May 16, 2021


Helping Others On Their Journey Through Grief


            In the days following my wife’s death, I was engulfed with sorrow. The loss of Dean was my total focus. We had become one. Part of me was torn away when she died. The pain was so great I could hardly imagine life without Dean. Then, as days turned into weeks, I began slowly to crawl out of my grieving cocoon.

            As I reflected on the early days of my journey through grief, I realized that I had not been alone. My family had been with me. My four sons surprised me by taking turns staying with me at night for the first two weeks. Without speaking to me about it, they decided I need not sleep alone in my big house for a while. That was a blessing I had not anticipated. Their wives brought me meals and assisted me in dozens of small ways. Other family members offered comfort. I began praising God for the difference a family makes in our lives!

            My friends were with me. Several men who have become like brothers to me stayed in touch with me, offering their help — and encouragement. Jennifer texted me daily with words of hope that buoyed my spirit. Pam, Leah, Frances, Coralie, Polly, Carolyn — and many others — brought food. Dozens sent beautiful cards with sweet notes written inside. My friends would not let me endure my pain alone!

            It dawned on me that all these friends were caring for me because we were all brothers and sisters in the fellowship of believers, the church for which Jesus died. My pastor, Lester Spencer, was with me. His presence and comforting prayers made a huge difference, as did the prayers of fellow pastor Mike McKnight. My dear friends and fellow pastors, Earl Ballard and Jimmy Allen, were with me, loving me and holding my hand in the darkest hours.  Fellow pastor Vaughn Stafford came alongside me to keep me from falling.

Best of all, I was not alone because my Lord, the Lord of His church, was also with me. He kept his promise to be with me — especially in times when I could not have made it without His strengthening presence. In the lonely nights, when the chilling silence was overwhelming, Jesus was with me, hearing my cry and giving me the courage to make it until daybreak. When I consider the joy of His presence, I feel like shouting GLORY and HALLELUJAH!

            After emerging from the cave of sorrow, I realized how helpful it has been to receive comfort from friends who had already walked through the valley of sorrow. My friend Doug Newton, who had earlier lost his dear wife Gaynelle, called several times to assure me I could make it. It was enormously comforting to receive words of hope from a friend who understood my agony — because he had been through that lonesome valley himself. My friend Billy Gaither had lost his precious Carolyn and, like Doug, he could identify with my grief and offer the same comfort Doug gave me. Billy made me aware of the difference a good book can make in times of grief; he sent me a helpful one titled Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg. My own church sent me a fine book titled A Time to Grieve by Kenneth C. Haugk. It is one in a series called Journeying Through Grief.

            Martha Hill is another friend whose comfort has blessed me because she too has made her way through the valley of sorrow. She reached out to me with solid comfort, doing what Saint Paul said we should do for one another. In Second Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” After the devastating death of her husband, Hoyt, Martha began comforting others with the comfort she had received from God.

            Like me, Martha found her church, Trinity UMC in Opelika, a great source of comfort. The fellowship of believers was so important to Martha that on the next Sunday after Hoyt’s death, she was in church, worshiping with her brothers and sisters in Christ. “It helped me so much I looked forward to being in church every Sunday,” Martha said. Her church provides a significant ministry for grieving persons — a 13-week GriefShare group fellowship called “Your Journey from Mourning to Joy.” Martha found this group recovery experience most helpful.

            Martha is quick to point out the that Bible is our greatest resource for grief recovery. She loved it so much that she memorized helpful verses like Hebrews 13:5, John 14:27, Psalm 30:5 and Psalm 27:1. I would add to her list one of my favorites — Psalm 147:3 – “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

            As she slowly recovered from her sorrow, Martha felt the Lord leading her to offer comfort to others who were grieving the loss of loved ones. Guided by her pastor, Martha patiently waited for God to show her what to do. The answer came when her friend Cordelia’s husband died. As she offered loving support to her friend, the two of them decided to begin a ministry together — offering comfort to others who had recently become widows. They were so blessed by their ministry that they expanded their visitation to homebound persons in their church. Their reward was great joy, Martha said.

            Martha’s greatest surprise during her grief journey was that she was able to survive the loss of her husband and, despite living alone, find joy in a life of service to others. Looking back, Martha said she realized this was not something she achieved, but something the Lord accomplished by providing her the comfort and strength to carry on instead of feeling sorry for herself. “The more I tried to comfort others, the more the Lord blessed me,” Martha said. “Instead of falling apart, I fell into the privilege of serving others in the name of Jesus.”

            Martha, I believe, has found one great secret for recovering from grief — find ways to help others who are struggling with sorrow. With the Lord’s help and guidance, I am going to follow Martha’s example. + + +