The Strength of Grief

While reading a fiction book recently, I came across a large portion of dialogue between the two main characters. Their conversation caught me by surprise. The young woman endured a painful, horrible, and long-lasting experience. The words of hope her new friend offered her centered on grief and how to move past it.

Reading those words altered my way of processing grief and assessing my progress. Immediately I desired to share these excerpts with you. The author happily granted permission.

This month’s excerpt centers on the strength of grief. Next month’s quotation talks more about our walls and the freedom we can experience. I pray this will encourage you in your own journey of grief.

“Grief isn’t fragile. It comes along with strength, facing the losses in life, the reality of what you won’t have back, then turning to the future to create what can be built. Grief is part of accepting what was; it’s what takes the sharp edges off your history. It’s emotion and it’s reality. It’s mostly not hiding, letting your mind present what needs processing and dealing with all the implications of those memories.”

“. . . You survived by hiding. It’s still how you cope when events or situations hurt you. I’m glad it’s a strong instinct because it’s getting you through. But it’s a defense. Grieving is about letting down that shield, not having to keep that defensive wall in place. When you can lower it and not get overwhelmed by the memories, you’ll know your healing is mostly complete…and be ready to move on.

“You’ve learned to endure, to live strong in spite of all that’s been thrown at you. That’s powerful and good.  . . . I think you’ve dealt with matters by a sequence that was basically ‘It happened, it was horrible, it’s over, move on’ and your emotions learned to function that way as well. But that was a learned pattern. Freedom is going to shift your emotions to something’s that’s more expansive. You’ll feel things with larger and wider emotional swings again, because now you have the freedom to experience those normal emotions. It’s going to be a good thing.”

Excerpts from pages 276-277 of Taken.
Used by permission of the author, Dee Henderson.

Keeping Memories Alive

Memories usher us onto different paths at various times. Maxine, a co-worker, told me about the path her memories took her to recently.

“Guess what I did on Mother’s Day?” Beaming, she continued. “After church I went home and played all of my mother’s favorite hymns!”

Before her mother died, she chose four hymns to be sung at her memorial service. That’s where Maxine began, but her time of playing and singing spread throughout the afternoon. The beautiful melodies filled her heart as did the majestic words of praise to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

What moved her the most, though, was the realization that her mother now lived in the truth of all she had sung on earth for more than 80 years. I would not be surprised if Maxine’s mother sang along in heaven as her daughter played those hymns in honor of her mother’s life and the way she loved Maxine and her other children.

What ways have you found to keep the memories of your loved ones alive? Let me know so that I and other viewers can share in your joy.

Holding On

I wonder how this year’s Memorial Day impacted you. Did it bring sweet memories that lifted your spirits? Or were your memories painful because they represented the sorrow of separation from someone you love? Remembering can still be painful when we are having trouble letting go.

An acquaintance of mine still wrestles with the death of his brother who lost his life in Iraq six years ago. He has been unable to reconcile with his loss, even after the passage of years.

A dear friend lost her husband when they were in their 70’s. His absence was almost more than she could bear. Even years later, when we visited together and shared refreshments, she carried an 8 x 10 framed picture of him from room to room as we moved about her home. Her depth of sorrow seemed natural, since they’d known each other since second grade. Yet, I realized that her inability to accept his death and finish her grieving season had kept her in emotional bondage. She remained sorrowful until the day she died almost 20 years later.

God wants us to remember but also to let go. Some people who read my Life through Loss book told me that the following quotes helped shift their perspective, which opened the door for healing. In memory of your loved ones, I share these excerpts from page 161.

Moving toward a new life is scary. You may be afraid if you let go of your sorrow you will forget the person.

Christine Cleary lost her husband to cancer when he was 44. She says, “Death forces you to look back, and acceptance involves slowly turning your body around to look forward. If you begin a new chapter of life, you carry the person you lost along with you.”

Someone else said, “Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that you don’t ‘recover’. Instead, you learn to incorporate their absence and memories into your life and channel your emotional energy toward others. Eventually, it has been said, your grief walks beside you instead of consuming you.”

Holly Prigerson, ‎Director of the Center for Psycho-oncology and Palliative Care Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explains, “In general, bereaved survivors shouldn’t think of ‘getting over’ a loss, but develop ways to get used to it. Even years after someone dies, pangs of grief may come out of the blue, and feelings of heartache and missing the deceased are rekindled. That’s normal.”

God Knew

Have you ever had something on your shopping list for a long time, but somehow can’t seem to check it off? I have. One particular item: a fern. A neighbor in my condo building moved away recently and left her outside potted fern for the rest of us to enjoy. But it didn’t survive. Ever since then I planned to look for a replacement in the plant section of a home improvement store, but things kept coming up.

Recently I was purchasing groceries at a nearby store, which I frequent often. As I pushed my cart away from the produce section and started walking through the adjacent flower section toward the next designated aisle, I paused.

“Wonder if they have a fern?” In the middle of that crazy thought I spotted one beautiful, fresh fern standing proudly among short flowering plants. I knew God intended it for me. Lifting it up I discovered it was the right size with a low price tag.

Fern DSCN2755-1While paying my bill at the check-out counter, I commented to the cashier, “Isn’t that a beautiful fern? I needed one.” She responded, “I don’t ever remember seeing one here.” I smiled.

God knew my long-time desire to find that special item. Such a small thing in the scheme of life, but He fulfilled my desire—simply because He loves me. And His gift, now perched outside our front door, serves as my daily reminder.

From Dashed Dreams to New Life

While enjoying breakfast with a friend recently, I saw some new facets of loss. We were deep into the catch-up of our lives and the happenings in our families. The mother of a blended family, she happily announced the upcoming births of two grandchildren.

Her smile disappeared, though, when she referred to dashed dreams for her elder daughter, whose choices in life had brought about unalterable results. Then she shifted to a different kind of heartache: lack of love from her husband.

Her mother had opened the way for meeting this particular man. Eventually, with high hopes for a happy life together, she said yes to his marriage proposal. Yet, soon she realized he was incapable of connecting with her emotionally. Throughout many years of marriage, she’d felt unloved, uncared for, and alone. Her dream of happiness had died.

She said, “I don’t know why God let me fall in love with him. But I did.”

Her unhappiness wasn’t new to me, but her startling statement that morning broke my heart. How could I soften the impact and make sense of the deep losses in my friend’s life? I could not. But we both remembered how God had already woven an intricate plan to help her experience His unchanging love.

Four months before, while reading my book about the cascading losses in my life, she asked herself, “How could Gail survive all this?” She came to the conclusion that I had made it through because I had God, which led to the realization she didn’t know God like that. When we got together the next time, she related her discovery. After talking a while about God’s desire for her to know Him personally, I asked if she wanted to accept Jesus Christ as Her Savior and Lord. She did! Her prayer was the beginning of a relationship with God, the only Person who could fill her life with the love she’d been searching for.

Now in the moments of not knowing how to encourage her, God gave me this verse:

“Do not fall to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.
Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?

I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”
(Isaiah 43:18-19)

Tears filled her eyes as she listened to God’s promises and clung to His words of hope. Her circumstances most likely will not change, and she knows that. But she saw that by letting go of the “dashed dreams” in her past and willingly focusing on the new things God promises to do for her, hope would have a chance to grow.

The next day she emailed, “Thank you so much, Gail, for supporting me in my new journey with Jesus and with prayer. Your verse really hit a tender spot and was so appropriate!”

This Easter season reminds us that God looked on the Friday of death, despair and dashed dreams and turned it into a celebration of resurrection on Sunday! Because of Christ’s resurrection, we have hope for our future. Whatever circumstances you face today, whatever personal dreams have died, God promises to create roadways and rivers where none exist. Your part is to let go of the past you cannot change and look ahead to God, who has the power and desire to do something new in your life.

Loneliness of Loss

I felt alone when my mother died unexpectedly. She’d always been there for me during 43 years of my life. Don’t we sometimes think our mothers will live forever?

If you also have an endearing kind of relationship with your mother, you’ve probably come to relish and depend on her wisdom, listening ear, and companionship. When you don’t have her in your life, you realize the preciousness of what you had.

Loneliness can descend after the loss of a spouse. Suddenly you don’t hear their voice or see them come around the corner to give you a hug or ask a question.

The loss of a child—the most painful loss, I’m told—creates the deepest sense of emptiness. It seems so unnatural for a child to die before his parents. If he has already left home, the parents have tried to celebrate his desire to create his own independent life. But when he physically leaves his parents behind, they grieve in a way that may never go away.

In the midst of the loneliness of loss, God’s promise in Hebrew 13:5 becomes an especially precious one: “I will always be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” God sent His Spirit to fill up the lonely places in our hearts and lives.

Dorothy and Gail DSCN2671Recently I watched God’s compassion unfold. I was visiting my 95-year-old friend Dorothy, my mother’s best friend. More than 20 years ago we had both said goodbye to my mother, but we stayed in touch and our relationship deepened. Throughout the years we exchanged letters and cards at special holidays, and I always visited her each time I traveled to Oregon. Dorothy became my listening ear, and her smiles and hugs filled my empty spaces.

Dorothy and I had looked forward to our lunch date for many months. She seldom had the chance to get out since being confined to a wheelchair. After hugging my sweet, white-haired friend, and exclaiming over her latest family pictures, we settled in for a visit. During our conversation she quietly remarked, “Shouldn’t say this, but I’m lonely. My friends can’t come this distance to see me anymore.” Sadness clouded her blue eyes.

My heart broke. Here she sat in her old age with many dear friends dying and others unable to drive to visit her in the assisted living complex. Silently I prayed, Lord, please lift her spirits today.

She explained, “When we’re ready to go for lunch, I’ll ask the gal who assists me to come to my room to push me in my wheelchair and help get me in your car.”

Later, downstairs at the entrance, I watched Sara skillfully bear Dorothy’s weight and maneuver her out of her wheelchair and into the front seat. Soon we pulled into the tree-lined driveway of the motel restaurant she had chosen. After parking temporarily at the front door, I attempted to help Dorothy but realized I was incapable of lifting her.

I’d spotted an employee sitting on a bench outside the motel as we drove in and walked over to ask her help. The young brunette with a friendly smile, popped up from her seat with eagerness.

As we walked toward the car I admitted, “I know this really isn’t in line with your duties, but—.”

“Well, actually I’m here to assist anyone who needs helps. I work at the front desk. My name’s Jamie.”

Jamie quickly and easily lifted Dorothy into the wheelchair and pushed her into the dining room. “Enjoy your lunch. I’ll help you again when you’re finished.”

Dorothy and I chatted, laughed, and remembered old times. “This salad is delicious,” she said. “If I ate any more of it, I’d be eating the plate. What a wonderful time this has been.” I smiled with delight.

But the best part was about to unfold. Jamie appeared at our table as I was paying for lunch. “Ready?”

As we approached my car, Jamie bent down to look into Dorothy’s face. “Just as you drove in, I received a text from my mother saying that my grandmother passed away.”

“I’m so sorry. Are you going to be able to get time off?” Dorothy said.

“No, my grandmother lived in another state, but you are here.” They embraced with tears spilling onto their cheeks. My tears flowed, as well.

Turning to Jamie with overwhelming gratitude I said, “God knew you two needed to meet each other today.”

“Yes, He did. And I’m getting baptized in two weeks at church. They asked people to come forward if they wanted Jesus in their lives. God helped me not be afraid.” She paused. “It has really helped me because my husband and I lost a baby six months ago.” Her deep losses shook me.

Jamie turned to Dorothy. “I can’t see my grandmother anymore but I can visit you.”

“I’d love that.” Dorothy’s face lit up with the prospect of seeing her new, young friend again. That day our heavenly Father reached into the hearts of two lonely people.

Have you been lonely at times? I have, too, but through this experience God reminded me that on those lonely days He will do special things to show me I’m not alone.

God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Psalm 68:6 NIV

Step into the New Year…God’s Way

When a new year approaches, I often experience a tingle of excitement and anticipation as I wonder what lies ahead. Finally January 1 arrives. Visually it’s as though I’ve turned the final page of last year’s book and reached for a brand new book…the story that God will write in my heart and life in the new year.

That’s what happened this year. The joy of celebrating an early Christmas with my nephew Casey and his daughter Piper still lingered in my heart. I welcomed in the new year with friends and the next morning had a free day ahead of me. Opening a new journal, I jotted down highlights and “low lights” from last year and pondered some dreams and plans and possible adventures for 2015. That night I went to bed with a calm heart and a smile on my face.

Then the rhythm of life began to penetrate my world. Monday morning arrived along with numerous responsibilities as a member of a leadership team that was meeting for the entire week to plan for the new year.

Reminders about church and community commitments began to pop up on my phone.  Sad news from a niece relating to a family crisis as well as triumphant news from a nephew who had begun a wonderful new career spun me into roller-coaster emotions.

Today nothing went according to plan. Hoping that a service rep was coming to attend to urgent electrical home repairs, I listened while the polite young woman on the phone explained that the first available appointment is two days from now.

I’d reserved this morning for writing to you about my thoughts for the new year. Instead, unexpected and urgent work emails crowded out those hours. As I looked ahead in my calendar I felt overwhelmed with responsibilities in many arenas. I wondered how I’d have the stamina and wisdom to fulfill each one.

Then God gently reminded me to cease striving and be still; to entrust my plans to Him because He sees the complete picture and knows how it will all be accomplished.

Interestingly, a canceled commitment for this weekend is allowing me to participate in my church women’s retreat. Seems that all along God had planned to give me this special chance to cease striving, be still for a few days, and center my thoughts on Him and His Word. Surely I will be recharged and better prepared to step into the new year His way.

“Be still and know that I am God!”
Psalm 46:10a

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.
Psalm 37:23-24

Thanksgiving During Gray Days

In this season of thanksgiving, we are encouraged to “count our blessings”. Yet, you may be struggling to recognize blessings in your life, especially if your loss of a loved one or close friend has been recent. Your pain, heartache and grief may still be overshadowing any joyful or happy things happening around you.

Maybe your pain relates to the loss of a dream, a relationship, a hope you had hidden in your heart. Any kind of loss can captivate us and cover the sun.

This morning as I read from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional book, I was struck by one portion. “To protect your thankfulness, you must remember that you reside in a fallen world, where blessings and sorrows intermingle freely. A constant focus on adversity defeats many Christians. They walk through a day that is brimming with beauty and brightness, seeing only the grayness of their thoughts.”

I experienced that recently. My focus on the absence of my brother Greig and the sorrow of separation spun me into a dark time. God saw my heavy heart and used my brother’s son Casey to lift the weight. Amazingly, then I was able to see that my brother’s absence from earth is a reason to thank God. Greig is experiencing new life in heaven with God now. Once I was willing to thank God for this truth rather then focus on my brother’s absence, I experienced joy. [See my August 21 post for more details.]

I pray that God will lift your heart today so you will be able to recognize your blessings, from life and breathe, to a hug from a child, or the caring words of a friend. Acknowledging God’s blessings won’t make the pain of loss go away. But your willingness to thank Him will soften your pain and allow you to see the beauty and brightness in your day.


What’s the Point?

Sometimes darkness descends on a perfectly fine day. The darkness blocks the  sunshine and any glimmers of hope we are experiencing on our journey of adjusting to our loss.

Darkness invaded my world one day. Perhaps I should have expected it, since it’d been only two months since losing my brother. But I didn’t. During my devotional time with God that morning, I began praying as I always do. But my prayer evolved into an uncharacteristic attack on God, whose love and faithfulness had sustained me during my brother’s ten-month courageous battle against leukemia.

“What’s the point, God?” I cried out. The ensuing verbal wrestle with God revealed the deep turmoil of my heart.

Four days of darkness came and went. No one knew the heaviness inside of me. The fifth day God brought me a miracle. The story in my video will explain.

The Birth of a Book

Usually a birth announcement relates to the joyous arrival of a new boy or girl in someone’s family. This particular announcement refers to the arrival of my new book, LIFE THROUGH LOSS – Facing your Pain, Finding your Purpose.

The idea was conceived as a result of the cascading illnesses and death in my family. The content grew in size as each story painted a picture of how God intimately prepared my family members to live with Him in heaven. As words spilled onto pages and calendar months marked the progress, gradually I became aware of God’s real reason for birthing this book. He wanted me to honestly portray my own heartache and grief and proclaim hope for the future. Because of my journey of loss I found life. I long for others to realize they don’t need to stay stuck in their grief. They can find new life just as I did.

If you are someone one who has been left behind through the loss of someone you love, LIFE THROUGH LOSS may be just what you need to find hope for your future. Perhaps you know others who are watching loved ones suffer or who have already said their good-byes. This book is designed to inspire and encourage people to take the next small step toward discovering God’s purpose for them in their unexpected season of life. To order through Amazon, click on the book cover in the sidebar. Or click here


As a physician, and one who has lost my mom and recently my only sister,
I have personally seen death and dying. Gail’s God-breathed stories offer
hope, joy, peace, and purpose to those who face a life-threatening illness
with their loved ones.”