Guest Post by Mary Azer
(Part 4 of 4)
I want to begin this blog post by stating that every loss is different, and every grieving process is different. Not one person’s experiences are better or worse, or hurt more or less, we’re all healing at our own pace, and that’s okay. Finally, even if we haven’t lost a loved one, we’re all still struggling and hurting in our own ways, so let’s be aware of that and be kind to one another.
I was in the fifth grade when my mom got sick for the first time, and at an important point in my development.I watched her struggle with sickness and health for five years. I can choose to focus on the moments towards the end of her life where she suffered, but I want to focus on the points where I watched her faith grow and strengthen. As she fought cancer, as some of our loved ones often do, she repeated this one saying, "cancer is the disease of Paradise." For those unfamiliar with the saying, it means that cancer, when terminal, is a disease that steals your physical life, but not our spiritual life. Although you are helpless to it, you are also lucky enough to know that your time on earth will be ending soon, so you can commit the rest of your days to prepare to see God. Instead of losing hope, being angry with God, or ignoring her faith to focus on her family/career/etc., she chose to spend whatever time she had left growing closer to Him and excited to meet Him.
After my mom died, my family and I postponed grieving because my dad was really sick. When my dad was ill, we watched him grow closer to God as well, but differently. During my father’s last days, he taught us the importance of family, including the chosen family, and the importance of loving one another the way God loves us. He taught us to incorporate Christ into our everyday lives and trust in his plan. My dad died nine months after my mom did, and every day my family carries the lessons we learned from them.
The grieving process is probably one of the most challenging things you'll have to do in your life. There are so many opinions coming from so many places, and you're often led to believe that you're doing it wrong (as if there is a "right" way to mourn a loved one). Either you're too sad or not sad enough, you're "so strong" or you need to "be strong." You're supposed to be happy that they're at peace in heaven and watching over you, but what about your happiness and your desire to keep them in your life for as long as possible?
Whether it be to death or any other "loss" of a loved one, it often feels unfair when you're left with all of this pain, and the only person who can make it better is gone. Why does your life have to be disrupted? Why did they have to leave? Why is it only you who has to deal with this loss when so many other people don't? There's also a lot of shame and guilt that accompany loss, even more anger and sadness, and I'm here to tell you that all of these feelings are valid and normal. It's not fair, I know, but try not to question God's intentions, or else you'll be left feeling lost and alone.
It is in those moments when we feel our faith is challenged, that we grow so much closer to God. In the last five years since I lost my parents, I have struggled immensely for so many different reasons. Thankfully, it was out of that suffering that my faith grew, just like my parents’ had. In those years I was motivated to read and listen to the word of God. I searched for what He says about suffering and about His plans for my life. I began participating in services, volunteering, and reaching out to my servants and my father of confession to learn more about myself, about trusting God’s plan and His intentions even if I can’t understand them.I learned how to love and show kindness to myself and those around me.
While my mom was sick, nobody knew, so I like to consider the possibility that many others around me are hurting in silence. Also, it’s really easy to hurt alone and tell yourself that nobody else in the world can understand what you’re going through, but that’s not true. There are so many resources including family, friends, servants, mental health professionals, fathers of confession, and the list goes on and on. Satan likes to make us feel alone in order to isolate us and make us suffer alone without hope.
There are three Bible verses that I tend to refer to when struggling with God’s will and his plan for my life, especially when I try to understand why it included losing my parents at such a young age:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“For I know the thoughts I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)
What we can get from these verses is not a specific answer as to why we suffer, why bad things happen to good people, or how we will be affected by these losses, but we can find hope and peace. Proverbs tells us to trust God, even when we like to think that we know better or we can’t seem to figure out why bad things happen. Philippians tells us that our own understanding of these things is nowhere close to beginning to understand God and his intentions, we must stop letting our own thoughts and emotions get in the way of trusting Him and His will. Jeremiah tells us that He has a plan, a good plan, and we should welcome it.
If you are someone who is experiencing a loss, I urge you to turn to God and ask for help if you need it. Our church has so many resources, including those who have had similar experiences, that you should never feel alone. If you need professional help, there are therapists and grief counselors that can help, don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek professional help.
If you are close to someone experiencing a loss, be there for them. Being there for someone is being patient, kind, willing to listen, present, and encouraging. Don’t push them if they’re not ready, but don’t give them so much space that they feel lonely. Invite them to services and gatherings, don’t take offense when they don’t want to go out with you. Don’t give up if they continuously turn you down, show them the love of Christ, and let them know that although you can’t understand what they’re going through that you’re willing to do whatever you can to help.
I hope when you experience this kind of pain that it strengthens you and doesn’t weaken you. Always remember that, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
I had the pleasure of serving Mary Azer when she was in high school in St. Mark’s Church in Jersey City, NJ. Mary always stood out as a beautiful individual who has unfathomable strength. Mary is a grad student at Columbia University studying social work. She is currently serving others through social work in a hospital setting.
This is the fourth part of a four part series about personal growth.
Part 1 - Personal Growth
Part 2 - Growing Through Reconciliation
Part 3 - Growing Through Trials