One thing about grief that some people tend to overlook is facing similar circumstances to your own loss afterwards. As a pastor, that happens much sooner than it would for the average person. Pastors are called to bedsides and hospitals frequently as people near the end of their lives. Sometimes, the similarities between the experiences of these people and the experiences of your lost loved ones can be so eerily similar that the pain gets dragged up and out again, making the loss and grief feel fresh all over.
This morning, a gentleman from my church passed away. Yesterday, I stood at his bedside, prayed over him and read Scripture to him. It was a very difficult moment for me.
I had been mentally preparing myself for the visit. The Holy Spirit had laid on my heart the need to go see this man and his wife. I knew that his time on earth was short and I knew that I had to get over there.
But I also knew what I was walking into. I knew that the memories of what I experienced 1 ½ and 3 ½ years ago with my parents would come flooding in. I knew that I would be transported back to another hospital bed. I knew that I would not only be seeing this man coming to the end of his life, but I would be reliving my mom and dad’s last moments as well.
I was glad for the opportunity to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for this. Had I walked in thinking that everything would be as usual, I would have been much more impacted than I already was.
Later on in the day yesterday, I would have a conversation with someone and tell them that our own experiences helped give us sensitivity and insight into people whose experiences were similar. God can take the things that we experience and use those to help others as they encounter their own difficulties. That’s what happened for me. While I felt some moments of reliving the past, I realized that my presence there was more effective because of what I had gone through myself.
I don’t think that I can say that every subsequent experience gets easier. It’s never easy to open up wounds that have been trying desperately to heal. But there’s something different here, there is something healing about seeing a redemptive purpose in your own suffering and difficulty. Knowing that your own pain can help others when they find themselves in similar pain helps to feel that it all wasn’t in vain.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Earlier on in the letter, the writer writes, “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Jesus experienced what we experienced so that he could help those whose experiences would sometimes parallel his own. He earned our trust, respect, and love by being God who took on flesh and suffered worse things than most of us will ever have to experience. We are not alone.
It’s always nice to know that you are not alone, especially in difficult circumstances. I’m on the other side of a hurdle today, having looked in the face of death and survived. My heart is heavy and it hurts, but knowing that God has higher purposes helps the sting to be a little less painful.