Sometimes you lose a friend, and that hurts. Sometimes you lose a job and, depending on your state of mind (some jobs are easy to leave), that can be stressful. And sometimes you lose something physical, like a tooth or your Captain America or Wonder Woman physique, and that can be difficult. (Unless you’re more like the lesser-known Bouncing Boy and you’re already quite bulbous.)
However, the loss that crushes your heart the most happens when you have to say goodbye to a parent, spouse, child, or grandchild. Whether it’s due to a death, a divorce, or a departure because someone moved away, this kind of loss can rip your soul to shreds.
Nearly twenty years ago, my dad went to be with Jesus, and just a few years ago, my stepdad passed away. I frequently tear up whenever I think of them. I miss both of my dads.
In 2008, my grandson Phineas died. The pain of that loss is beyond description for me. He would be eleven years old now, and I often imagine what he would be like if he were still with us.
Recently, I’ve also been reminded of how hard it can be to see someone you love move away. Of course, it’s not the same as a death, but when you are separated from those you love, it’s still an emotional blow.
A couple of weeks ago, my youngest daughter moved to Australia. This past week, a few more family members moved away as well.
Admittedly, I’m a sentimental, emotional, and passionate person. And I feel a deep bond with my kids and grandkids that only a parent or grandparent can fully understand.
Now, with three of my four kids and six of my ten grandchildren out of town, I’m going through some painful emotional withdrawals. (In fact, I’m considering becoming Amish. I hear their families never leave. )
Yes, I know, there’s Facetime, and it helps. But when you’re a spontaneous guy whose love language is physical touch, it’s not the same.
Yes, I know, it could be worse. (All of my family could be living on another continent somewhere.)
Yes, I know, some of you have far worse situations to contend with than I do. I’m sorry. Truly.
But loss is loss, and it’s still tough no matter what silver lining you or I try to put on it.
So, I’ve been processing and writing because it’s therapeutic for me, and here are a few things I’ve landed on that might help you.
1. Try to focus on those you still have near.
You and I can choose where we put our attention. We can zero in on what’s been lost or do our best to see those still within our reach. I still have one kid, his wife, and four grandkids in town. Hopefully, they’re prepared for a lot more attention and spoiling from me.
If you’ve lost a parent, spouse, or child, I’m not suggesting you ignore that reality. Grieve. It’s okay. Necessary even. But don’t forget that you are never truly alone unless you choose to be. Find a friend or a neighborhood kid or someone in your church to give your heart to with joy. God has placed you close to others with whom you can connect. Go find and love them without reservation.
2. Choose to be thankful for all the years you’ve had with those you’ve loved.
When you start to be overwhelmed with negative emotions, stop and decide to turn your pain into praise. Honestly, even as I write that phrase (turn your pain into praise), a part of me wants to scream, THAT’S EASIER SAID THAN DONE!
I hate clichés, and I especially get irritated when people throw them at me like a cure-all. However—and this may surprise you—this practice of praise actually works. Think about it; it’s impossible to be thankful and negative at the same time. I can moan and complain about my family living too far from me, but if I decide to be thankful instead, it changes me because it changes my heart and my focus (see #1 above).
3. Decide to live in the now.
You can’t change the past. You have no real control over anything in your future. You can live with regrets and grumpiness over what has happened. You can live with fear and frustration about what might happen. (What if the last of my local family moves to Maine?!)
Or—and this is far better—you can live every moment of every day being wholly present and fully alive. I’ve said it before; you don’t own your next breath. So today might be the last day or the last second you have with those you love. Don’t assume you’ll have tomorrow. Don’t waste the time you have together. Cherish the moments. They matter.
May I pray for you?
Father, You know the pain of loss. You understand our struggle and suffering. And You created us to be connected to others and bonded in love. To live isolated and insulated might be a temptation for some of us because we think that protects our hearts from loss. But that’s not Your plan, and we are better because of our human bonds, even the temporary ones. Teach us to number our days. Help us to live with gratefulness. Remind us, often, that every moment matters. And when our souls ache, please wrap Your hands around our hearts and whisper in our ears, “You are never alone.” In the beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.
Lord, even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
Psalm 23:4 (TPT)