How Do I Survive Losing a Loved One?
Question: My wife died in a car accident about two months ago, and I am really struggling. The church has been helpful, but in recent weeks the phone has stopped ringing and the meals have stopped coming. I try to keep busy with the kids, but when it’s quiet, all I can think about is how much I miss her. Sometimes I get angry, particularly when I see other men with their wives. What can help me through this grief?
Answer: The heartache of losing someone you love is like no other pain. We weep with you as we consider the many losses that you feel every day. No longer can you enjoy your dear wife’s companionship, feel her embrace, or hear her voice. No longer can your children know the nurturing presence of their mother. Now you must face the task of parenting alone, always aware that someone in the family portrait is missing. Oh my, your heart must be so heavy.
People who have lost loved ones say that they never fully get over their loss. Grief lingers for the rest of their lives, touching them with sorrow in different ways at different times. Your goal is not necessarily to rid your life of the pain but to live with it. Over time, the waves of sadness will lessen in severity and frequency, and you will feel more in control of your feelings. People in your situation often say that it’s not a good idea to make big changes or life-changing decisions at this time. You can’t resolve the pain by changing your circumstances or running away. Grief is a journey that you must go through, one day at a time.
At this stage, try to set a time and place where you’re free to feel sad. During the day you have things you must do, such as showing up at work and taking care of your children. You simply can’t drop out of life to grieve. But perhaps you can make arrangements to leave work early so you can spend time at the park or at home to feel sad and cry. Give yourself some space during your day to let your emotions flow.
Grief may sneak up on you at the oddest times, such as when you’re in the grocery store and hear a song that your wife loved, or when you’re tying your child’s shoes, or when you catch the scent of your wife’s perfume on someone else. As these moments come, you’ll need to stop what you’re doing and find a quiet place to cry. Avoid packing your life with too much busyness. Try to relax your schedule and build in more time to get things done—because you’ll need it.
Emotions are too powerful to stay bottled up for long. They will break whatever containers you try to force them into and come out as stress-related symptoms like headaches or ulcers. Suppressed emotions can tear your body apart. Eat healthy meals and exercise regularly to help your body process the stress that has built up while you have been grieving.
The grieving process can’t be hurried. It takes time, and it best occurs in community with other people who are grieving and can understand how you feel. In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to “weep with those who weep.” Healing is facilitated when we share our grief with others. Lean on people around you. Tell them what you need, even if you just need to be in the same room with them for a couple of hours. Let God use others to comfort you. We recommend joining a GriefShare group. You can find more information about these groups on the Internet by logging on to www.griefshare.org.
Finally, and most important, find your strength in the Lord. Spend time in the Psalms as you grieve. The honest prayers of David and others have, for centuries, helped hurting people express their heavy hearts. These examples may help you start:
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses.
Look upon my affliction and my trouble,
And forgive all my sins. (Psalm 25:16-18)
The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:17-18)
Paul gives this encouragement: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Then he describes the moment when the dead in Christ will rise and we will all be caught up in the air to join Christ. We will be together with our loved ones forever. What a wonderful hope! Paul doesn’t say, “Don’t grieve”; rather he says, “Don’t grieve as those without hope.” Grieving is okay, but your grief doesn’t have to lead to despair. In your grief, find hope in the promises of Christ, who has overcome death and promises you an eternal reunion with the one you love.