Ordained Servant Online
A Road of Grief, Part 3: Grieving Well (January 2012)
It is now over a year and a half since Fawn’s death. Life certainly has moved on. We often say that “time heals”—this is only partially true. I have found in my journey that time alone doesn’t heal, but, if we lean into our grief, then God can use it as a grateful, sanctifying experience.
This poem (author anonymous) is so apropos:
I walked a mile with Pleasure, she chatted all the way.
But I was none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she.
But oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me.
In the weeks and months following Fawn’s death, I became increasingly convinced that God might have made a mistake in taking her—it should have been me. After all, she was the better parent, the better person, the better teacher of our children, the better grandparent; surely I should have died and not her. My youngest boy, twenty-two years old, replied to this analysis of mine by saying, “Mom was ready for heaven; God still has a lot more to do with your sanctification here on earth, Dad.” I understand that all of this is a part of God’s work to shape me into the kind of person who can serve him and others better and more consistently.
I truly want to honor Fawn by “grieving well” as a Christian who believes that there is a God who rules and overrules in the destinies of us all; who ultimately has our best in mind and loves us no matter what the outward circumstances. My bedrock of faith must be that God does all things well for those called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28–29). The horrible alternative is that the universe is random and meaningless; everything being ultimately “out of control,” and things just happening without any kind of universal or eternal reason.
I have talked to many people who have gone through similar experiences. I have attended Grief Share weekly seminars: a wonderful, nationwide, faith-based program that helps us through the grieving process. I have seen a Christian, trained grief counselor for about a year, usually once a month. I have written a book, “My Dear Wife Fawn,” about our lives together with much of the information gleaned from the many letters we wrote each other when I was in the Navy and away on long deployments. I have read many books of others who have experienced the same thing I have. I have kept a daily journal of my walk through this “valley of the shadow of death.” In this journal I record my daily thoughts after my quiet time in God’s Word. All of these things have assisted my leaning into the grief process.
One thing I have gleaned is the role of the various “Ts” of grief recovery: Tears—to shed them openly and often, accepting the reality of our loss and the extent of our feelings. We grieve deeply because we loved deeply. Talking—to God first in prayer and meditating upon his Word (starting with the Psalms and the Gospels), and then to others who have ears to hear, individually or collectively. Turning—to God for the answers, letting him lead me through this dark valley and gaining an eternal perspective—not grieving as people who have no hope since our hope is Christ and eternity. And Time—time does heal if the other Ts are embraced.
There are countless books available on grief, but the one I found most helpful was J. I. Packer’s A Grief Sanctified: Passing through Grief to Peace and Joy. In this excellent, but largely unknown book, the great theologian tells us how a grief experience, especially one of a beloved wife, can be truly sanctified by God. Here are some summary snippets:
1. Bereavement reminds us of truths we might otherwise forget or not take seriously. Some of these truths are: the reality of God’s sovereignty, the reality of our own mortality, and the reality of heaven and hell.
2. Grief should lead us to the exercise of thanksgiving for all that we valued and enjoyed in the other person whom we have lost; and for the believer, the happiness to know that he/she has been promoted. It should also lead to the exercise of submission to God as we resign to him the loved one he has taken from us; and the exercise of patience, which is a compound of endurance and hope, as we live through our bereavement on a daily basis.
3. Do not let your grief loosen your grip on the goodness and grace of our loving God.
4. Tell God your sadness, pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t.
5. Avoid well wishers who think they can cheer you up, but thank God for people who are content to be with you and do things for you without necessarily even talking to you.
6. Cry; there is nothing biblical about a stiff upper lip.
7. Talk to yourself about the loved one you have lost.
I recommend this fine book on grieving.
Each person will have a different grief experience. Grief is a jagged road filled with detours, ups and downs, and dead-ends. Ultimately this road should leave the valley of the shadow of death for the meadow of thanksgiving to God for the life of the lost one. From this place of thanksgiving, we can look forward to heaven, while called to continue to live and work on earth.
 J. I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope, (Grand Rapids: Crossway Books, 2002).
 Packer, A Grief Sanctified, 171.
Brad Winsted is the director of Children’s Ministry International in Tucker, GA. He has been a ruling elder in six OPC churches. Currently, he is Coordinator for Children’s Ministries at Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Powder Springs, GA. Ordained Servant Online, May 2013.