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I just recently went through the pain of losing a dear friend to pancreatic cancer. While he is now pain free and in heaven, my heart’s desire is to know how to comfort his grief-stricken wife. As a young child, my father died unexpectedly, leaving my mother a grief-stricken widow and single parent to two young children. I saw how painful it was for her, and my heart longed to do anything and everything to help.
Jesus has a special place in His heart for the widows and orphans, and as Christians, it is our job to come alongside them and be the hands and feet of Jesus. But so often I find that people don’t know what to do or say to help, so they do or say nothing. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and discuss how to help the grief-stricken widow with my friend, Lisa Appelo, on an episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective with Dr. Michelle Bengtson. Lisa went to bed one night happily married and woke up the next morning an unexpected grief-stricken widow. I’ve asked Lisa to share a little bit more here about what helped her most during that time of grief.
Help for the Grief-Stricken: 3 Anchors that Held Me in Grief
by Lisa Appelo
Seven years ago, I went to bed happily married and woke up a widow and single mom to 7 kids.
Dan was my first boyfriend and only boyfriend. We met in youth group, were high school sweethearts and went to college together. We married just after I turned 20, the first day of the rest of our life.
That naïve girl had no idea the rest of our life would end so early.
The night before we’d had pizza together as a family, the kids had gone to bed and we’d said goodnight like a thousand other ordinary nights.
Somewhere in the dark early morning hours, I heard Dan breathing funny. “It’s just a nightmare, Hon,” I said, nudging him to wake him. But when his breathing continued, I realized this was different.
I flipped on the overhead light and could see immediately something was wrong. I cried out to Dan and my older children heard and ran in. We started CPR as the 9-1-1 operator walked us through and within minutes the paramedics arrived.
Good, I thought. He’s in good hands now. Is he gonna be mad when he wakes up and realizes he has to miss work.
But within the hour, the ER doctor would take me into the room you never want and gently explain they’d worked for over an hour and had never been able to revive him.
And just like that, every bit of life shattered.
Tomorrow’s plans, next week’s to-do’s, long-held dreams were gone and would never be again. It felt like I’d been ripped in two leaving raw and ragged nerves exposed.
Our life hadn’t been perfect, but it had been full and good. Now every morning, I woke to gut-wrenching grief, deep missing, a constant ache of loneliness, fear and despair.
And even worse was pain I felt for my children’s loss that I couldn’t fix.
What do we do when life as we know it has imploded and the future is a blank, black hole?
Navigating deep grief for the first time, I found three anchors that held me in grief.
1. A daily exchange in the Word
Every morning, I’d get away by myself for time in the Word. I cried and told God this was too hard. I couldn’t get myself through grief much less raise seven grieving children.
Then I’d open the Bible for that day’s reading. I didn’t search for specific scriptures or certain stories. I was reading through the Bible and regardless of whether I was in Leviticus or Luke, God always met me.
In a great, daily exchange, I would bring my pain and despair to God and He would give me encouragement and hope for that day.
It wasn’t enough for the week. I had to go back again the next day but always, always, God lifted my head and gave me enough strength to parent and show up for that day’s tasks.
2. Looking for good.
Along with daily Bible time, I started a gratitude list. When circumstances felt bad, I desperately needed to see the good.
Some days, I recorded big things God did that still stun me or small details that were huge because they were so personal and practical.
Keeping a gratitude list forced me to look back over the previous day to see what God was doing in us and around us. I discovered just what scripture says — that even in the worst circumstances, God is good and God does good.
3. Believing what I didn’t feel.
In deep grief, our emotions can lie. My emotions told me I’d never smile again and taunted that life would never be good again.
I had such fear for our future, for our finances, for raising boys to men without their dad. What had been garden-variety angst now became paralyzing fear.
I had to choose to believe God’s promises and trust His character when my emotions told me different.
God is faithful and can be nothing else. He says He’s the defender of widows and father to the fatherless. He promises to provide all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus and to give wisdom generously when we ask.
I began to take God at His word, asking God for wisdom as I parented and took scary steps on my own. I trusted God would provide just as He’d provided through Dan’s job. I trusted He had a hope and a future for us, that joy would come in the morning and that there was as much abundant life this side of Dan’s death as before.
Grief is grueling and there are no shortcuts and yet, God holds us through the storm.
I still need my daily exchange, still keep a gratitude list and still trust what I cannot see. But seven years in, I can say with great confidence — the Anchor holds.
About Lisa Appelo
Seven years ago, Lisa Appelo became a sudden widow and single mom to seven. Having walked through this life-altering loss, Lisa inspires women to deepen their faith in grief and find hope in the hard. She’s passionate about rich Bible study and teaches a weekly ladies Bible class at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville. Lisa is a former litigating attorney but her days are now filled with parenting, ministry, writing, speaking, and running enough to justify lots of dark chocolate.
Grief Related Resources:
“A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life” by Jerry Sittser
“A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss” by Jerry Sittser
“Widowed: When Death Sucks the Life Out of You” by Fran Geiger Joslin