the School of Grief

June 7, 2011

I have noticed some overarching themes in my life–lessons that God takes months or years to teach me.  It’s like being in school for a specific topic, and the topic is never of my choosing.  In my teens and early twenties, it was the School of Forgiveness, which was soon followed by the School of Living by Grace, Not Works.  There has also been a School of Asking and Believing and a School of Caring for Widows and Orphans.

Now I think I’m a student enrolled full-time in the School of Grief.  I’ve been resisting this reality for a while, but I am hard-pressed to continue denying that the past 18 months or so have been all about grief.  The numbers in my little world are staggering:

5 friends/loved ones diagnosed with cancer

3 died within 16 months of each other

1 is in his final days

One of the people who recently died happens to be my Great Aunt Eileen, one of the kindest, sweetest women on the face of the planet.  I will admit: It has been easier for me to walk through her illness because she is 87 and has lived a long, fulfilling life.  She has done what she set out to do, and now it is time for her to rest. But this reality does not make it any easier to let her go.

The one in his final days is a friend from middle school and high school days, Emmett Stallings.  He has been fighting esophageal cancer for about a year and a half, but he recently had to discontinue chemotherapy because his body simply cannot handle it any more.  His family has asked people who know him to send words of love and encouragement now; they are also compiling memories of Emmett to pass on to his young son, Quinn.  My heart has been so heavy for Emmett, his wife Wendy, and Quinn.  I have run out of words to pray for them, so tears and moans will have to suffice.  You can read more about Emmett’s journey at teamemmett.com.

I am sure that I have not yet figured out all of the lessons God has for me to learn in the School of Grief, but I have figured out one:  It’s not easy to pray for a loved one who is dying.  My faith wants to pray for miraculous healing, while the realist in me wants to pray for a peaceful, pain-free death.  The theologian in me is constantly wondering what God’s will is in the situation of a dying person and questions whether I can even begin to pray God’s will for my suffering friend.

The only prayer that seems to suffice so far is, “Lord, have mercy.”  Mercy on my suffering friend, on his overwhelmed family, and on my inadequate prayers and confused heart.



  1. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing honestly Allison. The last sentence is my favorite…something I think all hurting hearts can resonate with when there’s nothing left to say.

  2. I can relate to “tears and moans will have to suffice”. Sometimes the hardest thing we can do is pray that “not my will but yours” prayer. Here are a few words I wrote a long time ago about my first wife Ellen:
    At thirty-nine years old my first wife, Ellen, had heart and kidney failure … at the brink of her death I found myself begging God to not let her die … I could not accept her situation or the possibility of her death. Three and a half years later after praying almost daily for her healing … never giving up … I found myself again faced with the possibility of her dying. Driving to work one day … racked with the agony of thoughts of a world without Ellen … I began to pray in the Spirit. I saw a picture in my mind. In this vision I saw myself standing on a mountain looking down at a valley … some how I knew it was the valley of the shadow of Ellen’s death. As I looked into the vision I saw Jesus come to my side, take my hand, and walk with me into the valley. It was a comforting picture. God was trying to tell me that he would be with me when Ellen died and that I would be okay.
    I join you in prayer for Emmett and ask that his wife and family be comforted knowing that Jesus walks with them into the valley.

    Love and blessings,


  3. Thank you for sharing your experience, Bob. What a precious gift God gave you in the vision of Ellen’s valley. It reminds me of the words from a Caedmon’s Call song I have often thought about lately:

    The prince of despair’s been beaten
    But the loser still fights
    Death’s on a long leash
    Stealing my friends to the night

    And everyone cries for the innocent
    You say to love the guilty, too
    And I’m surrounded by suffering and sickness
    So I’m working tearing back the roof

    Give me your hand to hold
    ‘Cause I can’t stand to love alone
    And love alone is not enough to hold us up
    We’ve got to touch your robe
    So swing your robe down low

  4. Beautifully written…

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