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.