Commentary: The challenge of dealing with grief


Throughout a rather long ministry, I have encountered beloved church members, friends and family members who have lost loved ones. It is bittersweet to experience the death of sainted, elderly parents who have lived long, made a positive impact on their community, left a godly legacy, and had welling up within them the assurance of a mansion on Hallelujah Avenue in God’s celestial city.

However, some deaths come unexpectedly and leave a void that no one or nothing can fill except for Christ our Lord. On July 15, Annabelle Grace Ham, age 22, was in Fair Hope, Alabama for a special event related to her sister, Alexandria’s, upcoming wedding. She was seated on the end of a pier all alone having her personal quiet time with the Lord. She had just written her last sentence in the journal she used to record her devotional thoughts and her last line was Jeremiah 29:11 which says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Annabelle Grace Ham
Annabelle Grace Ham
Suddenly, Annabelle had an epileptic event on the pier, fell into the water, and drowned. She was a beautiful young woman with a bright future. She had a charismatic personality, countless friends, and was about to enter her senior year at Kennesaw State University as a communications major. Her future appeared to be as bright as the promises of God.

Annabelle’s parents, Harold and Vicky Ham, were notified of her death and entered a season of grief that would be indescribable to anyone who has not experienced the loss of a child. This dear couple were members of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta when I was the pastor. Harold contacted me and requested that I meet with them to help them process the grief crisis they were experiencing.

What can a pastor or preacher say to grieving parents who have been emotionally devastated by the news of their daughter’s untimely and heart-rending death? While not an experienced counsellor I began to share with the bereaved couple some of my thoughts that I hoped would help.

First, I reminded them that death is not the end of their relationship with their daughter. I cited II Samuel 12: 18-23 where King David grieved, lamented, fasted, and wept while his son was sick, but once he died the King washed and anointed himself, changed his apparel, went to the house of the Lord, worshipped, and then sat down and had a meal.

When his servants marveled that his whole demeanor changed once the child died, David said, “Now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? (One day) I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

I am sure that King David continued to grieve, but he was able to see beyond the temporal into eternity and knew that he would ultimately see his son again and be with him forever.

Second, another way to minister to those who are overcome with grief is to speak of the glories of heaven. Christian parents who grieve over the death of a Christian daughter must understand that the joys and blessings of heaven are magnificent beyond description. We tend to become too earthbound, too time conscious, too short-sighted. We need to be more focused on the residents, relationships, and rewards of the redeemed.

Heaven is a place of rapturous revelation where we shall know even as we are known. It is a place of remedial release, where there is no epilepsy, no cancer, no heart disease, no diabetes, etc. Heaven is also a place of resplendent rejoicing, where there is an unending celebration and always an unclouded day.

Adrian Rogers, the former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., once said, “If you knew how wonderful heaven really is, you would be careless when you crossed the street.” I think “Jesus wept” at Lazarus’ tomb, because the thought of bringing him back from heaven to this earth hardly seemed to be an act of mercy.

Third, those seeking to provide grief counseling should be sensitive to the emotional and spiritual health of the bereaved couple. The grief resulting from the loss of a loved one, particularly a son or daughter, can bring significant stress to a marriage. Cara Plett of Focus on the Family says, “Many couples who have first experienced the death of a child, then experience the dissolution of their marriage.” Often the mother grieves one way, and the husband chooses a different kind of bereavement, and because they do not grieve together it causes a breach in their relationship. However, it is possible that grief can knit two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever could. That can happen if each partner commits anew to God and to each other. 

Fourth, those who wish to help alleviate the grief of sorrowing couples can assist them in finding a Christian support group like GriefShare, which is a ministry provided by many of our Georgia Baptist churches. GriefShare is a safe, welcoming place where people understand the difficult emotions of grief, provides guidance on how to navigate the treacherous pathway of mourning, and assists in learning helpful ways of coping with grief. Just hearing from others who have experienced the loss of a loved one helps the sorrowing individual know that they are not traveling down the path of heartache alone.

Fifth, grieving couples should keep the memory of their loved ones alive. Harold and Vicky have resolved to do just that to help relieve the sorrow following the death of their daughter. They have countless videos and photos and memories which they intend to keep in the forefront of their lives to provide comfort for themselves and to honor the memory of their precious Annabelle.

Annabelle Ham, left, with her two sisters Alexandria and Amelia, right.
Annabelle Ham, left, with her two sisters Alexandria and Amelia, right.
There are other ways to remember the deceased or honor their memory: create a memorial, establish a grant or scholarship, make a donation to a church honoring the memory of the deceased, celebrate the life of the loved one on their birthday, and complete their unfinished projects.

Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us “To rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15). I am not sure that I said much to allay the sorrow of Harold and Vicky Ham when I met with them, but the three of us did a good bit of weeping.

King David experienced as many ups and downs, triumphs, and sorrows as anyone if life. I am sure that there were days when he was afraid, troubled, and sorrowful, but in Psalm 30:5 he wrote, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I wept with my friends Harold and Vicky this week, but the day is coming when God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain…” (Revelations 21:4).

Billy Graham said, “Even in the midst of our worst times, God has not abandoned us. We may feel overwhelmed by our problems and sorrows, but God is never overwhelmed, nor do they take Him by surprise.