Remember that you are never alone


Death is something we all face at some point in our lives. As a hospice chaplain, I see a lot of people in their last months and weeks of life, and spend time talking with their families. We have faith that death is not the end, but certainly it profoundly alters the lives of those who remain.

Loss comes in a lot of different forms, however. The loss of a relationship or a job can significantly alter how we understand ourselves; it can be like a “little death.” So can losing the ability to do something you used to do, as with failing eyesight or hearing.

Each involves a kind of grief, and in each case, the loss demands to be acknowledged before we can truly move forward again. Despite this need, so often when someone asks how we’re doing, there’s a temptation to respond, “I’m fine,” even when we’re not really fine.

A good example of this comes from the life of King David. When his first son from his favorite wife falls ill, David seems to go into mourning immediately. He fasts for seven days, sleeps on the ground, and pleads with God over the life of the child. His friends are worried about him because he seemed so distraught. And because David has been so distraught, his servants are afraid to tell him when the child finally dies. And his response does in fact startle them: he gets up, washes and puts on clean clothes, and has something to eat. That is, he acts as though it was over, and resumes his ordinary life.

The Bible doesn’t record it, but I can imagine him saying, “I’m fine.”

It’s a very rational response: he knows there’s nothing more to be done, so he just tries to get back to his normal routine. That is often our hope, that somehow things can just go on the way they were before the loss. People try to “keep busy” in order to have something to think about other than the absence. The grief can feel overwhelming and people deny that they feel it at all, to other people, and even to themselves.

Even when we overtly deny our grief, though, it finds other ways of coming out. Sometimes it shows up as irritability; other times, it shows up physically, perhaps as a stomach ache. Grief can also show up as amplified responses to things which seem to be unrelated, such as crying over other, smaller losses. These physical and emotional reactions can be part of a healthy grieving process, of course, but they often serve to point us toward aspects of our grief that we have not acknowledged. If we refuse to pay attention, the secondary effects can linger for a long, long time.

In David’s case, he had other sons we grew up and had ambitions of their own. I wonder if this unacknowledged grief isn’t what’s behind David’s reaction to the death of one of his other sons, decades later. This son, Absalom, rebelled against his father, and usurped the throne; yet, David did not want any harm to come to him in battle. When he heard that Absalom was dead, he wept and cried out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

David’s very public mourning was not just embarrassing to his supporters, but felt to be shameful given the circumstances. This son who had sought to overthrow and kill him was given more consideration than those who had loyally stood beside him. I suspect that David’s grief over his first son was finally coming out, after many years of being bottled up inside.

It can be a struggle to keep going at all after a death, particularly when there is still work to be done; in David’s case, he needed to resume his duties as king. But the grief remained and festered, and eventually undermined David’s ability to rule effectively. He may have felt isolated, ignoring those around him who could have helped.

Part of the lie grief tells us is that no one will understand, that there is no one with whom we can be completely honest; but we cannot grieve alone. It’s important to find those people in your own life when coping with death – or anytime you’re dealing with loss. God is with us in time of sorrow to carry us through, but the most important way God shows love for us is by putting caring people in our lives.

If you feel isolated, please seek out support in the community; even in our darkest times, you are never alone.

Craig Dove is Chaplain of Community Care Hospice.

Craig Dove

Contributing Columnist

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