Grief is Not Linear

He was only in his 50s. That reality kept swirling through my mind as I stood pale in a black suit in front of the bedroom mirror this morning.

Sixteen days. From diagnosis to earthly departure, Rick’s wife, two sons, and two daughters only had two weeks. To digest the scope of his newly-discovered cancer. Hear the worst. Hope for the best. And start preparing for the inevitable.

But Rick knew Jesus. And that made all the difference.

Today was the second such funeral that I have attended in the past two months. My other friend Koy had not yet reached 50. He was healthy, vibrant, loved Jesus, loved his wife, and loved running. He kissed his wife one afternoon to go for a run and God called him home.

Just like that. No warning. No terminal illness. Such a significant loss for his wife, family, and all of us who knew him.

Koy knew Jesus, too. And that made all the difference.

The Grief Process

Today as I sat in the pew listening to “Broken Hallelujah” ring from the altar, tears streaming, the truth sunk in: the grieving process is not linear. Some argue that there is a right way to grieve and a wrong way, but we can all agree that the grief process does not follow a linear timeline. There are good days. Bad days. Mad days. Don’t-wanna-get-outta-bed days. Happy memory days.

When loved ones become ill, sometimes the illness lingers for years. Like my dad’s cancer. In those scenarios, we sometimes start walking through the stages of grief even before that person is gone – simply because we know it’s coming. I remember looking for the most healthy or best ways to grieve.

But when death is sudden, time passes like lightning.

Both of my friends’ wives now live a new reality as they walk through the early days of their grief journey. The state of shock and pain of loss are often processed in different ways, and most involve tears. Yes, death is an inevitable part of life, but today was not the day to spout that truth.

Grieve Today, Hope Eternally

Today was a grief day. And the best thing I could do – that any of us can do – is show up. Hug them. Pray for them. Take them a hot meal. Talk about different times, and happier times, and share fun memories with them. Laughter is just as important as tears during the healing process.

Even though our first reaction is grief, as a Christian the next moment is relief. Because Jesus died in our place and took our sins to the cross, my friends know that their husbands are experiencing unimaginable joy.

Rick and Koy are face-to-face with the One who faced death in their place. Because of Jesus, both of those gentlemen are ALIVE with Christ. For all of eternity.

This earthy life has time limits. Through our loved one’s absence, the permanence of death is felt. But the final stage of life on earth ushers in life eternal with Christ. Despite our great loss, feelings of grief, or loss of a dream, we will see our loved ones again. And what a beautiful reunion it will be!

God’s Promises

And there is only one way that a heavenly reunion will happen: through faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13

When All is Said and Done

Grief is not a linear process. There are anger stages, denial stages, and other stages of loss. When our hearts are pierced by a hole of grief and good days seem gone, I pray that you remember the best is yet to come. No, not today. Probably not even tomorrow or in the next several months.

But one day, you will realize that all you remembered was the way they smiled. The way they lived life to the fullest. The way that they loved you.

And one day, when our time on earth is over and God calls us back home, we WILL see our loved ones again. Jesus made it possible. Jesus made it a reality.

Today we grieved. But we did not grieve without hope.

Thank you, Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13