The Book Stop Blog is featuring excerpts from The TIME Approach to Grief Support by Edmund Ng and WinePress Publishing.
At the age of forty-nine, Jessie was an active and health- conscious mother of two children in their late teens. She had seldom complained of any sickness apart from an occasional headache. June 22, 2005 started as a normal working day for the both of us, but at 6 P.M., she came home feeling weak. When she vomited, I admitted her to the hospital. The doctors said she’d had a brain aneurysm—a rupture of the artery to her brain. She was pronounced dead in the early hours of the next morning.
Without warning, my whole world collapsed on me! Known as a loving couple, we had been looking forward to the second half of our lives, spending more time serving God and growing old together.
Prior to Jessie’s death, I was involved actively in and outside the church. Due to my involvements, we have many friends, and the three wake services were jam-packed with people. Many pastors and Christian leaders came and extended their condolences. However, the weeks and months that followed her death were a different story altogether! Many of my friends discreetly avoided me. Others talked to me superficially, acting as though nothing had happened. They did not mention my loss, or they quickly changed the subject. I could relate to C. S. Lewis, who once wrote after the loss of his wife, “Perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers. To some, I’m worse than an embarrassment.”
A senior leader of the church I was then attending did visit me a week after the funeral. After a short while, this person ran out of words to say and started discussing the affairs of the church with me. As this was just several days after I had lost my dear wife, it was a time when I was not quite able to distinguish night from day, and helping to solve church problems was certainly far from my mind. A few others also came to visit, and while I appreciated those who visited me then, much of what they said did not help me to deal effectively with my grief.
Outwardly, I put up a brave front to show that I was doing fine. Like most Christian leaders, I thought that if I appeared weak and in need of help, people would think less of me, especially concerning my spirituality and leadership capabilities. In reality, I was crumbling inside. I was in deep pain and exceedingly lonely. I longed
for someone to understand what I was going through and to walk alongside me.
It dawned upon me that while our churches have no problem in conducting funerals, we are ill-equipped to follow-up with the bereaved to comfort and offer support on a competent, consistent, and comprehensive basis. It is perhaps the result of our prevailing church culture. We are more inclined toward programs, activities, corporatization, and celebration than giving individual attention and showing compassion to those who are hurting.
This should not be the case, for in God’s order of things, the strong are to help the weak. The Word of God clearly commands us to comfort those who mourn. As our God is the Father of compassion and comfort, He wants us to comfort those who need comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). We are the body of Christ, and so we have a responsibility that is critical to people’s healthy recovery from grief.
When I met and courted Pauline, a widow for fifteen years, we sensed even before our marriage that God had put us together and called us to the ministry of reaching out to people who are grieving over the loss of loved ones. We further sensed that God wanted to use us to restore this neglected area of our Christian lifestyle back to the churches. Therefore, we also understood that we need to motivate all Christians to be committed to supporting and caring for all who grieve and teach them how to do it.
Immediately after our honeymoon, in January of 2007, we launched the ministry of Grace to Grieving Persons (called GGP Outreach). Since then, we have ministered to large numbers of widows, widowers, grieving parents, and grieving children. I also have taught extensively on this subject in churches and seminaries and have spoken in national and international counseling seminars and conferences.
In hindsight, I marvel at the perfect timing of God in calling the both of us to this ministry. For fifteen years, Pauline was wholeheartedly devoted to bringing up her son. The young lad lost his father when he was just one year old. Only in recent years was she more open to a second marriage. Her son is now a teenager, and he will be leaving home soon. So she would have been all alone when that happened.
On the ministry front, God has been preparing me for years for this higher calling. For six years before Jessie’s death, I served as a pastor and elder of a local church. Earlier than this, I would have felt inadequate and less equipped to embark on such an unusual ministry. On the other hand, if God had called me several years down the road, I may have passed my prime years to start and venture into a new undertaking.
In addition, God prepared our families. My two children and Pauline’s son are just old enough to understand and accept our marriage and adjust to one another as a closely-knit family.
More importantly, I came to understand what before had been mere head knowledge: we are not ready for a higher level of service to God until we totally have been crushed in the human spirit. Our Lord Jesus Himself had His own share of spiritual brokenness in rejection and betrayal before His final victory on the cross! The process serves to mold our character, as suffering brings about a spiritual brokenness that leads to greater dependence on God. For one whole year following the death of Jessie, I walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4a).
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