How Faith Moves Through the Many Phases of Loss and Grief
February 19, 2021
Contemplation on the evolution and existence of my faith is not something new. I always considered faith a journey, with the expectation that it would move through high and low points. In my current stage of the journey, I meditate quite a bit on grief, loss, and healing. Reviewing my adult life, my faith has always been present in times of loss, but the focus was different each time. No two losses are the same, so it only makes sense that faith would look different with each one. Let me explain.
Praying with Earnest
At almost 20 years old, I was a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University studying music. Some Saturday mornings, I would get up and go to practice at the school of music. I liked the empty quiet hallways and the pick of any practice room I wanted. On this particular Saturday, my brother was coming up to take a scholarship exam, so I was freeing up my afternoon to see him and my dad when the exam was over. Needless to say I was shocked when my Dad appeared in the music building looking for me, but nothing could prepare me for the news he brought.
My uncle had a massive heart attack and was in the ICU. The family was together at the hospital waiting. Waiting to hear any news at all, when things like this happen all you do is wait. I asked if I should come home, to which my Dad responded no. Everyone expected me to stay at school, not sit around a hospital waiting room. I did the only thing I could do – I prayed.
I prayed for the doctors to know the best course of treatment. My Aunt entered my prayers as I prayed for her to be strong and feel the grace of God holding her together as she was most certainly falling apart. My prayers were full of earnest. Please Lord, take this suffering away and let us turn a new corner.
It was finals and as a Music major performances were part of my finals. My parents never missed a performance. Always my biggest supporters, they came to hear me sing. I was second in the line up and was surprised when they came backstage to see me after my performance. We sat in the hallway of the music building as they told me my Uncle was gone. They turned off life support and he was unable to sustain on his own. I began to sob, “But I prayed so much and so hard.” My mom responded, “God always answers our prayers. He just doesn’t always give us the answer we want.”
With this loss I learned prayer is not a negotiation. It is a conversation. Prayer allows us to converse with God. Answers will always come, but they may be in the form of unanswered prayers. A miracle is not always in the cards, but God holds us as we grieve the loss of what feels like unanswered prayers.
Supporting Difficult Choices
Less than a year later, grief and loss settled in for another round. My uncle, who had lived his adult life with Friedreich’s ataxia faced a difficult choice – move to life with a feeding tube or go into hospice. A fighter his whole life, he decided it was time to stop fighting. At 20 years old, I learned about hospice. I watched my uncle plan every detail of his funeral services. He told us exactly what he wanted. It is a surreal experience watching someone make these difficult choices. He left no doubt of what should be done. We had a detailed map.
The family gathered and enjoyed our time together. We were undoubtedly the rowdiest family in the hospice center. Life is a gift. We enjoyed the time we had left as such. Faith gave me peace. My uncle made a choice to trust in God and return to him. Two losses in less than a year was traumatic. I questioned “Why now?” But it was not my job to know, it was my job to support the one I love in his final earthly moments. We did get a miracle out of this hardship, a final good bye that we were not expecting. You can read the details here. Those final lucid moments were my first experience with the miraculous glory of God. My faith grew stronger in the days we spent together as a family in the hospice wing.
Flash forward a decade. We once again came together in a hospice wing. My aunt’s battle with lung cancer was coming to an end. The summer looked so promising. We thought we had more time, but the cancer won and it was time to say goodbye. For me, this loss was the first filled with unfinished things. I was recently engaged and we had so much to do and share together. My aunt led the charge two years earlier declaring there was life after the pain of divorce. She never doubted for a second that my happily ever after would come. When I was lonely, she encouraged me. When I doubted my worthiness, she squashed the doubt with a flourish of positivity. She taught me to enjoy life and see all the possibilities. I felt cheated out of the many moments we had left to share.
I clung to my faith during this time. Everything felt impossibly hard, but God holds us in the hard. God holds us in the longing for unfinished things. I remind myself that my beloved aunt is always with me. She saw every moment of my happily ever after to this point and she will see every moment to come. Faith gives me a place to believe in something larger than this small, fragile world. Going back to be with God means you never miss a thing. I may miss the conversations over wine at the dining room table, but she is never far from my side.
Unimaginable Shock – Tests without Measure
When loss comes as a shock, it brings immeasurable test of one’s faith. The loss of my mother on November 12, 2019 is undoubtedly the biggest test of my faith life to date. I prayed unceasing, pleading prayers to my Heavenly Father for miracles. The details are here. I wanted more time – I still do, every single day. I hear my mom’s voice in my head from 20 years ago – God always answers our prayers. It is just not always the answer we want.
My mother had unfathomable faith. She did not fear death, because she would return to God. Her faith inspired my own. Losing her could be a test, a chance to be angry at God. What I’ve come to know, is God does not fear my anger. He does not fear my sadness, loneliness, or despair. God sits with me as I process all my feelings. When things are hard, He moves closer. Faith is knowing that you are fully loved and accepted in every stage of healing. Faith is knowing you are never truly alone. I see God as my partner in healing. He is patient, accepting, and grounding as I move from moment to moment.
There is No Perfect Formula
Faith has no perfect formula, no right way to do it. Grief, also, has no perfect formula, each loss is different. Regardless of the challenges and questions put in front of God, He is there ready, willing, and able to accept them. Take your time. Move through each phase, question, and feeling with openness. Cry, yell, scream, but also sit in quiet and listen. Cling to your faith, let it evolve and change, and as it does you will move closer to healing.