How can we cope with grief and loss? Rev Alfred Yeo shares his heart.
In the year 2000, two deaths occurred in my family within the same week—the demise of my father, as well as my youngest brother-in-law, who was only 35 years old. I had lost my mother only the year before and was just recovering from my grief when this crisis happened. My wife and I had to deal with the pain and loss of losing family all over again.
There were times when I felt deeply disappointed with God, as nothing seemed to make sense. So much of what I had learned from scripture didn’t square with what I was experiencing.
When my brother-in-law was admitted to hospital for liver failure, the church gathered at the hospital to pray for him round the clock. One day while I was at church praying for my brother-in-law, I received news that my father had passed away in his sleep. I was stunned at the news because just two weeks before his doctors had said he was coping well with his medication. He had had the flu the morning before, but was able to watch television at 10.30pm that night.
Sadly, my father was found dead in his bed at around midnight. My wife Joyce and I were shocked and devastated. Two days after this, we were summoned to the hospital. Joyce and I watched life slip away from my brother-in-law as his blood pressure dropped.
I’m sharing these painful experiences with you not because I’m feeling sorry for myself and want sympathy. Rather, I hope my experience will encourage you just as I was uplifted by the devotional writings published by Eagle’s Communications during that painful period. Those writings showed me the reality of being human and how our spirituality can help us cope with our pain in times of loss in a positive way. These are some of the lessons I learned.
1. The issue of our humanness
When tragedy strikes, people need to grieve in their own way and at their own time. Grief should never be suppressed, as it is a necessary reaction to experiencing loss. The best thing we can do to support someone in grief is to just be with them.
2. The issue of our spirituality
Philippians 3:8 says: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ.”
We often hear that as we walk with the Lord we need to surrender completely. However, it is only in times of pain and loss that we truly understand what this means.
In trying to trust God, I was confronted with two important realities: knowing the truth about God’s Word, and the quality of my relationship with Him.
There’s a common assumption that if we serve God faithfully, He’s obligated to do His part and answer our prayers. But when life doesn’t play out the way we want it, we become disillusioned.
But look at what 1 Peter 4:12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
I must admit that despite what I had read about pain and suffering, when it hit me, I reacted with disbelief. I felt it was unfair and that I deserved better.
However, 1 Peter 4:13 says: “But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
At the time we made the commitment to follow Christ, we did not anticipate this level of pain. Rejoicing in this pain is humanly impossible without any divine help. When we are grieving, our world seems bleak and dark. We may even feel like God doesn’t care and doubt His existence. But grief is a time to trust that God is close, even though our feelings say otherwise.
The second issue is about my relationship with God. What is God to me in times of pain? How we picture God has much to do with the way we walk with God when we mourn our loss. It’s helpful to picture God as being on our side as opposed to being responsible for our suffering.
In Harold Kushner’s ‘When Bad Things Happen To Good People’, we learn that God does not send suffering to us; suffering and loss is a result of the human condition.
God never abandons or forgets us. I am glad John 11:35 tells us that “Jesus wept” for it shows that He has great compassion for us and yearns for our peace and joy. When tragedy strikes, even the Son of God feels our sorrow. It’s a great comfort to know that God suffers with us in our pain.
Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book ‘Lament For A Son’ has this to say: “God, is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers—through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God.”
3. The issue of our response
When faced with loss, we can either choose to be bitter toward God or let go and trust Him to fulfill His promises.
I’m not saying that we should ignore our emotions. There are after all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
When I heard the news that two of my loved ones had passed, I was in denial. “How can this be? They were just with me last week and now they are gone.” I was angry with them and God. I thought, “How could they go without giving me a chance to say goodbye?”
I wasn’t afraid to cry and I’ve learned that tears are healing for the heart. I gave myself time and permission to grief. Suppressing grief under a cloud of busyness with ministry is dangerous because it will show up in other areas, which may be worse.
I also talked to God about my pain and let His Word minister to me. The anchor point of truth for all believers should always be the unchanging Word and character of God. Even when we can’t understand what God is doing, our faith should remain firmly anchored to the unchanging love of an unchanging God. I trust my journey with grief and loss will encourage you.
Helpful as it may be, saying a prayer for the grieving isn’t the only answer to bring resolve. We must be tangible expressions of God’s care in these times.
What can you do to help?
- Let them grieve—Don’t rush them to get over their pain.
- Be there for them. Provide practical help if possible.
- Don’t judge. Whether their loved one is in heaven or not, we must suspend any expressions of judgement.
- Empathize with them. Give advice when necessary and avoid statements like “this is God’s will” or “All things work for good” etc.
- Be honest. It’s best to keep quiet if we don’t know what to say. Cry with them if you must.
- Maintain contact. Friends and family are often most available at first and less so later. Don’t let them feel like they’re a burden or have been forgotten.
About Rev Alfred Yeo:
Rev Alfred Yeo is an Ordained Minister with the Assemblies of God of Singapore. Together with his wife, Joyce, they pastor Zion Full Gospel Church. Having experienced God’s love and mercy, their desire is to share their encounter with the God of wonders through the book that he wrote, entitled ‘Touched by the Master’s Hand: My Father Remembers Me’.