After making sure her mom is settled at home with her sister, Fran drives herself home where her children await. Her dear aunt picked them up from school and has stayed with them through the long afternoon and evening. She has told them very little except that their mom is with their grandma and grandpa at the hospital—and she’ll be home soon. They had many questions, but her aunt has tried to deflect them and keep them busy doing homework, playing games, eating dinner—anything to keep their minds occupied.
Fran sobs as she drives. As she nears home, she knows that she has to gather herself and think of how to tell her children. She remembers the terrible day she had to tell them that their dad was killed. Alice was a baby so she doesn’t remember her dad much, but Drew was four-years old and, even at that young age, he suffered as any child would who learns his dad is gone. Now, to tell them that their grandpa is gone—how does one do that? Parenting classes didn’t prepare her for this.
She dries her eyes as she arrives and thinks of what words to say. There are no easy words; how does one soften this blow? She thanks her sweet aunt, who offers to stay, but she thinks it’s probably best if she is alone with the children. They begin to bombard her with questions: “Why were you at the hospital? Where is Grandma and Grandpa? Are they okay?”
“Drew and Alice, let’s sit down here on the sofa and I’ll explain where I was,” Fran begins.
“Have you been crying, Mom?” Alice asks. “You look like you’ve been crying.”
“Well, yes, I have, Alice, because something sad has happened and when something sad happens, we cry, don’t we? Let me explain.”
With as little drama as possible, she tells her children this sad news and tries to answer their many questions. Abundant tears are shed, and Fran realizes that she will have to learn the best way to help them deal with their emotions and their questions. Maybe she could use some counsel on how best to do that, she thinks. But that’s for another day. Now, the immediate need for burial arrangements, a memorial service—all of that and more—floods her mind. How will she get through these next few days?
Finally the kids are asleep and she falls into bed to try to rest. Sheer exhaustion takes over and she gets a few hours of uneasy sleep; however, before the dawn of day she is awake and the reality of what has happened hits her like a punch in the stomach. It’s literally a physical reaction, and she stumbles out of bed to get a cup of coffee and think about what has to now be done.
She is about to call her mom when her phone rings; it’s Mom calling her. “Fran, how are the children? I’ve been thinking about them all night. Poor babies—I should have been there when you told them. I want to come over this morning and see them. Is that okay?”
“Of course, Mom. They would love to see you! It would comfort them to see that you’re okay and that you are still here,” Fran says. “How are you, Mom? Did you sleep any?” They talk a few minutes and make plans for her mom to come over soon.
Fran now begins to just put one foot in front of the other and walk through all that has to be done. If you’ve ever been in such a situation, you know that you exist on adrenalin at first—going through the motions and doing what you have to do. Her mom arrives, the kids are so happy to see her, and they bombard her with questions, as well. She spends much time with them, holding them and reassuring them of how much their grandpa loved them.
“Why did God take Grandpa?” Drew asks. This is the question no one can adequately answer. Fran and her mom don’t try to sugar-coat it or use the clichés that you often hear. They simply say, “We don’t know,” while at the same time expressing their faith that God does all things well.
Fran looks at the clock and realizes it’s time to go to work. She doesn’t feel she can go to work today and yet there’s a presentation which was due today. Quickly she calls her assistant, explains the situation, and asks if the boss is in. “No, not yet,” is her response, “but I’ll have him call you as soon as he arrives.” Her assistant is very kind, and says that Louise, Fran’s co-worker friend, had already told them about her dad. She expresses sincere sympathy and asks if there’s anything she can do.
“Thanks for asking, but I just need to talk to John about my presentation today. You have all the handouts I prepared, right? I have the PowerPoint pretty much done. I think he could make the presentation for me,” Fran says.
“Don’t worry about it, Fran; I’ll cover all that for you. I just feel so bad for you. I mean, you lost your husband and now your father. I think that is just the worst thing. I’m really so sorry. I wish I could do something to help you. But I know you’re very religious and your faith will help you. You’re such a strong person.”
“Susan, I so appreciate your kind words. Just to hear that you are concerned means a great deal. And yes, it makes a huge difference that my faith in Jesus is strong and he will get us through this as he has done before. Jesus is that ever-present friend, Susan, and I truly could not be strong if I didn’t have a personal relationship with him. You and I talked about that once before, didn’t we?”
“We did, Fran, and I’ve thought a lot about what you said. We’ll have to talk about it again. For now, don’t worry about this office. It will survive. You just let us know what the plans are for your father’s service when you know them,” Susan says and Fran can hear tears in her voice.
As they hang up, Fran takes a minute to pray: “Jesus, in the midst of all this sorrow, I can even now see that you will use it for good. Help Susan to really think about her own eternal destiny, and please give me another opportunity to share the Good News with her that she can know you, too.”
The phone begins to ring; the word has gotten out. Her mom returns to her home, and Fran and the children join her there. Much food is brought in, but of course they have little appetite. Friends and family stream in and out throughout the day to offer sympathy and comfort. One lady from her mom’s church seems to think it’s her job to “preach a sermon” to her mom. She boldly tells her mom not to cry and not to worry, because her husband is in a better place, for all things work together for good to those who love God. Unfortunately, that brings no comfort at all. Instead, it makes Fran angry and upsets her mom even more, so she tries to find a nice way of ushering her out of the house.
Then a long-time friend of her mom’s comes in, looks at her and says, “Oh, Liz, I’m so very sorry. This is so wrong, so wrong. . . .” The two of them hold onto each other for a long time, crying and sobbing. No more words were said; the feelings went too deep and the despair was too great. But weeping and sobbing with her mom was a great comfort to her.
Paul wrote that we are to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). There are no words any of us can say to ease the grief of such a great loss, but by weeping with those who are weeping, we carry part of their burden with them; this makes it a little bit easier for them.
I’ve been reminded again that death is the enemy, and we cannot escape the sorrow that life on this planet will inevitably bring. But we can be instruments of God’s love and peace by simply weeping with those who are sorrowful, sharing their grief and pain as much as we can, and thus fulfilling the law of Christ.
Many years ago my young niece lost her husband of a year-and-a-half to an aggressive cancer that took him quickly. I remember saying to my brother, his father-in-law, “Why did this happen to one so young, with so much hope and life in front of him? How did this happen to us?” And my brother said something I’ve never forgotten: “Mary, why shouldn’t it happen to our family? We’re not exempt from the sorrows of life, and death is the enemy.”
I knew that Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I knew that, but I had never before experienced so close to home the truth that death is the enemy—it is the result, the sting, of our sin-cursed world. But thanks be to God for the victory we can have even in the midst of sorrow when we are a Christ-follower. We have his peace and comfort to see us through.
As I’ve tried to comfort some dear friends and a close family member who are going through the valley of the shadow of death during these last couple of months, I’ve been reminded again that we are sojourners here—we’re all on a journey that will end on this earth and begin in another place. The important thing to know is that, when the number of our days comes to an end, we have done what is necessary in order to have victory over death: we have made peace with God now, on this side of death, while there is time to accept the Way, the Truth, and the Life—Jesus Christ—and believe in his redemptive death and resurrection. There’s only one way to be assured of eternal life with God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.
As Fran now faces the very sudden death of her dear father, she will have a new normal. She won’t have an earthly dad to run to for advice, or an earthly grandpa as a friend and role model for her children. She will need to be there for her mom, who will experience deep loneliness and need much help in adjusting to her life as a widow. And Fran will have to work through her own stages of grief. This can be a time of total despair, or a time when she will learn to trust God in new ways, to accept the love and help her friends will offer, and to remember that this is not the end of the story. She does not sorrow as one with no hope; she’ll see her dad again because he was ready to meet Jesus.
Whatever crisis or tragedy you may be facing in your life, I hope this story will reaffirm to you that God walks with you through every step and every stage of the journey. Take one day at a time; don’t try to live in tomorrow. Know that with Jesus, you’ll make it, because he will make a way for you.more