The death of grief
those who sow in tears will reap with joy
by Father Bill Ashbaugh
silent tears fell down her cheeks. She had lost her child in early
pregnancy a few months ago, and she was trying to be strong. She
had come into the church that Sunday morning to celebrate the death
and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but in the pew in front of her,
she saw a mother holding a newborn child. She could not hold back
looked up at the cross. Jesus was there in his agony and it seemed
to her that he was looking at her. She too was sharing in his suffering.
If she could somehow let go and surrender this to the Father, she
knew God’s loving hand would wipe the tears from her eyes.
She understood that Jesus knows the pain of grief. When he came
to the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, Scripture records simply that
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) He wept in grief, even though
he knew that in a few moments he would bring Lazarus back to physical
life and restore him to his family. By his tears, Jesus showed us
that grief is not a sign of a lack of faith or trust in God. It
is a normal part of what it means to be human. It is a sign that
But how do we deal with it? If you are going through grief, be
patient with yourself. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Turn over the
pain and hurt to God the Father. Jesus turned to his heavenly Father
and “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and
tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was
heard because of his reverence.” (Heb 5:7-9)
Jesus teaches us how to go through grief. We accept it and surrender
ourselves in trust to the loving care of God our Father. God is
doing a work in us through the grief. Indeed, like Christ, we are
being “made perfect” by what we are suffering. There
will be resurrection - through death to life! Through sorrow
and pain to acceptance and peace. From tears of sorrow to tears
God hears the cry of our hearts and sees the tears that we shed.
“My wanderings you have noted; are not my tears stored in
your vial, recorded in your book?” (Ps 56:8) It was a custom
in Jesus’ day to store the tears one shed in a jar or vial,
called a “tear jar.” It was a way of “letting
go” by expressing the pain and loss of a loved one and turning
to God in the hope God would see. Imagine God collecting your tears!
Helping people through grief
Today, Jesus continues to minister to us through his body, the church.
I have seen so many people grieve deeply and witnessed the church
or family or network of friends be the “hand of God”
that wipes the tears from sorrow-filled eyes. A person who is bereft
needs support and love. Love heals us all.
Don’t try to rush things
We need to remember that each person experiences loss uniquely.
Some people are affected more profoundly than others. There is no
“time table” for finishing grief. Be patient and help
the bereaved person to be patient with the healing process. Remembering
and cherishing a lost loved one is very important at this time.
I remember one elderly man who had lost his wife. He wanted to
speak to me about it. We went together to her grave and he asked
me to kneel down with him to say a prayer. We did. There were many
tears. He wanted to know if it was OK that he still spoke to her
from time to time inside his heart, or even out loud. He was worried
that he was doing something wrong. He thought getting over his grief
meant he had to forget her. I assured him he was doing nothing wrong,
and suggested that he give himself some time each day to pray to
the Lord for her and to speak with her in his own heart. She was
alive! As Jesus said, “God is a God of the living, not of
the dead!” She is still joined to him and the whole church
in Christ. That is what we mean when we pray “I believe in
the communion of the saints.” He did so and was grateful for
this help in working through his grief. Healing does not mean forgetting,
but remembering with hope and trust in our hearts.
Be a good listener
Don’t be afraid of tears. Sometimes we want to jump in and
try to make things all better by offering advice, or pointing out
the positive. Remember that working through grief takes time. When
we tell someone to “let go” and “get over it”
and “move on,” we can hinder the process. Be present.
Being a good listener enables someone else to move on. He or she
knows that someone cares. Let the tears flow. Tears can help the
person express and release the sorrow within them.
Encourage attendance at a bereavement support group
The loss of loved ones can be so devastating that a person may not
know where to turn or what to do. Many churches have bereavement
support groups to help. Two people shared with me how God helped
them find healing and much more through such a group. They had both
lost their spouses and it seemed as if their lives too had come
to an end. It was hard for them to function. “Letting go”
seemed impossible. The one spouse recognized this by her difficulty
in moving her deceased husband’s shoes. She just could not
do it for a long time. But each one knew God wanted them to live
and move on. As Jesus said, “I have come that you might have
life in abundance.” The local church bereavement support group
gave them a place where they could come together and openly talk
about what was going on inside. It was comforting to know that others
understood and that they were not going crazy. They were able to
work through their grief with the prayer and the help of their supportive
community. While sorrow and grief are not completely dispelled,
the pain becomes more bearable when a person feels loved and supported.
For these two people, an even more wonderful thing happened. In
time, they discovered they loved each other and were married. They
were able to let go of their emotional pain and say “yes”
to the new life that was right before them.
Pray for those in grief
We all experience little losses and disappointments frequently,
and at times we must mourn the death of loved ones. In the beautiful
prayer and hymn called Salve Regina, we pray “Hail Holy Queen…
to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley
of tears.” Mary is often hailed as Our Lady of Sorrows. She
knows how sorrow can literally pierce the human heart. She endured
the brutal crucifixion of her own beloved son before her eyes. Mary
can bring comfort and help as only a mother can. Pray the Salve
Regina and the Memorare for anyone going through grief.
Like all things on this earth, grief will have its own end. Mother
Teresa had a beautiful saying as she helped many people die with
dignity and love. “Never have so much sorrow that you forget
the joy of the resurrection!” As we help others through grief,
may God help us always to carry the hope of the resurrection in
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are
crushed in spirit he saves.”
Email your questions and comments to:
Father Bill Ashbaugh