At the first church I worked at one of the other pastors on Staff was a man by the name of Jorge Prado. A native of Brazil he was the pastor of the Spanish Speaking Congregation at our church. Jorge is one of those rare kind of people that has seen everything and so when he talks you listen, because he is likely to tell you a great story or drop a nugget of wisdom on you. After a funeral at the church for a longtime elderly member he dropped a boulder of wisdom on me that I’ll never forget. “My friend,” that is how Jorge would address you, “death is so difficult for us to deal with because death is not natural. It was never a part of what God intended.”
Consider the story of scripture; there is no death in Genesis 1-2. Death is not a part of God’s original design for the earth and creation. It is not part of the good that God wove into the human experience. Death doesn’t enter into the human experience until Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words as Jorge said, “People die everyday yet we can not handle it because it was never meant to happen, and therefore God never wired our hearts to be able to deal with death and dying.”
In the past four months I’ve had the opportunity to come alongside two students and one friend, all three of them girls, who had unexpectedly lost their father to death. The cause of death was different in each case, but it is fair to say in each case that no one saw death coming. All three dads were under sixty, all three daughters were between the ages of 15 and 25. With all three I had the opportunity to come alongside them within 12 hours or less of it happening; one the morning after, one two or so hours after he was pronounced dead, and one I was one of the people who delivered her the news of her father’s death. What do you say to someone who has just lost someone? What do you say to a girl who just lost her father? I remember what Jorge said.
I tell them, as I told my students last night, that there is no formula for grief. That is the “so what” to the why of death not being natural. Because death is not natural, and because we are not wired for death as being part of our human experience even though it is very much a part of our human reality, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief wouldn’t be grief if there were a step-by-step formulaic way of doing it. That kind of loss creates an inward lost-ness that there is no way to navigate, you must simply walk through it. Walking through death is not like walking across the street; there is no other side to get to. Well, that’s not completely true, but those of us who believe know that none of us know exactly when the other side will arrive (Revelation 21.1-4). So in the interim you must simply grieve.
Don’t let anyone make you feel as though you are not grieving properly. Grieve in the manner in which you are grieving. If you are in such shock that you can’t muster any response and stare into the abyss with silent numbness then be still. If you are filled with such pain and misery that it causes you to fall apart with tears until you have none left, then flood the room. If you are instead flooded with happy memories of good times that cause you to laugh with joy, then fill the halls with your laughter (or chuckle quietly to yourself if you don’t laugh loudly like me). If you are ravaged with questions that have no easy answers because you just need to vent, then find a safe audience (which by the way includes God). If you are angry, then give your anger a voice (just be cautious about giving it an activity). All of those feelings come at you during grief, and in no particular order. They come in no natural expected order because death, though normal to the human experience is not natural.