Good Grief

By Raffette Alston

Our last phone call was on a Wednesday. I can hear her saying “I need you to come. It’s serious.” My mom never phoned during work hours, and it was atypical for her to tell me to come home. We were together the week prior, but I could tell by the sound of her voice this was different. I did not ask any questions because I was sure I did not want to know the answer. I made the three-hour journey home, and she was peacefully asleep. I sat by her bedside most of the night, and around 2 am she opened her eyes and saw I was there. She said, “Oh you came home”. She smiled and closed her eyes again. That was the last time I heard her voice. Hours later, my mom went home to be with the Lord. 

She had battled years of health issues for as far back as I could remember, but there was no amount of preparation, discussion, or forethought that could have prepared our family for a life without her presence. As her only child, for the first time in my life, I felt alone. Hundreds of people attended her funeral, but I still felt alone and lost, unrealistically hoping and waiting for her to come home.
The hopelessness turned to guilt. I felt guilty for not going to medical school. I thought if I just went to medical school as planned, I could have saved her. The guilt turned to anger. I was angry at God. God knew I was an only child. God knew I needed my mom. God knew my Nana needed my mom. God knew we were not ready to say goodbye. I could not understand why God took my mom from me. Why did God do this to me? I dragged the burden of “God wronged me” for miles. I started running. Yes. Running. I started just running a mile and a half. Then the run turned to three miles a day. Then seven miles a day. Then fourteen miles a day. Then I would run for hours with music blasting in my ears. I would run in the rain, in the ice, in the heat, or in the snow. I would run until my body was nearly numb. My life was filled with work, running, school, rinse and repeat. There was no time to think about my feelings because I was too busy with my set schedule. I was skipping church because I was still angry at God, and I was “too busy” to talk to Him. I was running from my encounter with Him, but God only needed a moment. 

One evening after a long run, I could not shake the heaviness. I wanted to keep going but it was too dark on the trail to keep going. The battery died on my MP3 player so I could not listen to music. There I was alone…again, and I could not escape the voice of the Lord. I made it to my car and immediately turned on the radio trying to drown out the sound of His voice. I thought I was losing my mind because at the time I could not comprehend what was happening. My Bible was in the passenger seat and opened to the book of Psalms. I was still angry with God, but I could not unsee the scripture. I immediately set my gaze upon Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. In a still small voice, I heard “I am here. I am here. I am right here.” I made it home heavy-hearted and tired. I drew a hot bath. I was drowning in my feelings and while I was in the water with a gut-wrenching cry, I yelled  “Why did you do this to me?”. With love and kindness, I heard His comforting voice “I didn’t do this TO you. I did this FOR her.” For the first time in years, I let go. I let go of the urge to be strong and allowed myself to mourn. I cried until my tear ducts were dry. I felt weak, and in my weakness, I felt his strength and His comfort. I rebuilt my relationship with God knowing that He never left me. Reluctantly, I went back to church. I felt shame for just abandoning my church family and friends, but I was welcomed back with joy and excitement. We cried together while reading the prayers they had written for me and my family. The prayers for our comfort, peace, our trust in the Lord, for our hearts to be open to Him, and for me to know I was not alone. 

My grief journey was long, lonely, and sad because I thought I was on this journey alone. I did not want to burden anyone with what I could not understand, and honestly, I did not care to deal with my own feelings. That’s not what God wants for us. 1 Peter 5:7 encourages Casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. That means He cares about ALL things, even our grief. From experience, I learned a few things that I now live by. 

  1. Acknowledge Your Grief – I did not want to identify with grief. I grew up keeping my feelings to myself, so I spent a lot of time in denial about my feelings and trying to run away from them. Take the time to evaluate your feelings and emotions. Don’t try to avoid them by brushing them under the rug. Running was my coping mechanism, but I needed to take it to God. 
  2. Praise Him – This may seem counterintuitive when grieving because honestly you just may not feel like it, but praise and worship create a space for intimacy between you and the Lord. Praise focuses your attention on the Lord no matter what season of life you are in, and it prepares your heart to receive from Him. There is no denying that there is an indescribable joy when you praise the Lord. I challenge you to do it right now. Right where you are. You don’t have to tell me, but I know it changed the atmosphere. 
  3. Take it to God – In Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. God will never leave us nor forsake us and He knows what we are going through. He still loves us when we are angry with Him. He does not lose patience with us when we try to run or hide or even ignore Him. Because He is a gentleman, He is waiting for your invitation. Whether you cry, yell, scream, or whisper, He is there and He is listening and waiting for you to bring it to Him.
  4. Yield to His Leading – God’s will is perfect. He has given us the special gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. Yield to the Holy Spirit. You may feel led to share your journey with a prayer partner, join a Life Group or grief support group like Grief Share, seek wise counsel from Pastoral Care, or maybe simply come back to church. There are endless possibilities on how the Holy Spirit will guide you and what the Holy Spirit will lead you to, but you can rest assured knowing that you will not misstep when yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

My encounter with the Lord that night in my bathroom changed the trajectory of my life. I found comfort in His words knowing that my mom was no longer experiencing pain and affliction, but she was now at home with her Heavenly Father. There is an inexplicable peace in knowing that He knew what was best for her and simultaneously did not leave me brokenhearted. My healing began just as Psalm 147:3 says: He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Of course, there is not a day that goes by that I am not reminded of her laugh, her smile, or the joy on her face when she gifted me Easter baskets every year (including adulthood). I have joyful memories of her from this side of heaven, and I will see her again. 

I have learned that grief does not have to be bad. God is with you and me. Grief can be good when we count it all joy. Joy in knowing that His plan is perfect even when we do not understand it at the moment.  If you are reading, you are not alone. God is with you. He is for you. He loves you, and He will never leave you. I also encourage you to pursue community with fellow believers. Nehemiah 8:10 says “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

June 1, 2024