Archive for the ‘Coping with Bereavement’ Category

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The recent violence at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shattered the lives of individuals and families connected to that school and town, and shocked countless others throughout our nation and around the world.

Amid the grief, sorrow, and horror that we feel over the loss of these students and teachers, there is an urgent longing in the hearts of many of us for a safer society as we struggle to make sense of this violence, especially since it occurred during a holy season in which we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child who came to bring peace on earth.

For several weeks before the massacre, our choir had been rehearsing music to celebrate the joyful Christmas story, and one anthem in particular had stirred in me a longing for a closer, more intimate relationship with God. In the days following the massacre, the anthem, “The Yearning,” became even more significant to me because it spoke to the grief and sorrow that we’re experiencing.

Written by Susan Bentall Boersma, with music by Craig Courtney, “The Yearning” expresses the following:

There is a yearning in hearts weighed down by ancient grief
and centuries of sorrow. 
There is a yearning in hearts that in the darkness hide
and in the shades of death abide,
a yearning for tomorrow.

There is a yearning, a yearning for the promised One,
the First-born of creation. 
There is a yearning for the Lord who visited His own,
and by His death for sin atoned, to bring to us salvation.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.

There is a yearning that fills the hearts of those who wait the day of His appearing. 
There is a yearning when all our sorrows are erased
and we shall see the One who placed within our hearts the yearning.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.
Emmanuel, Emmanuel, within our hearts the yearning.

This anthem resonates with me because it reminds us that in a world in which we are often confronted with pain, sorrow, grief, and death, we have God’s assurance that in Jesus Emmanuel—“God is with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).

It reminds us that the yearnings that we have had as a human race since ancient times have been yearnings for God who alone who can fill the void within our souls.

It reminds us that God took on the form of humanity and appeared to us as a baby who grew up to become the promised One—the Messiah who would sacrifice his life to save us so that we would not have to pay the eternal penalty for our sins.

It reminds us that we yearn for the day when Jesus Emmanuel will appear again, not as a babe in a manger, but as the triumphant “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelations 19:16) to establish a new heaven and new earth for all his redeemed people throughout the ages, a divine Kingdom in which there will be no pain, sickness, sorrow, death, or evil.

It reminds us of Jesus’ promise:

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22: 7, 12-13; NLT, 2007)

And it reminds us that as our nation mourns the death of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook School and debates how to stem the gun violence, we yearn for the promised fulfillment of Christ’s imminent return to establish his Kingdom of peace on earth.

And we echo the Apostle John’s yearning and benediction:

“Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelations 22:20, NLT)

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Having not been hit by a personal tragedy in my life so far, such as the tragic death of one of my children or grandchildren, I cannot say for sure how I would handle it. I would surely grieve deeply, for I love each of them, but would I find a way to deal with my grief and eventually move on with life in a healthy way?

Would I be like Eric Clapton, the award-winning musician?

On March 20, 1991, Eric’s four-year old son, Conor, opened the latch of the window of a family friend’s 53rd-floor apartment in New York and fell through the window to his death. Eric arrived at the scene shortly after the accident and was understandably distraught, so much so that he went into seclusion and mourning for several months.

One of the things that ultimately helped him to deal with the tragedy was that he was able to channel his pain and loss into his song writing, especially his song, “Tears in Heaven”:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I’ll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.

Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knee,
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please…
Begging please…


Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure.
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven…

Lord, I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven .

Although the song won several music awards in 1992 and 1993, Eric stopped singing it in 2004, saying, “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”

If I didn’t handle my tragedy like Eric Clapton, would I be like Horatio G. Spafford?

Horatio was a Christian and a successful attorney in Chicago during the mid 1800s, but was hit by three calamities in close succession:

  • The Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out his extensive real estate holdings and investments.
  • His young son died of scarlet fever.
  • His four daughters—Tanetta, Maggie, Annie, and Bessie—were killed in 1873 when the ship on which they were sailing to England with their mother was hit by another vessel in the Atlantic and sank quickly, taking the lives of 226 passengers and crew.

Horatio was supposed to be on the ship with them, but a last-minute crisis in his business delayed him and he sent his family ahead, with plans to join them soon after. When he heard the news, he took the next available ship to join his wife, who survived the sinking, in England.

On the voyage over to England, he spent most of his time on deck, staring at the waves and praying. When his ship passed the approximate area where his daughters lost their lives, Horatio was aware of God’s sustaining and comforting presence, and the words “When sorrows like sea billows roll…it is well with soul” imprinted themselves in his mind.

With those words guiding him, he then went on to pen six verses of a hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” with four of the following verses becoming well known, loved, and sung by churches for over the past 138 years:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.


My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.


As beautiful as “Tears in Heaven” is, it does not answer Eric’s soul-searching questions, and it reveals a father whose only recourse is to dig deep within himself and move ahead with the hope of someday finding peace through his own effort. Even then he is not even sure that he will make it to heaven to be united with his son!

Horatio, on the other hand, finds immediate peace and consolation in the midst of his tragedy, and attributes that peace and assurance to the love, grace, and redeeming sacrifice of Christ on his behalf.

It is my deepest desire that when the time comes for me to face my own tragedies, that my grief will be tempered by my faith, trust, and reliance on my Savior, Jesus Christ, who assures us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27, RSV)

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