The Essence of Grieving


To me, words are both tools and toys.

The title of this series of posts is wordplay. I don’t claim to know the essence of grieving–this is my first experience with anything like this, and my wife died only eight weeks ago tomorrow morning. But during this process, from the time of the diagnosis of stage four metastatic pancreatic cancer in October 2015 until this moment, I have had to embrace a number of things that can be described with words that begin with the letter, “S.”

Hence, “ess-ence.”

As I write this, I’m sitting in the beautiful double recliner where my darling spent the last three weeks of her life. It was an extravagantly generous gift from a group of our colleagues, and from the day it arrived in our home, she never left it until she was confined to the hospital bed that eventually replaced our dining room table. We would sleep here together every night, sitting close and holding hands until my phone alarm would ring at 2 AM, signaling her next dose of morphine.

I’m listening to music we listened to together, in the dark, as she was dying. The tears are pouring down my face as my chest heaves with sobs. At times I still can’t contain my anguish. My memories of her are both precious and intensely painful.  I want to remember her as the beautiful, vivacious, mischievous woman she was when I took this photograph–brimming with life and love. Instead, I fight to purge my memory of the dreadful images of her starved, cancer-ravaged body in the final days of her earthly life. She had aged thirty years in four months, and as I looked at her it was difficult to grasp that she was actually the  woman in the photo.

My love for God–and His love for me–tempers my pain with hope. My tears are not for my wife, who is rejoicing in the presence of the Saviour she served so joyfully and faithfully since the age of nine. Instead, they are for myself; for our children and grandchildren; for my parents, who loved her as their own daughter; and for her family–who are now my family. They are for the scores of precious people here in our city–people from all over the world–who came to know and love her as their Canadian mom. They are for two young women who expected her to be their mentor. As I sit here, it is comforting to know that the same One who is receiving her adoration is also feeling my sorrow. Jesus and I weep together.

A few weeks ago, I visited a friend in Virginia Beach, where our children live. Though our time together was brief, he encouraged me a great deal. My emotions were raw; I was exhausted and in shock. I felt disoriented. Lethargic. After he prayed with me, my brother exhorted me, quoting John Piper, “Rob, don’t waste your grief.” Until that moment, I had never thought of grief in this way. Grief is a stewardship. A resource. A legacy. God designed it so:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 COR 1.3,4

Some of my friends have given me books about grieving, which I am reading as time allows. One of the things the textbooks say is that there is no textbook case. Everyone grieves differently. Grief is not fabricated on an assembly line; it is handcrafted by the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” to fit an individual’s circumstances and make him or her uniquely suited to comfort others.

My experience will not be yours exactly. It can’t be–I am not you. But my prayer is that writing about my journey might accomplish two small things: first, that it may bring help and comfort if you are grieving the loss of someone you loved; or, second, that it may give you a useful glimpse into the heart of someone who has.


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