Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
January 10, 2021
Moving through the stages of grief
Grief is not new to me. It interrupted my life when I was 24 and our young son was taken from us by leukemia. Dean and I worked our way through our sorrow with the help of family and friends. We found some help in a couple of books about how to cope with the loss of a child. However, our greatest source of comfort came from reading and believing the promises of God found in the Bible.
The remarkable book, On Death and Dying, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, would not be published until some years after our son’s death. I read it with keen interest and became familiar with what she called the five stages of dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Later I would gain greater clarity about grief from the book, On Grief and Grieving, which Kubler-Ross co-authored with David Kessler, and in which they adapted the stages of dying to those in grief. It is important to understand that the authors did not suggest that, in grief, the five stages would be experienced on a linear timeline, or that everyone goes through all the stages. They are tools to help people identify their feelings or responses to the loss of a loved one. As Kessler explains, “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief’s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss.”
I have found what Kessler said to be true for me in the recent death of my wife. I have experienced few feelings of denial, anger or bargaining. But depression descended upon me like a fog; it had me by the throat for days. Self-pity thrives in sadness. As I struggled with overwhelming despair, I was focused almost entirely upon my loss. A week passed before it finally dawned on me that I was not the only one grieving; my four sons had lost their mother. I apologized for my self-centeredness.
My plans were scrambled. For years I had assumed I would die first so I had made plans for Dean’s care after my departure. Suddenly, six weeks after breaking her left hip, she was gone. I may be wrong but I don’t think I was angry about my plans being scuttled; I was just frustrated. Fortunately, I did not turn my back on God for I felt He was with me, helping me to identify my self-pity and showing me the way out of it.
The way out was the stage of acceptance. Slowly I began to accept the reality that Dean’s life on earth was over. But grace helped me embrace her death with faith rather than despair. I chose not to say that Dean is dead and buried. Instead I said Dean’s body has died but her spirit, her soul, is alive and well, joyfully celebrating the gift of eternal life in the presence of her Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Dean was not a body; she was a soul who had a body. Her body, the shell her soul used to serve Jesus, is in the grave but Dean is not in that grave. She is with her heavenly Father, awaiting my arrival. She is now in that great cloud of witnesses who are cheering me on to serve Jesus faithfully until He calls me home.
Turning to gratitude helped me to move gradually away from mourning over my loss. I began to focus on the many ways God had blessed me. He allowed me to be married to a remarkable servant of Christ for more than 68 and a half years. He gave her a long and wonderful life of 88 and a half years. God made it possible for us to travel around the world together, visiting mission work in 26 countries. We flew three times to Zambia to love and encourage our brothers and sisters there in the work of Christ. We led mission work teams to Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Finally, he led us to love the people and share the work of New Walk of Life Church in west Montgomery.
God inspired Dean to support me in evangelistic work for four years all over America as God used Lay Witness Missions to turn people to Jesus. We served churches together in Alabama and Florida for more than 60 years. After our first son died, God gave us four remarkable sons who have given us 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. No one ever had a more wonderful, Christ-filled companion in the work of the Lord! So, in words from the song His Eye is On the Sparrow, “Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” No, by the grace of God, I will not surrender to despair; I will look upward, and travel onward, and not be afraid, or lonely or sad! I will be glad and give thanks for the undeserved goodness of God!
Many family members and friends have helped me move into and through the stage of acceptance. Several have said they can “see” Dean dancing with joy in heaven. I like that for Dean loved to dance. I never learned to dance well so I am hoping Saint Peter will offer me a few dancing lessons as I walk through the Pearly Gates. Dean’s laughter will fill the halls of heaven when she realizes I have finally learned to dance.
Several people who have walked this road of sorrow, losing a spouse before I did, have encouraged me with words of hope and faith. Their kind and sensitive messages have comforted me greatly. Many other friends have blessed me by assuring me of their love and prayers as I wrestle with the misery of grief.
One surprising source of comfort has come through perusing Dean’s several Bibles and devotional books. I had never looked at them before her passing. Now I am so blessed to read brief remarks and testimonies of her faith which she scribbled on page after page, always giving the year of each statement. While Dean adored the writing of Thomas Merton, her favorite devotional book was Morning by Morning by Charles Spurgeon. I will leave it to you to imagine the joy I felt when I read these words Dean wrote on July 3, 2009. She was in the hospital recovering from a serious illness:
“Today is a new day. I am feeling better. My body is working well and I took my first deep breath in over a week. I have determined I am going home. That’s where I heal best. Being close to Walter will be my greatest medicine. Together, with the Lord’s help, we can overcome this setback. I am writing this in faith believing that God is still on His Throne. I read in the Bible of people making vows. Those who kept their vows were blessed. Today I vow to do more for hurting people. I can encourage hurting people. I can write letters and call people to lift their spirits. I can no longer go on mission trips but Walter and I can help other people go. Lord, with whatever time you give me to live, I vow to serve you by helping hurting people.” Similar comments, sprinkled throughout Dean’s Bibles and devotional books, inspire me to praise God for the woman He gave me!
Consider this a progress report. I am still moving through the stages of grief. That journey is not done. But despite the darkness, I see the light on the other shore, beckoning me to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith. + + +