As I write this post, there has been news all over the airwaves about the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, now deemed the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history. And it is also the week of the 7th anniversary of our son’s death.
My heart is heavy. The pain of all those mamas who have lost a child is so very familiar to me. They will be in shock, struggling to get their minds around what happened, feeling like it’s all a bad nightmare.
But in a few days, when the news dies down, and people go back to their everyday lives, the reality will begin to seep in and the nightmare will feel more real than ever.
How do you process tragedy like this?
Our son did not die a violent death. He had a seizure disorder. One morning, after having a seizure, he went back to sleep – something he always did after a seizure. But this time, no one was able to wake him up again.
I have friends who have lost children to suicide, to cancer, to terrible accidents. Regardless of the cause, the death of a child is never something we can understand. It’s not normal. It’s not right.
Neither is the death of innocent people who are enjoying a concert or spending the night dancing or just going to school. Death by unexplained violence is even more jarring to our souls. This shouldn’t be.
And yet, it is. We live in a world full of trauma, full of heartache, and full of loss. How do we begin to deal with the loss? How as believers can we process it in a way that gives us hope and courage to keep pressing on, especially when we feel like giving up?
I am not a trained grief counselor nor am I a therapist or certified professional of any kind. But I have experienced heart-wrenching grief that comes from unexpected loss and have lived to feel joy once again.
Let me share with you a few things that helped me to process grief and loss in such a way that I came out on the other side with less answers but more compassion, and less guilt but more grace.
Hopefully, these thoughts will help you or someone you know as you process tragedy and deep loss.
Let Go of the Need for Answers to the Why Question
Maybe more than any other time in history, we all seem determined to understand things, don’t we? We research everything to make the best decisions, choose the right purchases, and even deal with health matters on our own.
If we need an answer, we just “google it”, right?
But in the face of tragedy, especially unexpected loss, we find ourselves looking for an answer to the why question more than any other. Why did this have to happen? Why did it have to happen to me or to my child or to my friend? Why did it have to happen to anyone, for goodness sakes?
And then, before you know it, we go even deeper in murky waters and start questioning God. Why didn’t You stop this from happening? Why would You do this? Why? Why? Why?
I don’t have an answer to the why question. I’ve never received one. And if anyone tells you they know the answer to the why question, especially if they want to tell you the answer to why God did it or allowed it, please, please turn the other way.
They don’t have the answers either. More often than not, they are trying to come up with something that makes them feel better because grief and loss is uncomfortable at best and downright terrifying at worst.
If someone gives you answers to the why question, my guess is that they are treading deep waters in trying to create their own theology for suffering. Even in the book of Job in the Old Testament, Job is not given answers by God when God shows up near the end of the story.
But Job does walk away from his enormous, gut-wrenching tragedy with a deeper awareness of the greatness of God, still hanging on to his trust in God’s purpose and plan.
What to Do with the Why Questions
Dear one, if you are experiencing great loss of your own or just trying to figure out the craziness of the world we live in, please do yourself a favor and just take the why question off the table.
It won’t get answered in this life. And trying to find the answers will probably lead you down a road of bitterness, doubt, and despair. You will just be tormented looking for something you won’t find.
One of my favorite stories from the great author, Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place, was one she told about her father and herself when she was a little girl.
Corrie and her father were traveling by train and she decided to ask her father what was the meaning of “sex sin”. Being the wise father that he was, he took down their heavy suitcase from the luggage rack overhead, and asked her to carry it off the train.
Of course, she tried to pick it up, but couldn’t do it because of the weight. In her book, Corrie then shares what her father said next:
Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
Maybe one day, when we are in Heaven, we can bear the knowledge of why certain things happened here on earth. But for now, we can choose to trust God to carry it for us.
Please make the courageous choice to lay down the need for answers. Taking this part of the grief burden off your shoulders will give you a greater capacity to work through the pain you feel without leading you off in even darker places.
And I guarantee that as a result, you will be able to bring comfort and compassion to others down the road when they too experience loss by not giving them pat answers that never bring relief.
Let Go of the Blame
Doesn’t it come natural that when bad things happen we want to blame someone?
Elisha Goldstein, PhD. says:
“When you start to be on the lookout for it [blame], you’ll notice that it’s just one way your brain automatically releases negative energy. But ultimately, blaming is a mind trap that only serves to fog up our lens of reality and strips us of our power to make a change for the better.”
And when trauma or great loss happens, we definitely feel negative energy, don’t we? It’s just so easy to throw out blame because we feel like it will help us cope better, but really it’s just fogging up reality.
Brene’ Brown, a research professor and author who’s studied courage, vulnerablity, and shame, defines blame this way:
“Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain.”
I think that word “discharging” is very appropriate. Blame is basically like throwing up with words and insults instead of with your stomach contents. You feel out of control, and the temptation is real to spew out the blame toward someone else.
It’s terribly uncomfortable to be out of control regardless, isn’t it? But when a death or great tragedy happens and we get smacked in the face with how little control we really have in this life, it’s incredibly uncomfortable and disconcerting.
We don’t have to look for someone to blame.
We can make the hard choice to trust the One who IS in control.
Why Not Blame Ourselves?
After our son died, we received a card in the mail. There was a message inside, sharing a simple prayer the sender had prayed for us. She had prayed that we would let go of the “if only’s” and the “should haves”.
I’ve often prayed that same prayer for other grieving mothers and fathers. May they be willing to let go of the “if only’s” and the “should haves” they feel toward others, but also that they feel toward themselves.
If we’re going to blame someone for tragedy, it may be far too easy just to blame ourselves. Surely, there would have been something I could have done to make it better, to keep it from happening. Why didn’t I say this or do that?
You could literally drive yourself crazy if you stay on this path of self-blame. In times of tragedy, maybe more than any other time, you need to show yourself grace and show those around you grace, too.
Torturing yourself with how the moments right before the tragedy could have been different or should have been different is just that – torture. Don’t do it. If you already feel a debilitating burden of pain, don’t add to it by berating yourself with blame.
My greatest relief from this temptation came when I realized that no matter what I did or didn’t do or should have done with our son, Caleb, now he was in Heaven. And in Heaven, he was not holding anything against me. Nor would he ever.
A dear friend reminded me that all is grace. I could stop blaming myself. Caleb was in joy and all was good between us.
But Does God Hold Us to Blame?
For some people, the temptation might be great to think that this terrible thing happened because of something you did or didn’t do and therefore, God decided to punish you by taking away your loved one.
Think about this for a moment. When the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, do you think God looked down on them and blamed them for something they did or didn’t do? Or that their parents were more ungodly than any other parents in the country and so, therefore He had to punish these children and their parents as a result?
I truly hope you’re shaking your head no!!!
This is the beauty of the gospel, the glorious, unbelievable goodness of grace – Jesus took all our punishment on Himself when He died on the cross.
That word “condemnation” in the Greek comes from a root word that means “ to judge worthy of punishment”.
Rom. 8:1 is saying that we are now no longer judged worthy of punishment. Even though our sin deserves to be judged, Jesus took it all on the cross.
If you ever experience a great tragedy, you can at least rest assured that it is not because God is punishing you or your loved one. Ephesians 1:4 comforts us by reminding us that He chose us as His children so that we could be holy and BLAMELESS before Him.
Please take the blame off the table. Don’t spew out your discomfort on others, don’t blame yourself, and most of all, don’t assume God has done this because you are to blame.
Remember, all is grace.
During times of great trauma and searing loss, our personal world suffers a catastrophic shift from what we ever experienced before, and suddenly, normal is nowhere to be found. It’s tempting to want to know the answers why and to deal with our discomfort and pain by blaming.
Please let these 2 temptations go. And here’s the biggest reason why:
There will be so much pain to process anyway. Give yourself the chance to work through grief without extra baggage to add to your load.
I strongly encourage you to read our post about grace here if you’re still struggling to understand it. And even more so, in times of confusion and fear and uncertainty that accompany traumatic events of great proportion, I highly recommend our post What is Hope and Can We Really Have It? found here. Especially read the last section about having hope with an eternal perspective.
This is not as good as it gets! As believers, we have hope for better days to come. One day, there will be no more death and no more enemy. And all will be made right.
Waiting for that day with you when all is made right,
In the comments below, would you share a verse that’s brought you comfort in a troubling time? We all need to be encouraged with words of truth and be reminded that we can find grace in our time of need. Thanks!
Do you ever wonder what to do or say when someone else experiences a great tragedy? Here’s a free printable for you that will give you some very practical helps you can use. I hope it helps!
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