full life is cause for celebration even in the midst of sadness. For others it may be the sudden or tragic death of a child or spouse, taken too soon and without warning. Every loss is significant for the one left facing the gaping void, the empty space where a loved one used to be. Regardless of the circumstances or context or season of life, we all grieve in the face of death, even if we don’t show it outwardly. We need to grieve, and the best way to do that is through our reliance on God and with the support of those people closest to us.

Part of the reason grief is such a difficult path to walk today is because our society doesn’t handle death well. Unlike other cultures or even our own culture centuries ago, death and grief have been whitewashed. We want to pretend death doesn’t exist, and push down grief when it rears its head. But that’s unhealthy. The truth is that grief is natural and necessary and an integral part of healing and wholeness, and it’s not something you “get over” in the three days allotted for a wake and funeral. It is a long, slow process, one that can bring unexpected graces if we are willing to open ourselves up to the possibility that God is at work in our lives, even—or maybe especially—in our suffering and sorrow.

Although it can be difficult to recognize that reality when we are in the throes of immediate grief, that’s where our faith comes in. The beliefs we have professed— in eternal life, in heaven, in salvation through Jesus Christ—will shore us up until we are able to steady ourselves emotionally and spiritually, and even after we do, our faith can provide a foundation of hope as we attempt to move forward.

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:26

‘I Am with You Always’

In the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, the emptiness can seem overwhelming, and we can feel completely alone, even if we’re surrounded by family and friends. No matter how isolating grief can be, if we hold fast to our faith, we are never truly alone. We have the company of the angels and saints, Mary and Jesus to give us strength and encouragement as we face what may seem like the impossible. We remember what Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age,” and we take comfort in the realization that we are still connected to our loved one, across time and space, in a way that this world cannot see or understand.

Of course, grief doesn’t always express itself so serenely. It is often fraught with anger, confusion, and maybe even doubts about the very beliefs that have served as the cornerstone of our life up until that point. We may feel abandoned by God, which only worsens our already desperate sense of isolation and loneliness. It’s all normal. In fact, it’s healthy to question and to rage, to cry and to withdraw, as long as we don’t stay in that place for too long.

“In the beginning faith was very important. It got me through. Then, as reality set in, you realize that you lost a child and he’s not coming back,” says Lorraine Wilson, whose 14-year-old son Robby died during a Boy Scout rafting trip. She shared her story in Parenting a Grieving Child: Helping Children Find Faith, Hope, and Healing after the Loss of a Loved One.

“You get very angry with God. We still went to church because of the children,” Wilson recalled. “Sometimes I would just sit in church and look at Jesus on the cross and think about the fact that Mary went through this. She lost her son, and I am certainly no better than her. I got angry with God, but then my faith returned. I am a firm believer that I am going to be reunited with Robby.”

For those walking the rocky path through grief, faith and friendship are the things that can make the journey a little bit easier. If we can turn to God in prayer and to family and friends for consolation, we have a better chance of getting through the most difficult moments to a place of peace. That doesn’t mean our grief will disappear, but it will change over time. The early overwhelming grief will give way to a subtler kind of grief, a sadness that reappears on anniversaries and birthdays, when a certain song is played, or a particular scent wafts through a window. That mellowed and moderate grief can actually be a gift, an unexpected reminder of our loved one given at just the right moment.

“Celeste has been dead for a week, and I am sitting in the sunshine of my back yard. It is gloriously sunny, temperately warm. I am peaceful, missing her but still shocked by the fact that her life is truly over,” writes Catherine Adamkiewicz in her beautiful and moving book, Broken and Blessed: A Life Story.

Adamkiewicz's daughter Celeste was born with Ebstein’s Anomaly, a rare heart condition. It was Adamkiewicz's deep faith that saw her through the months of sickness and worry and the grief of losing Celeste at only four months old.

“Exactly one week since her death, my arms feel as if she has only been gone for minutes. I know that life is now different for me, that my perceptions will be forever altered by what I have experienced. Mostly, I miss her. I am sad. Sometimes, when I allow myself, I can feel her,” Adamkiewicz writes. “…I do not ask for messages from heaven, but I receive one. A small white butterfly lights on my knee. For several moments, it sits perfectly still, allowing me to examine its paper thin wings. There, in perfect detail, amazing and stark and wonderful, is painted by nature a tiny black heart. Blinking, unbelieving, I take it in. A heart. Celeste’s symbol. A gift from her to me on a summer day, a sign if ever there was one.”

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