Dealing with Death and Dying

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She was in her 80’s. Her mother had recently turned 100. She spent every day at the nursing home at her mother’s side and when her mother took a turn for the worse, she was beside herself. Her mother was in immense pain towards the end and the daughter didn’t know what to do. The staff did all they could to keep her comfortable and then the mother passed. All of the daughter’s devotion to her mother over the last four years culminated into sad tears of a heartbroken 80 year-old turned four-year-old sitting at the bedside of her dead mother.

Honestly, we don’t know how to deal with grief, loss, death, and dying. It is something that we don’t know how to handle. We feel that when we grieve it should only be for a little while. Bereavement periods are only a span of a week or less at work places and then it’s back to the grind as if nothing happened. And we like it that way. We feel we must move on. Why? Because we can’t handle death.

In two years I’ve done 24 funerals, three of which have been for someone under the age of 70. One was for a baby. Each time, no one knew how to deal with death and dying. They kept going back to praying for the miracle. Praying against hope that things would not end in the inevitable.

Death is real. So is grief. So is pain. We don’t know how to deal with them. As pastors, ours is the calling to walk with them through these times of pain, grief, loss, death and dying. There is an art to dying. An art to dying well. Ours is to help the family walk through this time. Ours is to help the dying to die well. Each bedside that I’ve sat at, holding hands with those about to die, each asked me to pray that they would be taken soon. They knew where they were going and they were ready. Their family on the other hand was not.

Our job as pastors is to help the family move from not being ready, to accepting not only reality of death and dying, but to help them see the glorious end. We walk with them through the beginning stages of death and we walk with them through the times of grief.

Grief itself is a process with ups and downs. It’s a time where people realize they can’t just up and call a loved one because they no longer exist on this earth. As pastors, we are to walk with them through their grief as Christ walked with them. We must remember and remind them as Jesus said “God blessed those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 6:4 NLT). We must be Jesus to them and help them see the comfort they have in God. The only comfort in life and in death. In body and in soul.

As pastors, never forget this. Never forget the fact that you are Christ to those who are experiencing pain of losing a family member, you are Christ to those who are grieving the loss, and Christ to those who are dealing with death, dying and the inevitable grief we all will one day feel. It is emotionally draining to do so, I agree with that, but the rewards are amazing. The reward is being able to walk with the family during this time and be Christ to those in pain, grief, loss, dealing with death and dying. Knowing that you are able to be Christ in such a time is a reward we receive as pastors.

Posted in: Pastors; Blog Photo courtesy of Michael Himbeault http://www.flickr.com/photos/riebart/4653728769/ Image: See Credit

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I like what you have to say here, Josh. It is an incredible privilege to walk with families through their times of grief.

I would like to add one more piece to our "job as pastors." I think along with helping the family see "the glorious end," we also have to help them to feel the loss fully and to enter into (and accept) the pain of the loss. For most of the people I've dealt with, their concern was not with where their loved one ended up; their concern was with how they were feeling and how long it would last.

I would also be interested to hear other opinions on whether it is valid/accurate/helpful for people to say, "You'll see them again some day." Yes, we will all be in heaven together (assuming faith in Christ). But will our relationships be changed so completely that it is really meaningless to focus on some people that we will see again? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "When you get to heaven, the love that you had for _____________ will be the same love that you feel toward all people."?

Having thought about the question as to whether we would see our friends and relatives again, I found it easy to over-spiritualize or to think that our human relationships would be non-existant (no giving in marriage, etc.).  But in reality, even Moses and Elijah were recognized when they came back to earth briefly with Jesus on the mount.   God saved and saves real people, not transparent clones.   Although our relationships will be somewhat different, with less difference between friend and stranger, and less remembrance of sin, yet it would not make sense with God's love for us, nor with what scripture indicates, for us not to know and recognize people. 

Hi!  I'm a retired CRC pastor.  I experienced 7 years of depression because of repressed anger and grief about our second boy's death from leukemia.  God's dramatic deliverance from depression is chronicled in my book, Doubtbusters! God Is My Shrink!  It reveals God's guidance in a biblical pattern that's not in our culture.  You can ask your local library to stock it and read its first 5 chapters at Amazon.com by searching with the full title and clicking on the front cover.  God does have a solution for our grief about the loss of family members.  Bruce Leiter.  

Your words hit home to me; I've been there: "I've done 24 funerals (in two years), three of which have been for someone under the age of 70."  It is incredibly emotionally draining, and at the same time a great privilege to walk alongside the family.

One aspect of facing so much death is that it forces us to acknowledge our own mortality.  Theoretically believers should not fear death, since it is only "falling asleep" and not the end (Heb 2:15), yet if we have not faced that we ourselves will one day die, doing funerals can be even harder on us.  So, regularly meditating on Psalm 39 & 90 will assist us in working through it.  I have found that facing my physical death also helped me better understand the spiritual rhythm: of dying to self and living for God (Rom 6).  Another thing: if we ourselves are grieving a loss and have not dared face into the pain of that, doing funerals will once again remind us of our own grief.  It took me two years to realize that I was angry at God for not "saving" (healing) my mother who had cancer.  In all of this, we pastors need to "take care of ourselves" if we ever hope to be able to "take care of our flock."  

One final note: Psalm 23 verse 4 speaks of our Shepherd walking "through" the valley of death with us.  The pain of that walking lessens over time, though I do not think we'll ever stop "missing" the loved one gone away.

Death is some thing we face everyday. Whether it is some one we know or not, we are surrounded in a world filled with death. Many ask why a truly loving god would put us in this world filled with such sorrow, with such pain. Why some would have to face this mortal experience without the support of those who have passed? Why would God allow that some would live long lives and others would have the spark of life extisuighed so soon in life?

i have sometimes struggled with these questions myself. i lost my grandfather who i did not know very well due to a deibliating diease he had earlier in his life. i struggled with the fact that i had never truly had gotten a oppurtuiny to truly understand him, the only clue i had to what he had been was at his funeral. That was a time of great sorrow to suddenly realize what a loss it had been. What a terrible thing would it be if i could never get any of that back. Luckily for all of us such is not the case/ 

 It is our job as those who minister to help those who ask these questions to understand Gods greater plan. We may have to forgo the company of many of our friends and families but for a time, in lifes seemingly endless twists and turns but we can take comfort and comfort those that mourn with the good news. Death is not the end it is but a transition. Some thing that we must all go thourgh at the end of this mortal sorjoun. So let us rejoice at the times we have had with those we love and look forward to the time where we can again be with those we have lost.

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