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.