How to Handle the Death of a Loved One and Other Losses

As I write this I’m on a plane headed home from Ohio after attending the memorial service of my twenty year old nephew Beau Williams. He died suddenly in a motorcycle accident.

Only two years ago I attended the memorial service of my father in the same church. I think I’ve had enough memorial services, thank you. But the truth is, the longer I live the more memorials I will attend. The final one I “attend” will be my own.

I’ve lost my parents, aunts, uncles, and many friends. Some have been young, and some old. For some death came suddenly and for some it was agonizingly long.

Furthermore, there are other losses I have had to deal with, as everyone does, such as the death of dreams, relationships, goals, health, youthfulness, finances and other losses.

How can we survive and even thrive in the midst of these difficult losses?

Frankly, I haven’t always been great at handling losses. But I have learned some valuable lessons that I would like to pass on in hopes that it might help others. Perhaps even you.

Here are my thoughts on how to face the death of a loved one and other major losses:

ONE: Allow Grief to Take Its Course, But Don’t Nurse It

Grief is normal and healthy. Even Jesus cried at the death of a loved one. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it carries a profound message: weeping and sorrow are normal and godly.

But Scripture also says that there is a time, “for crying and laughing, weeping and dancing” (Ecclesiastes 3:4 CEV).

Determine not to let sorrow consume you. As much as possible, and interspersed with crying and weeping, begin to laugh and dance.

TWO: Be Grateful for Everything You Can Think Of

Scripture says, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV). Notice it doesn’t say “for” everything but “in” everything.

Why would God’s Word say this? I think it is because gratitude is so profoundly helpful to our mental health. When we nurture an attitude of gratitude it lifts us above our circumstances and puts our minds in a much better place.

Thanksgiving is a tranquilizer for our turmoil. It provides a “natural high” when life gets us down.

I like to write down what I am thankful for as I begin each day. Over the years my list has now grown to almost 20,000 items; some large and some small, some listed only once and some repeated. This exercise is immensely helpful in setting my heart in the right direction each day.

THREE: Accept That God is in Control

Healing comes with acceptance. Acceptance comes when we trust that things don’t happen merely as a result of chance, but of Providence.

When I called my brother Brian just hours after the death of his son Beau, he paraphrased Psalm 139:16 and said, “God knows the number of our days.” Why did this help him and his family so much? Because rather than feeling like the death of his beloved son was merely a horrific tragedy, Brian and his family were trusting in God’s larger purpose and good.

Scripture promises that “all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28). That means that even things we cannot fathom as being good will work out for good.

It seems to me that not believing this means believing only in chance and therefore meaninglessness, hopelessness and futility.

I don’t believe this because it is helpful, but because it is God’s Word. 

While this promise is extremely burden bearing, it is not for everyone. It concludes, “…to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, it is for God’s people—those who trust in Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Him? If not, please go here for help.

For more help, see my articles on:

Question: What has helped you deal with major losses? Please leave a comment below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Janis

    My Brother died from a suicide. Through this I found that God is sufficient for all our needs. He is there when others fail us and He blesses us with love and insight to go through the pain and once again feel joy.

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Yes. We have had a nephew, uncle and sister-in-law who committed suicide. So sad.

      • Mark Alan Williams

        I should have said “cousin by marriage” instead of sister-in-law. What am I thinking?

  • G Reyes

    Dear Mark.

    My condolences again for your loss. This is a great lesson for all of us. As I am now surrounded by people close to me who are either dying or suffering from terminal illnesses, this gives me comfort knowing God has it all planned out for us. And nothing can be better than what He has in store for us in His Kingdom.

    God bless,
    G

    • Mark Alan Williams

      thank you G!

      You are in my prayers for Dolly and others.

  • Amy

    Thank you Mark. These truths are beneficial not only for grieving, but for living out our daily lives. There are so many losses, unexplainable circumstances, every day hurts…. Believing that God is in control, and that He knows us more intimately and loves us more deeply than anyone on this earth, can give us the comfort and strength we need to live joyously every day, no matter what.

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Yes Amy, you said it well!

  • Kathy Dickinson

    Thanks Mark for your comments – two additional helps to me are: that God doesn’t make mistakes and secondly that my loved one (Dick) is so much happier with his Lord and feeling great – that helps a lot – if I look at it from my view – I could easily dwell on “my poor lonely self” but looking on it from Dick’s point of view makes the entire loss much more easily handled.

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Kathy, that is rich!

  • Chuck

    After losing my wife and then 8 months later losing my mother, I was comforted by the knowledge that the timing of their deaths was known by God before they were born. They both knew Him as their personal Lord and Savior. They went from my presence directly into Jesus’ presence. They graduated to their final reward and I will see them again when my days on earth are over. I’m continually reminded of the old hymn each time I think about them, that “In the sweet by and by, we will meet on that beautiful shore”, never more to suffer from sickness or pain, never more to worry or fret, merely to worship Jesus for all eternity. What great comfort that is.

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Yes, yes and yes!

  • Alan Johnson

    Mark – Thanks for your thoughts, having lost our 54 year old son last year we experienced the unexpected passing of a loved one. Knowing that God is sovereign helps, knowing that our son is with Jesus brings much comfort & encouragement. We know we will be together again!

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Wow, yes, thank God for the Blessed Hope.

  • Kay Leffel

    Mark, this was WONDERFUL! Are you going to use any of it tomorrow? Would you mind if I forwarded it to the prayer chain? Since we’ve had so many deaths affecting people within the chapel, I really think your words would be a tremendous comfort to the parents and spouses of those who have left us this year. Let me know, OK?

    I need to meet with you and Carolyn for a minute tomorrow. A number of women got together and made a gift for you, hopefully it will be a comfort to you!

    Hugs…..
    Kay

    • Mark Alan Williams

      Kay, thank for your affirmation to use this at Gary’s memorial service. That is what I am planning to do now.

      Feel free to forward it to whomever you like and please refer them to my website: http://www.markalanwilliams.net

      See you this afternoon and thanks in advance for the gift.