Dealing with Sudden Grief

We as the church can minister effectively during these tragedies immediately following the death, through the wake and funeral, and during the days and weeks to follow. Doing, saying, and being Christlike will help ease the pain of loss.

This article is courtesy of Mature Living Magazine.

Nothing shakes our personal world like losing a loved one. Death is magnified when it strikes unexpectedly.

The church was still on that quiet, sunny Thursday. Alone at the office, I was stowing away leftovers from the previous nights activities. On Thursdays the telephone normally is stone-still. Not that day.

The phone's ringing broke the peacefulness. I raced to answer it. A distraught voice on the other end pierced through my surprised hello. "Brother Danny, this is Lisa, Clyde's daughter-in-law. Mr. Clyde has been in an accident. He was killed."

In my disbelief and puzzlement, I responded, "Not Mr. Clyde. Surely not." Indeed, he had died in a tragic accident. Thanking Lisa for the call and assuring her of our prayers, I contacted my pastor and deacon chairman.

Clyde was well-known in our county. His contagious smile and warm spirit invigorated those around him. My relationship with him was as his director in the Sweet Spirit Singers, a senior adult singing group. His dry sense of humor made our musical journeys a taste of heaven. Now we would no longer have his effervescent presence, a fact made difficult because of his leaving four young adult sons and a wife. The loss touched us all.

What we learned is timely as we dealt with sudden grief caused by unforeseen tragedy.

Numbness and disbelief

My arrival at Clyde's home found Imogene and a son and daughter-in-law coping with the news. The hollow expressions, red eyes, and blank looks signified a knowledge of the truth but not a present reality. Throughout the evening, the realization brought sobbing tears from the family. The reality was sinking in, and the pain of grief was slowly taking root.

God allows this prepain numbness for a variety of reasons. First, it prepares our bodies physically for the grief ahead. I'm not sure we could handle the trauma, especially when it is unexpected.

Second, it allows God's people time to rally in support. Clyde and Imogene's home soon was inundated with God's people.

Third, it allows us to sort through initial feelings, questions, and denials. The early stages of grief are real but in a hazy, superficial way - not accepting or completely understanding present realities.

Reality sets in

The wake and funeral drove home the reality of the tragedy. The family began to say goodbye as the weight of grief took its toll. Imogene and her sons handled the loss well. They had an awareness Clyde was in heaven, and one day they would see him again.

The church family can be supportive by doing gracious acts and carefully choosing what they say. The following are some inappropriate responses after a tragic loss.

  • "Don't cry."
  • "Be brave."
  • "You'll get over it in a few weeks."
  • "You shouldn't feel that way. After all, you have the Lord."
  • "We need to put the past behind us. Let's move on to the future with God."
  • "At least he didn't suffer."
  • "Everyone dies sooner or later. He just died sooner."
  • "The children need you to be strong."

Two specific actions we can take during this phase of grief are touching and listening. Clyde's family were huggers. However, be sensitive to grieving families who are not comfortable with touch. If you sense some hesitancy, ask, "May I give you a hug?" Even if touch is not possible, be a good listener and empathize with their hurt. Limiting our words forces us to listen.

Days after painful loss

The days are quiet at Imogene's home. The throngs of people have left, but now the pain of her loss is more real than ever. The absence of Clyde's presence is a constant reminder he is gone. The absence of his voice magnifies the silence around her. The absence of his contribution in running the house is now an extra burden. More than ever, Imogene needs God's people. Practical ideas to help during the long days that follow a sudden loss may include:

  • Telephone to say you care.
  • Encourage them to keep a journal. Writing about our pain and hurt is a form of healing.
  • Offer to do specific things such as pay bills, do the laundry, feed the animals, and so forth.
  • Offer heartfelt words of spiritual encouragement. Share Scripture verses that helped you during difficult times.
  • Inform them about support groups and classes.

Prior to Clyde's death, Imogene had just completed a "Recovering from the Losses of Life" workshop. She said she did not know why she took the class, having experienced few losses before. Now she knows. The study will be a valuable help in days to come.

The death of a loved one is difficult regardless of age. The weight of the blow is magnified when it is premature and unexpected. We as the church can minister effectively during these tragedies immediately following the death, through the wake and funeral, and during the days and weeks to follow. Doing, saying, and being Christlike will help ease the pain of loss.

Danny Von Kanel is minister of music and minister to senior adults at Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Mississippi. His 50-voice senior adult choir travels throughout the United States.