A frigid wind whipped around our car as we drove south to my husband’s homeland, Yugoslavia. Newly married and living in France while he finished his theology degree, we were on our way to his oldest sister’s home for Christmas break. I looked forward to seeing his family and having more time with my spouse, except for one thing: Adventists in Yugoslavia at that time didn’t celebrate Christmas—at all. It would be a first for me to do nothing special on December 25.
My husband had told me why they didn’t observe Christmas. The Catholic and Orthodox churches dominated the religious scene in Yugoslavia, one observing December 25 as Christ’s birthday, the other January 7. In order not to be found taking sides while seeking to evangelize the people, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had chosen to make a big deal of New Year’s Eve instead. So I had resigned myself to simply enjoying the family and all their unique cultural ways.
Marija, my sister-in-law, was more like a mother toward us. She was the eldest child of 11 and my husband was the tenth, so the gap in years made her behavior understandable. I learned that she had once been engaged to a Swiss young man who was attending the Bible school in Zagreb, where she was also a student. They were both passionate about winning people to Christ. Marija was a gifted people person who drew others to her through her warm personality. I knew that from experience. She had always been generous and loving with me.
But the marriage never happened. One afternoon as she and her fiancé strolled along the sidewalk, they came upon two French-speaking men who were arguing loudly. Her fiancé spoke up: “My brothers, why are you fighting?” At that, one of the men whipped out a knife and stabbed him! Before her horror-filled eyes, Marija saw her beloved sink to the ground dead.
The tragedy pursued her until she again found love. Her husband, a successful watchmaker and businessman, had provided a comfortable home, the home we were staying in at the time. So on the evening of December 24 my husband and I lay down on the couch bed next to the coffee table and drifted off to sleep.
Hours later light filtered through the lace curtains, awakening me on Christmas morning. As I turned, I caught the glimmer of something on the table. A small clear plastic tree with tiny colored ornaments sparkled amid a few packages. I was shocked and moved. How could it be? How could my precious Marija, who had never set foot outside her country or much beyond her Adventist culture, do this for me? I cried as I opened one package to find the practical gift of stockings. Then, another package with chocolates, my favorite treat. And finally, a larger gift—a set of exquisite crystal glasses.
I still have four of those glasses today. They remind me that love knows how to cross over into the lives of others. We who have also loved and lost know something about what the grieving widows and widowers around us are experiencing. We know some of what is needed as we step over the barrier that threatens to keep the mourner alone in their emotional pain. A hug, sympathetic tears, a listening ear, a plate of food, a few words of understanding, a visit or phone call or card from time to time, help to keep the routines of life moving along while the person is temporarily paralyzed.
My neighbors did this for me more than six years ago. They had lost a brother in the mission field and understood. They came and sat quietly with me in my living room. They hugged me and played a beautiful song. They spoke peace and hope. They listened. Throughout the following months they brought me flowers, worked in my garden, rescued me from household dilemmas my husband had always cared for. Busy as they were, they spent themselves on my behalf. They showed me that I was a treasured part of their lives, and I will always love them for that.
Marija, Lois, Laurence, and a host of others populate my widowed world and give me the desire to do for others what they have done for me—cross the barrier, step into a griever’s life, and whisper, “You are not alone.”
Brenda Kiš writes from Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she happily devotes her days to whatever agenda God puts before her!
Sandy had just moved out of my basement apartment a few weeks before, and I was enjoying the sole possession of my house once again.
“Carla talked to me about needing a place to live,” my friend said. “I told her you have a place that’s free now.”
I winced. So soon, Lord? I’d just like a little time by myself.
Shortly thereafter, another friend mentioned that she had referred Carla to me also: OK, God, I’ll wait for her to contact me.
But time went on, and she never did. So why was I struggling so with her dilemma? It wasn’t my problem! Nevertheless, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. One day, I finally told God that if He brought her face to face with me in church the next day, I would consider that my cue to invite her to live in my home. That’s not going to happen! We rarely interact, and she sits in another place in church anyway. I felt safe in my magnanimous offer. But not only did God bring her face to face with me that Sabbath, He had her sit down beside me for the first time ever! So the next day I called.
My dilemma didn’t have to concern God. . . . So why couldn’t He get me out of His mind?
“Carla, I understand you need a place to live,” I began. “I have an apartment that’s furnished and ready right now. The only thing is that we will need to share my kitchen. Is that OK with you?”
Sounds of weeping filled my ear. Carla was sobbing out her relief and gratitude. She moved in that very day. A few weeks later we were locked in together as the governor declared a policy of self-isolation in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
Had I selfishly refused to let God lead, as I was tempted to do, I would have been alone during those long weeks. And who knows what would have become of Carla? Over time, we found a friendship we had not anticipated. We blessed each other during the days of solitude—worshipping and praying, playing games, sharing our life stories, putting puzzles together, watching inspiring films. I gave her piano lessons, and she helped me improve my Spanish. When I hurt myself and couldn’t get around easily, she cleaned the whole house. When she struggled with the recent breakup of her home, I spoke words of sympathy and encouragement.
I’m thinking now that I, too, have been the recipient of an offer, one much greater. My dilemma did not have to concern God. He had His marvelous Paradise, where nothing could intrude on His joy. So why couldn’t He get me out of His mind? Unlike what I had wished to do, He wouldn’t banish us from His thoughts—He loves too much for that. His offer on the cross was to share His fabulous heavenly home. That day in early 2020, He was teaching me how much people matter to Him—both Carla and me.
Brenda Kiš writes from Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she seeks to serve God through spoken and written words.
The surgeon lifts the knife, the limb is severed, blood flows. Fortunately, the patient is anesthetized; the doctor had prepared her for this loss, and powerful medications would diminish the pain. Now she has to renegotiate life practices, relearn how to use the rest of her body to compensate for the missing part.
Losing someone we love is somewhat like this epic event, except that one is not always prepared. We don’t always know in advance. We aren’t anesthetized when it happens. And no pain medications are available to ease our grief.
I certainly wasn’t prepared when my husband simply dropped dead halfway between the kitchen and the garage two years ago. No goodbyes. No last “I love you"s. To make matters worse, we had just had an unpleasant disagreement, and now my soul was weighted with guilt on top of shock. As the ambulance personnel tried to pump life back into his still form, I cried into his ear, “Live, Mirko, live!” But his blue eyes registered nothing, and a friend hugged my trembling body as I faced the consequences of life in an evil world.
In the following days, weeks, and months, God brought thoughts to my mind and people to my home to guide my grieving. Through this very difficult experience, here is what I have learned:
1Lean into your grief.Don’t try to ignore it, deny it, cover it up with busyness, or run away from it. If we are to fully heal, we must fully grieve. So what does that mean? It means that you face what has happened and think about it in the context of prayer. Cry your feelings and fears out to God. Thank Him for the years you had together, for the impact of your relationship. Confess what you need to confess about that relationship and receive forgiveness. Then praise God for His wisdom and understanding, for His ability to see what you cannot, for His love greater than yours for the loved one you lost, and for His plans that may seem to have been cut short. Remember, you are praying from the dimension of time, but God answers from the dimension of eternity. As your world appears to implode, God’s timeless provision for His children is still available.
Ask Him to show you ways to make your suffering a conduit to reach the world for God.
2Tell and listen to stories about your loved one.One month after my husband died I invited some of his students from the university where he used to teach to my home on Sabbath. We ate together, then we sat and talked about my husband’s life and what was significant to each of us based on our personal experiences and relationships with him. We took a walk down his favorite road, where he and I had passed many pleasant hours together on foot. We watched a DVD of one of his camp meeting sermons that focused on his life story, then I gave each student a copy of the DVD along with a book he had written. The students stayed until late in the evening, and we were all blessed in remembering together.
3Go to the places your loved one cherished and relive them once more.The next time you go may not hurt as much. Eventually you will be able to build a new story without that person, and without feeling guilty for letting go.
4Allow your vision to open wider. How we think about events is powerful. Envision the span of history on earth. View yourself as one of billions of survivors who have even thrived after their loss. If they made it through, you can too. In fact, you can grow and become a better person, more compassionate and understanding. Begin to see people through God’s eyes, wounded by the same enemy who brought death to your door.
5Make grief your ally as you seek to bless others. Don’t let your loved one’s life go to waste. As I sorted through my husband’s things, I thought of ways they could be useful to someone else. I recycled his clothing by donating it to the seminary where he’d taught, for international students who often come under challenging circumstances and with few belongings. His papers and articles went to the Center for Adventist Research as a resource for students. His library was packed up and sent overseas to smaller schools in need of resources. I wrote his life story for my sons and gave it to them on Father’s Day. You can also bless others by finding people who need a card of encouragement, some fresh-baked cookies, a visit or an invitation to your home. Knowing what it feels like to be lonely and thrust into a new and unwelcomed world without your loved one, you can find ways to minister to people who also are suffering.
6Try out new things in your quest for a new identity. One of the aspects of grieving that I never anticipated was an identity crisis. As Mrs. Kiš I knew who I was and what role I played. I had never before been a single woman out from under the wings of either my father or my husband. “Who am I now?” was a question that drifted about in my subconscious. I had to find my new self.
Once I was done dealing with my husband’s things, I thought about the changes I wanted to make in my house and started renovating. I changed my hairstyle and bought a few new clothes. I went to programs with or without others. I traveled to new places. I made some new friends and set new goals.
Above all, remember that you are still the beloved child of God that you have always been. Good fathers don’t abandon their children; instead, they help them through the twists and turns of life. “My God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19, KJV), is something I reminded myself of often.
7Live in the presence of God. When loneliness seeks to overwhelm you, speak aloud to the ever-present Christ. I was continually surrounded by the atmosphere of heaven during my grieving. Because Jesus was already my dearest friend, His presence was felt throughout my mourning. Even though my most intimate earthly friend was gone, my Best Friend was still with me. This kind of relationship is cultivated through time spent together in daily devotions. Read His Word. Talk to Him. Ask Him to show you ways to make your suffering a conduit to reach the world for God.
Your feelings will tell you that something isn’t right, but they must not have the last word. Feel your feelings, but don’t live by them. God needs your witness. You have been left alive for a purpose. When you find it, you can live well and joyfully.
Brenda Kiš is retired from Adventist Frontier Missions on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Her husband, Miroslav Kiš, who also was retired, died following a heart attack on February 23, 2018, at age 73. Miroslav most recently served as professor of Christian ethics and chair of the Department of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. To learn more about Miroslav’s life and work, go to www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story3732-miroslav-kis-giant-in-adventist-ethics-who-wouldnt-tell-a-falsehood-dead-at-73.