Your parent has died (or a friend’s parent that you know). There’s no nice way to say it and sugar coating it or being tactful is just insulting. It’s an ugly, excruciating fact shoved in your face. The thoughts and emotions that come with it aren’t so straightforward. Perhaps you feel overwhelming anger, or sorrow, or absolute disbelief, or complete numbness. Maybe you have millions of swirling sentences and making sense of them right now is inconceivable. In a military family, this reality impacts the remaining family members in all sorts of far-ranging ways..
The undeniable truth is that your mom or dad is dead. And you are devastated. The pain of it could easily swallow you whole. The other undeniable truth that stretches through your entire life, before and after that terrible day, is that the Lord is present and covers you with complete love, protection, compassion, and understanding. Whether you are doubled over with sadness and long for his arms or if you want to spit in his face with indignation, Jesus Christ accepts and receives you and every thought or feeling you have. He welcomes you completely into his love. Keep going to hear more about what the Lord has to say about death, grief, and his unending love for you.
When I was little, my dad gave me everything. Some parents give you money, some parents give you shelter, some give you education – my dad gave me all of these. I was quite a shy child and had difficulty coming out of my shell, but when I was about 6 or 7, my dad started taking me to our local Rec Center. I had found my ‘thing’. I started to become really good at sports and it changed my life. Every Monday and Friday, come rain or shine, my dad would drop me off, pick me up and more often than not, stay and make sure I got the best workout and training possible.
For about 8 years Dad nurtured my talent and I ended up being the best athlete in my high school in three different sports. At about 14 or 15, I got distracted and distant from my family, my dad in particular. I started sneaking out and getting drunk and hanging with friends. My dad was disappointed, absolutely frustrated. He would email me during his deployment or tell mom to tell me something encouraging from him; but I just ignored it and usually left to hang out with my friends or just turned my music up. He wasn’t home to yell at me, so I just did my own thing.
I had such a golden opportunity to pursue sports, and I didn’t deal with the other things that happened in my life as well as I could have, and I blamed my dad. Of course it was no way his fault – not in any way, shape or form, but I basically spent about 2 or 3 years just railing against my dad, blaming him for everything that had not worked out for me as I thought it should. After all, he was in the Army, not my choice, so all of our moving and switching schools was his fault.
In summer 2012 my dad was deployed to Afghanistan. I could barely look my dad in the eye when he left for the airport. There was so much anger, detachment, and at the same time I wanted to go back to those Monday and Fridays at the Rec Center. In August 2012 he died. I can’t believe he isn’t coming back. Sometimes I kinda trick myself and forget he is dead. I think for a few seconds that he’s just deployed, and he’ll be back in a month or two, nagging me about my chores. And now I don’t know whether I can regain my happiness or not. My life (I) am a vacuum.
Since my dad died, I’m not the same. I feel so alone and depressed without him. I’m not ok. He wasn’t only my dad – he was my hero. He was there always reaching out to me, and he’s the one that cared for me the most. And now to know that he’s only a headstone fills me with horrible pain. I want to tell him how much I love him, but I can’t anymore. I’m just sad. Ridiculously sad. There’s no other word for it, and I’m tired of acting like I’m all right, when I’m not. I wish I could hug him and tell him I love him.
The love I feel for my dad is so big – there will never be another human being that has selflessly done so much for me, and it hurts so very, very much that I hurt him so much. I can’t change any of this, and I have to live with it. I know all he wanted was for me to be happy and to live life well. I just wish, constantly, that I could change the way things went and make him come home and make everything ok between us. It’s a hard, hard experience, but I just try to do the best with it that I can. I just try and say to myself that, if I can be half the man in my life that my dad was, and help people half as much as he did, then I can be true to his memory.
(Story compiled from personal accounts posted on ExperienceProject.com)
This psalm is really a prayer – something for you to say when you can’t quite form your own sentences. There are a lot of different situations this applies to but the components are universal. In your grief, understand that God is present and willing to extend his love and peace to you. See how the psalmist expresses doubt, anger, frustration, hopelessness, fear, and many other things and still the Lord remains ready to help. In the end, the psalm turns to praise because, in the midst of great sorrow, there is the joy that Jesus Christ will be constant and will continue to protect, guide, and love us no matter what happens and what emotions we experience. This is a very tangible way to build resilience into your life.
A Prayer for Help
How much longer will you forget me, Lord? Forever?
How much longer will you hide yourself from me?
How long must I endure trouble?
How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night?
How long will my enemies triumph over me?
Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
Don’t let my enemies say, “We have defeated him.”
Don’t let them gloat over my downfall.
I rely on your constant love;
I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O Lord,
because you have been good to me.
- Do you relate to a part or all of the story above? If so, which part(s)
- What emotions are dominant in your heart right now?
- If guilt and regret are big ones for you, how do you plan to handle and process those emotions?
- Do you believe that asking God for help and comfort right now makes a difference? Is that something that is easy or hard for you to do?
- What sort of situation do you think the psalmist was in when he wrote that prayer to God?
- What did he believe about God? What was he feeling?
- How do you think faith influences your grief and guilt? How resilient do you think you are when you face thee kinds of trials that a military family goes through?
My pain is overwhelming. The numerous thoughts and feelings I have right now are too much. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing. I feel so much right now but I’m also numb. This is too much for me to handle. I can’t do this. I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this without you. Please listen to me. Please see and know all that I’m going through right now and give me the help I need. I’m so lost I don’t even really know what I need right now but please God give me your perfect peace. Keep me firm in your purpose and let me feel your presence here, now, during all of this. I am so heartbroken. I can’t do this. Please help me.
The reality is that this may be too much for you to handle. The grief that you are experiencing over the death of your mom or dad may seem insurmountable. Instead of trying to handle it all on your own or look for help from friends who may be over their head, have the courage to seek out help from people who are experienced and educated. One resource is through your youth leaders and chaplains. Other parents and trusted adults can help, too. Perhaps your base has grief counselors. They can help you or connect you with someone who is equipped to guide you. Another can be found though the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
For more information go to this website.
T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) has an article about Military children and Grief. In order to facilitate communication between you and your family, I want you to read this article with a member of your family, perhaps a sibling or even a grandparent, and discuss how this fits into your situation. You can read it separately if you need time to process but the point is to talk with one another about this article and your present situation. Pick out things you liked or didn’t like. What described you? What has nothing to do with your personal story? To take it one step further, Read Psalm 13 and 1 Corinthians 1:3-5 or another verse that has stuck out to you along with this article. Consider how your faith in God impacts you and how you process your grief.
For some insight into how your actions are affecting your ability to grieve, take a look at this quiz. After you have taken the quiz, come up with at least one way for each of the 5 sections that you can improve your lifestyle habits or relieve a pressure, then talk with your family about this. If you need, talk to a youth leader or chaplain first to help you figure out how to talk to your family about your needs and struggles with grief. Remember, “trust in the Lord forever; he will always protect us” Is. 26:4
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18- This passage describes what will happen at the end of days. How God will call all of his believers, living and dead, to him, and we will be reunited with our loved ones and our Lord!
Psalm 31:9-10- A cry for relief from the pain of grief and for God’s shelter in times of sorrow.
Revelation 21:4- Another promise for the end of days, how Jesus will restore our hearts through his power and love.
Nahum 1:7- The Lord protects His people and takes care of them.
Matthew 5:4- Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Psalm 147:3- He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds.
Isaiah 26:3-4- A call to have faith and confidence in the power, purpose, and peace of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5- This zooms the lens out from our personal situation. It reminds us that life will continue and we can in turn help others experience the love of Christ.
Small group guide:
Large group guide:
- Rewrite Psalm 13 in a journal or notebook. Make the words or phrases that are important to you bigger, give them shapes and colors. Use drawing, writing, etc to express the parts of the psalm that describe your soul right now and spend some time articulating those feelings to God.
- Look at the Supporting Scripture section and choose one to memorize this week. Put it by your bed, fridge, locker, or somewhere you will see it multiple times a day. Tell a family member or close friend why you chose that verse and what you need to understand about Jesus Christ’s presence in your life.
- Write your own psalm, poem, or prayer and try including the 3 components from Psalm 13 – That God is present in your life, that your emotions (no matter how conflicting or extreme) are real, and that his love is constant and all encompassing. If words won’t come to you at this time, find another way to communicate these things to God like drawing, dancing, making a video, whatever way you find easiest to talk to Jesus.
Horatio Spafford was a man well known around Chicago in the 1860’s. He was a successful businessman with a wife and children. In fact, he bought a large amount of property along Lake Michigan while he held the position of senior partner in a large and thriving law firm.
Success and happiness seemed to be a constant in Horatio’s life until the beginning of 1871 when a series of tragedies struck him and his family. His son, age 4, died of pneumonia. Then in 1871 the Great Chicago Fire struck and his property along the lake shore was destroyed, making his investment a total loss.
While he dealt with the fallout of his business failures, he sent his family to England to begin a vacation without him. On the journey across the Atlantic, the ship carrying his wife and 4 daughters sunk, killing the 226 passengers including all of his children. His wife alone reached safety. More tragedy came into their lives but in the midst of it all came a strong and lasting statement of Horatio Spafford’s faith in the Lord.
As he crossed from America to Britain to join his wife, taking the same passage as the one which claimed his remaining children’s lives, Horatio composed a hymn that has connected with the souls of people for over a hundred years, as in the midst of his deepest anguish and sorrow he found the perfect peace of the Lord. Perhaps you have heard it before, perhaps it is new. Either way, as you listen, allow the presence and love of God pour over you and listen to what he speaks into your heart. The Lyrics are:
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.
(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (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 hath 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 His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to 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.