Lessons from pain and grief
On 25 February 2012, I experienced loss for the first time in my life. My maternal grandfather, or Gong Gong (公公), passed away after battling with pneumonia. I still vividly remember a gripping pain and a discomforting sense of not knowing what to do or how to feel. The tears came so naturally and profusely; I hardly had any control.
A few weeks ago, my maternal grandmother or Po Po (婆婆), passed on. Even though it wasn’t my initial experience with loss, it wasn’t any easier.
After my grandpa’s demise, grandma was determined to live strong — if not stronger. Even after his room was cleared out and emptied, she powered through, and lived life fully for another 7 years, 5 months, and 27 days. We often called her The Matriarch or General Manager, because she oversaw a huge extended family of 36 members, leading with great grace, strength, and foresight. When she went home to be with the Lord, it felt like the entire corporation of our family came to a grinding halt for five whole days.
The inevitable and sweeping nature of death makes it a great teacher. As I continue to grieve and process this recent loss, a few lessons have come to mind — all of them a poignant reminder that we are but human and that our journey on earth is temporary.
Grief is not a permanent thief of Joy
As Christians, we might subconsciously live with an expectation that even in grief, we have to “be stronger” since we have saving hope in Jesus Christ. However, God made us as mortals with a full range of complex emotions — all of which require both processing and releasing! As agonising as grief can be, I learnt that it is not, and should not be a permanent thief of joy.
I woke up crying on the third day of both my grandpa and grandma’s wake. I simply had to sit in bed or in the car on the way back to the wake, and let the tears roll. As I released the pain through my tears and external processing by sharing memories of both of them, I slowly began to see the light and joy of death — acknowledging that while both grandpa and grandma’s physical lives have come to an end, it also marked the beginning of their lives eternal with Christ. I have memories of them to keep, and that brings joy!
We are keenly aware of the pain that loss brings. It has a tendency to creep up on us, dig a gaping hole in our hearts, and eventually make comfortable homes out of us. If we are not careful (or mindful), it can become a well of deep-seated self-affliction that hinders us from being able to let go and overcome the overwhelming grief.
You don’t have to withhold your pain and grief. You can let it go; You can heal, and you can find joy anew. This is a promise from the Lord as Psalm 30:5 (NKJV) says, “…Weeping may endure for a night, joy comes with the morning!”
Exercise intentionality with community
When I first received the news that grandma had passed on, my parents told me to head to work as usual, because the embalming of the body would take some time. Throughout the morning, while I worked in the midst of letting the full grief set in, I was continually built up and supported by colleagues who offered hugs, prayers, and encouragement.
Over the course of the five days, we saw crowds upon crowds of relatives, friends, colleagues, and pastors visit us at the wake to send their condolences. As I work in my local church, my own friends and colleagues came during a very busy time as church conference took place during the same weekend. I was so moved and encouraged, knowing that my church stood with my family and me, praying for us in our time of grief.
Perhaps, some of us might cave or go into “hibernation-leave-me-alone” mode when we experience loss, but moving out of grief is often harder done alone. My greatest comfort during both occasions of loss was that I had both my biological and spiritual family to count on! I could be real and honest with my pain with others. I could sit in silence in tears with family, and know that I was understood. Each hug, text, reminder, and visit were stark reminders to my spirit that this is what community is all about.
Let people in. Learn to receive their company, and accept their support and help (whether practical or in other ways). God did not create us for loneliness; it was never His intention, and it never will be!
Death reminds you of who you’re living for
Days before grandma’s passing, my family had received an update from my aunt that grandma was in her final lap and about to “go into glory.” After reading the text, while tuned in to the livestream of International House of Prayer’s Prayer Room, I witnessed something I had never seen before on-screen: The worship leader and singers were in tears and weeping before the Lord together in intercession; not one but two worship teams had taken the stage together, declaring the holiness of God, and beckoning for Jesus’ return.
This scene appeared to me at a pivotal moment: while I was gripped with fear and unwilling to lose grandma to death, my heart was struck by the necessary reminder that eternity with Jesus was where grandma was headed towards. Right there and then, the phrase “go[ing] into glory” made sense, and brought about a deep calm and peace to my racing emotions.
In all honesty, even as a believer, I wrestled with the idea of what “going into glory” really meant, because that left me a “remaining” pilgrim on her journey on earth. However, having experienced loss twice over, it has caused me to see that death truly reminds you of who you’re living life for. If Jesus is and remains my only and final hope, my life is worth living for Him, and unto Him.
God promised the people of Israel, “I will ransom them from the power of the grace; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!” (Hosea 13:14 NKJV). That’s not all — God saves His people and will destroy death itself! Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers not to despair in the face of death: “…Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NKJV).
The end of death is life again.
Because Jesus defeated death on the cross, and resurrected to life again, our human end of death is not eternal damnation, but eternal fascination and life in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
Who are you living life for today?
Perhaps you are reading this, and you don’t yet know who Jesus Christ is; or you might have recently lost a loved one and don’t know the way out of grief; or you might be fearful of death because you’re uncertain of where you’ll go or what would happen to you. Regardless, my encouragement to you is to come to know who Jesus Christ is, give your life to Him, experience His tangible, unfailing love, and understand that this “fable” or “well-known story” is in fact the greatest, truest, and purest love story you’ll ever come to know.
In and through Jesus alone, you and I no longer need to fear death, or grieve helplessly without hope.
Death is dead, because He lives!