Guest Writer

Let’s Talk About Death by Ryan Ingraffia

Last weekend, death clawed its way back into my family’s lives all too soon after the loss of my husband. A fresh scab was torn off before it had time to heal properly. My Aunt Louise’s life long journey ended, and she left the world surrounded by all 7 of her sisters, her mom, and her two daughters. Louise suffered from a brain tumor over 20 years ago and had a few surgeries to remove the tumor. Doctors had said she had weeks, maybe months to live. The entire family prepared themselves to send her off over two decades ago. However, God had other plans and said her time on Earth was not finished yet. Although Louise’s life looked different after her surgeries, she had the best caregivers to make her last 20 years of life happy and comfortable. My mom tells me the way she left was actually beautiful. All of the girls were singing childhood camp songs and laughing along as they held her hand. Louise apparently had enough of their singing and said, “I’m out of here.” We know she left laughing inside and comforted as she was surrounded by an enormous amount of love.

I was not able to travel to my Aunt this weekend, and perhaps that was okay. I spent the weekend with a very dear friend of mine who has also experienced quite a bit of loss in her life, as well. A lot of our conversations somehow revolved around dying, death, and Heaven. And to be honest, it is a topic that is just not talked about enough. A lot of people try to change the subject quickly as they don’t know what to say, or they don’t understand it, or maybe they do understand it, but it is something that is impossible to wrap their minds around. And maybe it takes losing someone to be able to converse with others about death and Heaven.

We, in a general sense, ignore death because it is just too scary and too sad to comprehend. It is undeniably awful for us who are left without our mom, our husband, our friend, our child. How do we go on? How do we do holidays without them? Who do we call when we need advice or share good news with? Death is absolutely devastating to us, and God is devastated for us. He hates that our heart is broken, and he grieves with us. Mine and Matt’s friend wrote a letter to me shortly after his death. He shared with me this verse:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ”. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

He told me that when he tries to comprehend the loss of someone, he reads this verse. He says it is actually hard to believe verse 55 when we ask, “Oh death, where is your sting?” because it hurts us, it shocks us, and it devastates us. But then he says that verse 56 points out that the sting of death is sin. The reason why it hurts is because life was not supposed to be this way. We were meant to be eternal beings but then- sin. He says, we have to remind ourselves that we are validated in the feeling of this sting, but we have to believe in what this verse is really telling us. We should understand that compared to the victory of Christ and the eternal victory that we will experience, this current sting of death is small. Can you imagine that? If you are currently walking through, or have walked through (or you will walk through- one day) pain, that is so dark and deep, that it will be insignificant to the amazing-ness that is Heaven? So, if this pain is unbearably terrible, imagine what Heaven will be like…

The next verse,

 “58 Therefore, my beloved brother, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

We must hold onto and focus on the promise of Heaven. And we should talk about death. A lot. I believe that our fear of dying would subside if we get comfortable talking about the afterlife in Heaven. Therefore, if we become less afraid of death, we will be able to live a fuller life on a day-to-day basis.

And for just a minute, let’s set our grief aside and think about our loved ones who are embarking on their journey of Heaven. Levi Lusko states in his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion,

“As agonizing and painful as it can be, death is the ultimate upgrade for the believer: moving from the tent into the home Jesus has been preparing for you.”

My husband, an avid swimmer and golfer, is probably up in Heaven swimming laps and never getting tired. He probably has a golf game under par, every single time. He may be making beats with his friend, Lex, who joins him up there. Matt has been upgraded from a lap pool to an endless ocean, his swing is always just right and the weather conditions are in his favor to at least par every hole, and his music has rhythms and beats that we could never create on Earth. My Aunt Louise is now living it up with her witty and loud personality she had when she was younger. There are no air holes in her Wendy’s frosty and the cranberry sauce comes perfectly out of the can every single time. (Writing this makes me wish I knew her a little better before she got sick. I feel like I would have more things to say. I’ve been told she was the fun one and always had a good time; she sounds a lot like my Matt). Now, I’m not the most educated person when it comes to Heaven, I still have a lot to learn. I have been told different things about Heaven. I hear that you are so busy worshiping God that you don’t need the things you longed for on Earth, like a swimming pool or the perfect frosty, but this is just what I imagine and what comforts me. Everyone is different!

When someone asks about how you are doing, or mentions your lost loved one, maybe instead of welling up with tears of sadness, well up with tears of happiness as they have received the premium upgrade from Earth to Heaven. Think about how happy they must be. There are no more bad days, no more aches and pains.

So, let’s talk about dying, death, and Heaven. The Lord promises us that we will experience great heartache. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will sooner or later. Believe me, my life was pretty cushy five months ago. Nothing bad really has ever happened to me or my family, and I never thought it would! We have had a few broken bones, a few moves across the country, we lost our grandpa to a short battle with cancer, but we were always more than okay. In 4 months, my mom has lost her son-in law and her sister. I know it is hard and it stinks FOR US. But for THEM we should actually be really happy.

Death, where is your sting? Death, you do not win.

Death, there is never a good time for you to knock on our door—you will have to claw your way in. But death, you are the next step to an everlasting world with our family and our God for eternity.

 

 

To the Widow’s Friend by Allee Rodenbaugh

The days after John-Michael tragically died were painfully long. I never knew how painful it could be to watch someone walk through such intense grief. Alex had lost her husband, her best friend, all of her future dreams with John-Michael, and the only person who could truly make her laugh and smile on a wretchedly long work day.

I’ve never felt more powerless as a friend. There were so many moments where there was nothing I could do or say to take the pain away. It felt as if the only way this was going to get better was if we woke up one day and realized this all was just a horribly long, bad dream.

When Alex asked me to write this, my first response was an awkward laugh. I failed horribly at this whole “being a best friend to the widow” some of the days, weeks, and months following John-Michael’s death. All I wanted was for her to have joy again and it felt like that would never be possible. I plead constantly with God to provide her reprieve and peace and to restore her joy.

There was one moment when I was ready to throw in the towel on the idea that this God I claimed to follow was still “good.” Alex woke up one night at 4 a.m. because she couldn’t sleep and decided to read her Bible. She softly read 2 Corinthians 4 aloud and when she got to verse 16 the tears started falling… hard.

“For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”  2 Corinthians 4:16

I remember being so angry in that moment. “LIGHT?! HOW INSENSITIVE, GOD. Nothing about this is “light,” I thought to myself.

I proceeded to beg God to give me something to say to help her respond to this scripture. I was pleading with him to show up and provide me something that would fix everything she was experiencing in her heart.

Then, Alex, tear-soaked-Bible in hand, looks over at me and says, “If this grief, that is saturating my entire being is considered “light,” then how beautiful will the glory of Christ be.”

I was speechless. Here I was—the friend trying to be a fill-in god that could fix this pain, but God was doing His job, the job that was never mine. Being a sweet, tender, loving Father to her and showing her that even though it feels like all of her world has crumbled, there is purpose, meaning and beauty in this pain that will make Christ’s ever-satisfactory glory completely worth it.

I still get chills thinking about how surreal that moment was. I now have story after story of the Lord’s faithfulness in the months following.

I learned a lot of “hard-way” lessons when it comes to walking with people through grief. But I’ve found three things that are certainly vital to walking through these seasons faithfully:

First, there are times when silence and your presence are all she needs;

for you to sit in the pain with her without trying to give answers or reasons, without changing the subject. She just needs affirmation that the reality of this circumstance is painful, that her heartache is justified, and that this world was not created to be this way.

Even Jesus asked James and John to sit with him in his grief as he sat in anguish before he went to the cross:  “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37

Second, there are times where she needs to be reminded of the gospel;

when her mind is plagued by fear, hurt, and lies or her circumstances have caused her to doubt everything she’s ever believed to be true. Gently remind her of why God is good and point her to eternity.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 it says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope.”

What sets us apart as Christians in grief is that we are able to grieve with hope. The Lord doesn’t ask us to replace our mourning with thanksgiving. Rather, he uses our sorrow to proclaim a type of thanksgiving we wouldn’t be able to express otherwise. The thanks be to him who says our grief will be worth it. The giving of ourselves to say that even if our earthly hopes have been deferred, our eternal hope will never be lost.

Lastly, she needs you to be her cheerleader, not her critic.

Critics come out of the woodworks when tragedy strikes. Everyone has opinions on how a widow should grieve, when it’s okay to talk about it, or when they should pursue another relationship.

Be the friend that helps fight for joy when it starts creeping back in. I know right now it’s impossible to believe when I tell you that the days won’t always seem this heavy. But eventually, there will be a day when it feels like she has started to get her laugh back. Celebrate that alongside her. Find ways to embrace it and create more of it. You will not and cannot bring healing. Only Christ can do that. But life and death are not distinctly separated from one another in the seasons of our lives. Mourning and dancing—they don’t always take turns. While people celebrate engagements, new babies, and the sweetness of life, the fallen world will continue to break our hearts, often times simultaneously. The tension is constantly there, leaving us wondering when to celebrate and when to cry. Often the best thing we can do is recognize the tension and do both, trusting and remembering that when Jesus left this earth, He didn’t leave us alone to discern the timing of our responses. He gave us the Spirit to help navigate these complexities.

The last 2.5 years have not been easy, but I can tell you that mine and Alex’s friendship is one I will forever hold dear to my heart. It has been stretched, challenged, and deepened through this season. We live 1,000+ miles away from each other now, but when we do get time together, it is clear the foundations of our relationship run deep, to the depths of suffering and pain to the joys of life and celebration. Nicholas Wolterstorff said,

“I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that, dry-eyed, I could not see.”

This will be hard and there will be days when you will feel inadequate, insufficient, and like you’re failing. Press on, my friend! Through tears and pain, you will see and know the Lord more intimately and so will your friend. Joy comes in the morning, and it will come through this seemingly unending mourning.

 

A New Valentine’s Day Tradition by Brittany Price Brooker 

One of my favorite memories with my late husband Patrick was our first Valentine’s Day together. We decided that instead of spending the day all about us, we would create a tradition to spend Valentine’s Day on others. We prayed about what to do and decided we would love on the widows, orphans, and the hurting. We called our church and were given some names of some precious widows, a foster child, a lonely older lady who lived by herself, and an older couple where the husband was caring for his ailing wife. We mapped out the whole night, called to make appointments in advance, and on Valentine’s day, we shopped for beautiful flowers, cards, and some yummy treats and headed out. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with each person as they shared their heart, opened their goodies, and we prayed with them. It was so much fun! We met some amazing people that our paths never would have crossed unless we had purposed to reach out.

Another year, we were able to reach out to and love on some older widows, some divorcees, and some single ladies who were still waiting for “the one” the Lord had for them. Our desire was to create this family tradition to teach our children to be sensitive of those who are hurting around us or just need some encouragement.

Somehow, when my husband passed away, several people found out about our Valentine’s Day tradition. How encouraging to hear that other families have decided to start this tradition with their families as a way to teach their children how to refocus Valentine’s day. What an amazing gift!

We have personally been the recipients of the hands and feet of Jesus these past couple years, and we are ever so grateful for the healing it has provided to our hearts. Below are some ideas of intentional blessings that we have used on Valentine’s Day and others have comforted our family with over the years.

  • Deliver a coffee to a single friend with a sweet note of encouragement and love.
  • Take flowers to someone to brighten their day along with a sweet verse & note.
  • Bring a meal to a family that is hurting.
  • Drop off some special treats to a family who recently had a divorce (snacks, breakfast food, muffins, toys, etc…).
  • Buy a gift or a meaningful book for someone that could use encouragement and deliver it with a sweet note.
  • Make homemade cards with affirmation from scripture that expresses the love that God lavishes on us and make a list of God’s promises.
  • Drop off a gift card to a family who is hurting financially and encourage them to take a night off of the stress and take time to invest in their marriage.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to lead and guide you to what you are supposed to do. The Holy Spirit is our helper in all things and will show you what the most meaningful thing will be.

Remember, this is truly how the Lord uses the body of Christ–to be the hands and feet of Jesus to demonstrate His amazing love in tangible ways!

Perspective Ministries will be delivering blankets to new widows for Valentine’s Day as a reminder of God’s covering.  If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to help, please contact lori@perspectiveministries.org.  If you would like to bless a new widow on Valentine’s Day for only $10, donate now.