Thinking Out Loud: A compounded loss
Our West Tulsa Congregation has suffered an exceptional loss. From my experience, the backstory goes like this. On Dec. 31, 2020, I came home with chills. By the next day I knew I needed to be tested for Covid. The test came back positive. I went to bed and my wife, who is a naturopathic doctor, began her caregiving regime. That same day I received a text from the minister of our church. He reported that he was in the hospital diagnosed with Covid-19 and asked if I could help fill in for him. I updated him on my status, and we kept in contact until we were both too ill to do so. I recovered after a few weeks of a forced rest with very few problems. However, my minister didn’t respond to his treatments in the hospital with the same success. On Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, he left earthly life for his life in eternity. This 43 year old servant of the Lord and His church left behind his beloved wife, five cherished children, extended family, friends, and his church family.
So, how is the death of our precious preacher different from other losses we experience? (For some it can be exceptionally difficult; for some the loss can be even more traumatic than a family member. Why?) Hebrews 13:17 says “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Our ministers are commissioned by God to be as shepherds over their flock. We “sheep” often rely on this person for guidance, for participation in milestone events of baptism, baby dedication, marriages, funerals, and comfort in life’s crisis(es). Now his death may be creating a recognized or unrecognized crisis of its own. And he is not here to give the comfort we so greatly need.
Many of us at our church family were shocked beyond words when we heard that our marvelous minister died of Covid-19. I am sure at some point many of you have lost someone so dear that moving on with life seems impossible. Death is feared by some, but it is something that we cannot escape. It is reality for us all.
As a congregation, we are facing not only our minister’s reality, but our own mortality. It is difficult and emotional. While grieving is normal, many people allow themselves to slip into a state of depression. Christians are not exempt. We can allow our grief to swallow us whole or we can grieve in a healthier way.
We are all different, and we will have different responses to the death of someone so special to us. Some pass through the acceptance stage and are able to cope with less difficulty than others, returning to their lives with relative ease. Others can become stuck in the denial stage, and others in the deep mourning stage, grieving for a longer period of time.
Grieving however is normal; even as a congregation it is normal to hurt deeply. To help us cope with our loss, consider these thoughts. I pray they will be helpful to you.
1) Start by praying. Ask God for strength and guidance. Thank the Holy Spirit for the divine comfort provided within. This is the most effective way of dealing with loss for most people. This is also the best time to reflect on our own immortality and make any adjustments that are needed. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 in the Living Bible says, “It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and it is a good thing to think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. Yes, a wise man thinks much of death, while the fool thinks only of having a good time now.” Be honest and pour out painful emotions to the Lord. He can handle them. This will not totally alleviate the pain that we feel, but it certainly can lessen it and help us face the reality of the cycle of life.
2) Remember that our beloved minister is now in the very presence of Jesus. Remembering this does not mean we will grieve less. However, it helps ease some of the pain when we reflect on the fact that he is now experiences only joy, and he has been reunited with other loved ones of his who have gone before him. Some glorious day we will be reunited with him as well. Again, this does not remove the pain and grief we now experience, but as the Bible promises, we can experience joy in the midst of our grief. We can receive the comfort and peace that passes all understanding.
3) Remind yourself that we also have other priorities in life such as other members of our own family, our health, work, and church family. If we just cannot seem to function, we can delegate those responsibilities for a season of mourning. But as soon as possible, it will help us to pick them back up again and focus on the living and the rest of our lives. Ask God to help you with self-nurture; recall things that bring you joy and nurture who you are then re-prioritize to do them. It may feel disloyal to the departed, but it is not. It is healthy. We must face the reality that the person is gone and moving on is the best thing to do. This will not happen immediately, but we should try our best to move forward.
4) If you are still struggling, let me encourage you to ask God to lead you to a support group that will be best for you. Family, friends, other ministers, Sunday school class or a therapist can help. Churches and funeral homes are good places in which to explore options for grief support groups. Once you have made your group connection, make sure to always keep in touch with them, especially during the first year as there are many “firsts without your loved one” you will be experiencing. This can help provide the emotional support and physical needs that are common at this time. Talking to someone who also lost someone is helpful. Sharing our experiences will help us to understand what we are going through, that life must go on, but the person (our beloved minister) will never be forgotten.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your promise to never leave or forsake us. Thank you for the freedom to talk about this difficult event and provide us with tools to help in this time of need. May this loss draw us all closer to You and to one another. Thank you for numbering our days and keeping our lives in Your hands. We trust You with the length of our days and those loved ones left behind. For You are good and Your mercies follow us all the days of our lives. You give beauty for ashes, comfort for pain and gladness for sadness. We love you and pray these things in the name of Jesus, amen.
John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or email@example.com.