When the normal rhythm of life in community is interrupted by a catastrophic global event, the effect is that life all around us is radically upended by a deep sense of loss of control. The pause around the world is marked by a pendulum of emotions and events that swings in a wide arc between hope and despair every day.
Amid all the good and hopeful news about vaccines and a possible end to the pandemic, there are millions of people who are grieving the death of one they know and love. An unpredictable pathogen has robbed their families and society at large of the presence and as yet unrealized potential and contribution of a sacred life. For those who have not been directly affected by the death of a friend or loved one, the number of daily or cumulative deaths regularly reported by health authorities is, for most, a sobering thought largely incomprehensible statistic. For those who grieve, the number is tragic, real, and entirely personal.
A Shared Experience
The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that grief is the most equal opportunity experience in all of life. Grief is indifferent to our race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation; it is the great leveler of emotions, place, and time. We are not insulated from grief because of where we live, how educated we are, or how much money we have or do not have. Rather, when one we love dies, every survivor experiences grief, the most fundamental expression of individual loss and personal love.
When the outcome of a pandemic disease is death, grief overwhelms our hearts and leaves us reeling. In an instant of finality, we are forever changed by the death of one we love. We want to make sense of what has happened, yet there are no real answers. We struggle in vain with the “Why?” The effect of grief is never passive. We may feel disillusioned, fearful, and hate-filled because of the death of one we love. Or grief may leave us more convinced than ever of the goodness of life. Either we actively grow from our grief and through our grief, or we shrink into grief, conforming our shell to the unalterable circumstance of death. Though it is not always so, without fully understanding the “Why?”, often we find within our grief the best response to life’s worst tragedies.
Perhaps the most compelling need for all those who grieve is authentic comfort. When death strips us of our worldly self-sufficiency, our spirit is vulnerable to every suggestion of where we might find true comfort. Some seek comfort in the distractions of the world rather than in the spiritual substance of life. Many who grieve turn to those they love for comfort. When we entrust the pain of our grief to others, our emotions are fragile. Because our expectations are high, we are easily disappointed when we sense that someone who loves us does not understand our loss. Over time we learn that no one can comfort us perfectly because human comfort—even the most loving, sensitive, caring comfort—is largely of the moment. We hear the words, we sense the intent, yet deep, profound comfort does not always seep into our soul.
How, then, do we access the soul-satisfying comfort that quiets our soul and strengthens our heartbroken spirit? We believe that God is at work in our lives to transform our sorrow into the life-sustaining comfort that holds us close and restores us to life beyond our grief.
A Personal Perspective
A few months after my beloved husband died, I was at a gas station late one afternoon filling the car. A stranger approached and introduced herself. My first instinct was to withdraw, yet her words touched the deepest place of my grief. She said that my name had been on her heart and that she was praying for me. It was a powerful moment. A complete stranger dared to reach out and enfold me with her spiritual care and comfort. As she silently turned and left, I felt as though I had encountered an angel. Since then, there have been other experiences in which God has used both strangers and friends to assure me of God's abiding presence and unfailing comfort, especially to all those who grieve.
Present Comfort is a new book that offers comfort, encouragement, and hope to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. It is for those who are at a loss to understand the myriad emotions of grief and for those who feel sad, bewildered, frustrated, or confused by the chaos and uncertainty that is our current reality in the world. It is for those who feel deeply affected by the extraordinary coincidence of a global pandemic, acts of racial injustice, natural disasters, perilous fires, and a climate of political strife that most have never before witnessed in their lifetime. It is for those who grieve the death of a family member, a loved one, a friend, or an acquaintance. It is for those who have lost a job, an income, financial security, or physical property. It is for all those who struggle with the loss of hope. Present Comfort was written to inspire spiritual insight and a deeper understanding of the presence of God to those who grieve and provide perspective for those who desire to share in the heart and language and heart of grief. The assurance of Present Comfort is that in each whisper of comfort, we experience the life-renewing peace found only in the presence of God.