“How can you sing joyful songs during this difficult time?” our relatives asked. It was the night before my brother’s funeral, and we were singing his favorite worship songs. My brother David had tragically and unexpectedly died a few days before. He was just eighteen years old when he drowned in the Danube River. Our family and the entire community were in shock. But there was a glimmer of hope in all of this. David was a believer in Jesus, and we knew that one day we would see him again.
Comforting anyone who’s lost a loved one is difficult, but the challenge is particularly hard for those who work with children whose parents have died. In such situations, one might think that it’s best to help children forget the trauma they’ve endured. But therapists have discovered that the opposite is actually true—remembrance helps children cope with their loss. Remembering all the good memories they shared with their parents helps them see their past with joy and their future with hope.
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
I know a leader who learned sympathy when he lost his job. He admitted it’s easier to humbly love when life has knocked you down. When, as he would say, “You’ve got blood in your mouth.” I also know a pastor whose heart was softened by the death of his son. This pastor wouldn’t say it was worth it—and he’d be right—but his grief has made him a more compassionate shepherd.
For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!
A poignant love story was told in an August 2016 New York Times article. The title of the article, “I Have No Choice but to Keep Looking,” reflects the tenacious affections of a Japanese man who was still exploring the ocean floor for the body of his wife who died during a devastating tsunami in 2011. After spending two and a half years looking in and around their home city, he took scuba diving lessons and began searching the ocean floor for Yuko’s remains in 2013. Though the darkness of tragedy had enveloped his life, he continued seeking to find the one he deeply loved.
The death of a king in 2016 elicited deep grief from the people of his nation. The news resounded around the world as citizens wept over the loss of their beloved ruler. One man said the monarch had been a caring leader for every person. Another woman was in such despair that she couldn’t even eat. This king was an able leader who helped bring political stability and economic development to the country for more than seventy years. The loss of his leadership caused many to look with fear toward the future.
In 2013 Dr. Ad Vingerhoets, a social and behavioral scientist from the Netherlands, wrote a book called Why Only Humans Weep. He’s one of only a few scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying why people cry. Vingerhoets states that “tears are of extreme relevance for human nature. We cry because we need other people.”
The old lumberjack always strode with a purpose. But not today. Today the world clawed at his soul. As the gruff Swedish immigrant trudged up the hill to his family farm, tears rolled down his cheeks. The date was December 7, 1941, and Axel Gustafson had just heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His sons would be going to war.
In the summer of 2016, a two-year-old was snatched by an alligator as he waded into a lagoon at an amusement park resort. His father tried desperately, without success, to rescue the boy from the alligator. A frantic search for the child ensued, but tragically, a few days later, divers recovered the toddler’s lifeless body.
At the outset of World War II, a man—who would eventually rescue 669 children from Nazi slaughter—helped two Jewish boys secure passage on a train escaping Czechoslovakia. After the war, the boys received a final letter from their parents who had died in a concentration camp.
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.” —Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place
A friend died unexpectedly, leaving behind his wife and several children. I talked with his widow (also a dear friend) just a few days after his death. She was heartbroken, but also amazed that God had already used her husband’s death to inspire two individuals to receive salvation in Jesus. She then explained that she had gathered her children together and said something like this: “It’s okay to be angry and to express your emotions to God, but please don’t let this affect your faith in Him. How tragic would it be if you turned away from God even as these people turned to Him?”
In March 2015, a woman in Spain posted some pictures on Facebook of a boy she’d cared for as a foster parent. She’d met the boy nearly 30 years earlier while volunteering at a juvenile daycare. The child had been abandoned, and the woman ended up caring for him until he was 6. Not able to adopt the child, the two were separated. But years later, after 3 days and 50,000 views of her Facebook post, they were reunited.
I read an online obituary for a friend’s father. My heart ached for my friend as I imagined how painful it would be to lose a parent. I sent him an email of condolence and was surprised by his quick response. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m rejoicing in our hope in Christ.” Even as he mourned, he spoke of hope and faith.