I was two days away from turning twenty when I watched my brother die. He had been diagnosed with type 3B small cell lung cancer at the beginning of my freshman year of college. He was twenty-eight, in good health and had never been a smoker. He died in July after battling cancer for nine months. I transferred to JBU a year later.
“How many siblings do you have?” Possibly the most awkward question I get asked.
“I had two.”
At this point, the person has either lapsed into silence, said ‘sorry’ repeatedly or has chosen to ask how it happened. The third response is the least common, but the most wanted.
Death is such a taboo topic within our society. Most people will do anything to avoid talking about. This is why I like the third response. I want people to know how my brother died. It’s an important experience I’ve had in my life, and it’s shaped me in part into who I am today.
“My friend’s loved one just died. What do I say to them?”
This is a tricky situation. Different people grieve in different ways. Some want space and others don’t. The best thing you can do for a person grieving is to let them know you’re there for them. You can’t save that person from what they’re going through, and you can’t understand it. The worst thing you can say to someone grieving is, “I know how you feel,” and then give them a Bible verse about how all things work together for good. If you want to be there for a grieving friend crawl into the darkness and sit with them.
Death isn’t something to get over, it’s something you learn to live with. There’s so many places where grief and suffering are seen in the Bible. In Lamentations 3:19-24, Jeremiah expresses his grief over the conquered city of Jerusalem and the sins of the Israelites. The Babylonians had taken hold of Jerusalem due to the Israelites’ choosing to reject God.
When recalling his sufferings, Jeremiah is not comforted. His memories of the hard times don’t offer him peace. Peace isn’t evident until verse 21 — “This I recall to my mind. Therefore, I have hope” — that things start to look up. Jeremiah calls to mind the Lord’s character, and he is encouraged in his grief. Even though the Israelites rejected Him, God was faithful to His people. Even when we reject Him, God is faithful to us.
God doesn’t promise us an easy life, especially if we choose to follow Him. There will be trials and suffering. People die and life happens. While there’s chaos in the world, God’s character remains the same.
When I think of suffering, I think of the One who suffered for all of our sins: Jesus. He suffered more than we could ever know and took the sins of the human race on his shoulders.
Living with grief has changed the way I view the world. It’s broadened my understanding of the fall of mankind and what it really meant for Jesus to die for my sins. He died on the cross so that you and I wouldn’t have to be separated from Him.
God is faithful in life and death. As my brother liked to say, “we may lose some battles, but Jesus has already won the war.”