Facing grief at church


Returning to gathered worship after losing a loved one can be daunting. The anticipation of face-to-face interactions may impose anxiety over anticipatory questions that cause discomfort and pain. Although everyone wants to see you back on your feet, the reality is that you probably feel as though you are suffering sea legs on dry land.
The familiar rhythms of life may now seem foreign to you. Conversations and time at work, school, clubs, and even with friends and family have most likely become awkward and unwieldy. Core family commitments like church attendance also levy additional stress into your already drowning coping strategies.
Attendance and participation in activities that are unnecessary for survival become overwhelming and unwelcome. American culture is focused on happiness and popularity; it is anti-grief-based. The songs on our radios begin with tragedy and end in triumph in less than three minutes. We dress up for social engagements and hurry in and out with animated greetings and smiles as though we don’t care in the world.
In church, we are presented with a pathway to heavenly happiness and quickly pass over any pains suffered along the way. We concentrate on the glory of salvation and forget that the road to get there is paved with trials that inflict real and wretched pain. We focus on the healings and the healed rather than investigating and understanding the anguish suffered before these glorious blessings were realized.
Focusing on the prize is an excellent strategy if you are not called upon to bear true agony. If tragedy strikes you, a pre-plan for coping and recovery is a good strategy. Coping skills, support networks, and navigational abilities add up to better recoveries than just focusing on the end game of everything will be alright.
We may try to keep grief at arms’ length, but we cannot keep it out of our lives indefinitely. Eventually, we will experience our frailties when significant loss knocks us straight on. At that moment, we seek Jesus like we never have before. The problem is that, most likely, he’s at church with all of those well-wishers.
So how do we seek Jesus and avoid the intolerable pain of everyone wishing us well? The answers are reasonably straightforward. We seek him through knowing him before tragedy strikes. If we know Him and communicate with Him before tragedy hits us, we will recognize Him when we are wrought with pain.
Death often ushers in a faith crisis. My experiences with loss have taught me to lean into my faith rather than doubt or back away from it. Anger, anguish, and pain tempt me to lash out and pull away from Jesus, but I have never found those actions to promote recovery. In my life, I have found that allowing the Good Shepherd to shepherd me back to a place where I can live again is my best recovery tactic.
If you suffer a loss, I hope you will lean into your faith rather than pull away from it. You may be unable to tolerate returning to gatherings at church for a while, but you can visit with your Pastor or read and study your scriptures.
Allowing others to minister to you during your recovery is a great blessing. Friends and family want to help even from a step away. When others ask if there is something they can do, invite them to pick up a few chores from your list of responsibilities; grocery shopping, laundry, yard work, washing the car, and meal preparation are a few tasks that are easily assigned and require little one-on-one contact. A simple thank you card thanks others for their services and allows you to feel their love without time together. It also helps you feel the Savior’s love through the care and kindness his followers show.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a Certified Grief Counselor (GC-C), Funeral Director (FDIC), published author, syndicated columnist, Podcaster, and founder of the “Mikey Joe Children’s Memorial” and Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, Podcasts, and Grief BRIEFs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award.

For additional encouragement, please visit my podcast “Deadline” on Spotify and follow me on Instagram at “Deadline_TracyLee.”