Empathy and comforting hope

Four family lives suddenly lost in twelve months time. A nephew, a grandmother, a mother and a son, three of which were laid to rest on the same day. That was May 15th 2014 one year to the day that Justin our nephew died.

Rob my 49 year old brother-in-law lost his fight with cancer a few short weeks ago. Death has visited us again. Rob was buried just a few steps away from my son and mother-in-law Linda. I wish to be laid to rest next to my boy someday when I am called home.

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Rob Laffleur

Five years have past since the darkest days of our life. Grief has changed much over that time. Five years seems to be a marker and somewhat of a milestone on this journey with grief. A little over 2 years into my journey I met my new neighbors who were 5 years in. They said at that time that life had finally gotten on track again. I remember wanting to be where they were and wishing I could fast forward the nightmare I was stuck in.

Well, I’m there now. They were right. Five years for some reason seems to be the timetable for life getting back to normal. The new normal as we say. It was true for them and it is true for me as well. I am not alone in this thought. I recently spoke with another bereaved mother who has experienced the same thing.

I felt the heavy weight again not too long ago. I drove without invitation to the house of a couple who lost their son recently. It was the evening before the funeral. We shared, we listened, we laughed and cried. I hurt for them knowing what they are facing. Terrible things that only our hearts know and understand. Things they were yet to experience the following day. Things they are yet to feel in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Empathy was so helpful to us when we lost Jacob. I needed to put feet to my prayers and pay a visit to my hurting friends. I am so glad I did.

We all embraced at the end. We talked much about hope. Hope in Christ. Hope in the resurrection. Hope of heaven and hope of better things to come. There is no greater comfort to offer the grieving than the promises of God to those who believe.

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

The good, the bad and the beautiful

The difficulty with change

I am a creature of habit and the few constant things that I control in life seem to bring me a sense of comfort. I always sleep on my side of the bed regardless of what bed I might be sleeping in. I sit in the same seat Sunday after Sunday in my church; right side, 5th row back , 1st seat next to the aisle. I suggested to my wife a couple months ago that we change our location in the church. Our row was once filled with family but now has become somewhat empty because of all the death. Sitting there had become emotionally difficult for me. Stacey responded by saying she has had enough change in life and was comfortable with our routine and refused to change. So there she sits in row 5, right side, 2nd chair in from the aisle, Sunday after Sunday right next to me.

I suppose there is a comfort in controlling the small things in life because much in life seems out of our control. Life is full of daily choices of great and little consequence. I choose the time to set my alarm, I choose whether to forgo shaving, I select my clothing, I choose to blog or not to blog and so it goes. Then there are the choices that change your life, things like choosing a wife, a college, a career, having children or the purchase of a home. Then there are the changes that I did not choose.

Losing a son has changed many things in the last year and a half. One of the most difficult adjustments to life after death are the many heightened emotional changes that come. Sudden change is disquieting and disturbing, it is the enemy of control and comfort. Grief causes me to be emotional and sometimes the emotion is difficult to manage. I am learning to live with this, it’s not all bad, but at the same time it’s not all good either.

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I expect to be emotional during the holidays and I can sense the emotional buildup. Last Sunday at church, during a Christmas song, before God and everybody, I stood and left my assigned seat being overwhelmed with emotion.

The Sunday prior I left church and stopped to get a headlamp for the car. We had a late night trip back home from Wheaton College after visiting our son Jared. The simple task became difficult and I blew an anger gasket right there in the parking lot of the auto parts store. Sadly, I directed it towards my wife who was only trying to help me. I rarely blow my fuse, but I occasionally do and I always feel terrible afterwards.

Grief has created huge emotional changes in me. Emotion is nearer to the surface now that Jake is gone. This has shown itself to be good and bad at different times but God always makes things beautiful in his time.

The good…

Some good emotional changes that have occurred. I think I am more understanding, compassionate, sympathetic and empathetic towards people. Empathy is an acquired emotion that is different than sympathy. You cannot understand the sorrow and pain of another until you wear the same boots and walk down the same path. It is good to sympathize with people but to emphasize (though I would not choose it for myself) is a better emotion to possess.

People ahead of me in the road of grief have been of great comfort, help and value to me. I hope to offer the same to others as I walk this road and see grievers merge into this highway of pain and emotional turmoil. Though I would not choose this path of pain for myself there is one before me who did just that. He put on his boots and walked this pathway long before me. He chose the wood on the trail and selected the nails. Jesus built a bridge to God for me to cross and through his cross I will see him and my son in heaven.

The Christmas season marks the time when God became a man and entered into the pathway of humanity through a virgin. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, to make propitiation for the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17)

The bad…

Some other emotional changes that have occurred have not been so good, if fact they are sometimes downright ugly and sinful. Because grief resides with me each day, each day is different emotionally. Sometimes anger can  show its ugly head when I least expect it. Grief will build and build over time but sooner or later, I know, the levee is going to break. When the dam lets loose it does not always take the form of tears but occasionally shows itself in rage. Truly, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

I have discovered that I prefer a good cry over a raging fit when my emotions decide to let loose. With tears there is a natural release and comforters are sometimes near to help me through. Rage on the other hand has caused me guilt and shame after I have spewed out all my frustrations. Many times anger is directed towards people we love most, but Jesus, the one who loves me most forgives and helps me. This is a beautiful thing!

…and the beautiful

The Easter season marks the time when Jesus returned to heaven to do the work of the High Priest that only the God man could accomplish. He understands me, he has sympathy and empathy in my failures.He helps me when my emotions get the best of me and I sin against him. He is full of compassion and merciful to me.

“Since then we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Christmas is difficult for those who have lost children. It is a heightened emotional time with many highs and lows, smiles and tears. If nobody else understands I am confident there is always one who does understand and empathizes with me daily. Jesus has walked my road and does not leave me comfortless. He provides me grace, mercy and help in my time of need. Christmas in in 3 days and I need all the help I can get. I am weak emotionally, but encouraged by his word to me. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) That to me is a beautiful thing!

Grace and peace to you my friends! Have a very Merry Christmas.