Death and Grief Happen in Life

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Blog

Death and grief happen in this life. They visit everyone some time. I am working on a biography of a great uncle. Death showed up when he served with the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment in 1918-1919. Members of Company B died with most deaths due to influenza and not combat injuries. News about his grandfather’s death arrived in Germany by mail in February 1919.

I am reading letters this great uncle Elmore saved from the early 20th century. His cousin Anna informed him about attending his grandmother Sophia’s memorial service in Mexico, New York. I was surprised by the grief I felt when I read Anna’s news about attending the service. Sophia was my great-great-grandmother and through my research, I grew in sympathy for her.

Sophia lived with death and grief in her life. Her first husband died before they celebrated their first wedding anniversary. She remarried in 1866. Seven years later, she and her second husband George buried their four-year old daughter Lydia Caroline. Twenty-five years went by before their fourth child, George Erwin, sailed to the Persian Gulf as a missionary. Sophia and George never saw him again because he died of fever and heat stroke. Sophia lived twenty more years before bidding her second husband goodbye too. Reflecting on her acquaintances with death and grief, I concluded they are the way of life. This thought is not original with me, but it became more personal.

I still live with grief following the passing of my parents in 2009 and 2014. I served as their primary overseer in their last days. This gave me a bond with them I consider priceless. Intellectually, I accepted their deaths, but I became acquainted with grief and tears once they died. I wrote a short poem about mom’s death but I especially grieved my father’s death. To this day, I don’t know why I grieved more for him than mom.

Death and grief happen. I’m the seven billionth person to experience this. King Solomon wrote about death and grief three thousand years ago: “There is a time…to be born and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3:2) “All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.” (Ecclesiastes 2:23) The Egyptian Book of the Dead predates Solomon by 500 years. Archaeologists are finding human burial sites many millennia older.

The Bible’s first reference to death is in Genesis 2:17, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” The idea of death is attributed to our Creator as a punishment for disobedience. This doesn’t mean God is out to get us. God intended the first warning about death to spur Adam and Eve to guard the intimate relationship with their Creator. They failed to do this.

Genesis chapter three shows us spiritual death and grief occurred first. This is the breaking of the bond with God. Following the broken relationship, physical death entered life on earth: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men.” (Romans 5:12) Fortunately for us, God provided the remedy, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

How did Sophia and George cope with death? I found a written reference to their response to their son George’s death. They didn’t know the circumstances of his death for six weeks. While they waited for news, a memorial service was held and they were flooded with letters and notes of condolences. They penned a short letter of gratitude to the newspaper editor. They thanked the many people who showered them with Chrisitan sympathy. In the letter, they also thanked the newspaper proprietor for publishing excerpts of their son’s letters when he travelled to the Persian Gulf and lived there. They concluded the thank you note by personalizing version of Job 13:15a.[1]

How can their example assist us with death and grief? Affirm the many expressions of concern and sympathy for us in our agony. Thank people for their sincere interest in our deceased loved one while he or she was alive. Personalize our spiritual resources. Sophia and George turned to their spiritual resources. They changed the singular pronouns in Job 13:15a to plural ones to refer to themselves: “Though he slay us, yet we will trust Him.” They tapped into their spiritual resource, the Bible, to capture the depth of their agony and continued trust in God. There are other spiritual resources like prayer, friends, tears, laments, serving others, and worship.

Geoge and Sophia chose to carry on in life and maintain their routines of work, service, and worship of the Lord while their hearts ached. They never forgot their two children who died. They carried them in their hearts until they themselves died. Since death and grief happen, let’s ask God to show us how to keep on living too.

[1] A Modest But Crucial Hero: The Life and Legacy of Rev. George E. Stone (1873-1899). Lake Placid, NY: Aviva Publishing, 2023, p. 196.





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