Comfort for Those Who Have Lost Loved Ones
What would I say if I was conducting the funeral of a victim of COVID-19? How could I help the person’s loved ones navigate the emotional pain and sadness?
As the COVID-19 tragedy continues to unfold around the world, a few people are involved in offering relief in ways we seldom hear about. They are the counselors who try to help those suffering make some kind of sense of their loss or pain, to provide some type of understanding and hope.
As a pastor, I’ve been in that position too many times. The easy funerals were for those who lived long and died peacefully, where loved ones gathered to reflect on good times and fond memories. Then there were the tough ones—funerals for the despairing who took their own lives, the teenagers cut down in accidents, the young mothers beaten by cancer, the babies lost at birth.
Anytime we ministers see tough situations, we cannot help but consider, “What would I say if I was conducting their funeral? How could I help their loved ones navigate the emotional pain and sadness?”
The bigger picture
One thing I’ve learned well from all these funerals is this: Coming to grips with this type of suffering is far more meaningful when we can put our eyes on the bigger picture of life—our ultimate destiny—and then work our way back to the current circumstances.
It’s natural to first look at our immediate, this-moment-in-time situation and try to figure out why this particular thing happened, or why that thing didn’t happen. But those questions often frustrate us because no clear answer exists. Why does coronavirus kill one person when someone nearby escapes? Nearly four decades after it happened, I still have no answer as to why my mother died from cancer in her 40s.
But we do have answers for life’s bigger, and more important, questions.
For example, one of the biggest was posed by a man in the worst place of his life, facing the multiple tragedies of having lost his children and his health in a short space of time. In despair he questioned himself—and God. That’s not uncommon. He eventually asked a core question for all of humanity: “If a man dies, will he live again?” Is there anything more to life than this?
This man was Job, and his story is in the Bible. Interestingly, he answered his own question. “All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes,” he said. “You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands.”
Job found his way to the big picture—God does have a work in our lives; we fit into a larger plan of His design; a time is coming when He will call the dead from their graves; and yes, we will live again. Knowing this is truly at the heart and core of understanding why we are here on this earth in the first place.
Job didn’t answer other questions of how, when, where and why this living again will play out. But clear explanations of everything God says about life, death, suffering and hope are found elsewhere in the Bible, in articles here in Discern and on our Life, Hope & Truth website. Real, tangible comfort begins with understanding the fundamental promise God holds out to us: We will see our loved ones again. It’s part of His plan for all humanity!
What would I say to grieving families of COVID-19 victims if I had a funeral tomorrow? Certainly we would try to find comfort in the loving memories of a life now past. But most of all, I would want to convey to them that the greatest comfort is not found in looking back over the life we once had, but in looking forward to the life God promises we will share together again.