On Losing a Loved One

Three years ago I lost a close friend to Leukemia. I credit her for being the woman who taught me how to die.

I am aware of three Christian scholars who have written books on the subject of grief after losing a loved one.

C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed after losing his beloved wife (Kindle Edition).

Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote Lament for a Son after losing his boy (Kindle Edition).

And very recently, my friend Ben Witherington and his wife Ann wrote When a Daughter Dies after losing their daughter.

ben witherington

In our day, grief is mostly privatized. But the ancients were different. They grieved in public.

All of the above embody human grief in written form. As such, they stand in the spirit of the ancients with a view to helping others handle their own grief and loss.

Ben Witherington asked me to endorse his book after it was printed, which I gladly did. Here’s what I wrote.

Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose their child. Unfortunately, this was the nightmare that befell renowned New Testament scholar Ben Witherington and his wife Ann. Writing from the pain of a recent tragedy, this tender book will touch the heart of every person who has lost a loved one. While beautifully honoring the memory of their daughter Christy, the Witheringtons also tackle the difficult questions about God’s will in such tragedies, how to handle grief, and how (not) to help others who are grieving, all within a biblical context.

Grab a copy of Ben’s book




  1. Jerry Sledge says

    My wife died of acute pancreatitis over 2 1/2 years ago. I wrote this about a year after she died.

    What I Miss Most of All

    Going to the beach for a walk on the sand.

    Her gentle caress, the touch of her hand.

    Her firm embrace,

    The smile on her face.

    The look in her eye

    As I walked by.

    Her presence near me as we lay on the bed.

    The love we shared by the words that were said.

    Those little things shared from day to day.

    The love that grew between us, along the way.

    Of all things shared both great and small

    It’s the little things I miss most of all.

    Jerry Sledge 07/12/2010

  2. says

    Back in Fall of 2006 my husband and I became pregnant with our second child. The pregnancy was very difficult. I was only twenty years old, so a difficult pregnancy is not normal.

    In the first months I was extremely sick. I lost fifteen pounds in the first three months. At about thirteen weeks I started having some bleeding. I begged God to just let me hold my daughter. All I wanted was to hold her for just a few minutes. I meant much longer than that, but the Lord answered my prayer. Today I am very thankful He did.

    I spent the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy hospitalized or going to the hospital for daily monitoring (2-6 hours each day) due to pre-eclampsia. The specialist was convinced she was TRI-18. There is a do not resuscitate on babies confirmed as such. I refused testing.

    On May 8, 2007 Arrayah, my beautiful and determined little girl, was born via C-Section. She only lived for twenty hours despite the NICU doctors doing everything they could to keep her alive. We held her, kissed, hugged, touched, took pictures, sang, and talked to her. All of our family in town were able to meet her. Then she died due to having 69 chromosomes (she should have been twins but things went wrong). I cherish those moments with all of my heart … the time I got with my sweet baby girl who fought to live.

    The first two weeks after her death were very difficult. I kept asking God, “Why did this happen?” Then God spoke very plainly to me in the most profound way. He asked, “Will you trust me even if you do not know why?”

    At that moment I surrendered the need to know why to God. I still do not know why. But I know something much more important. I know, ever since two weeks after my daughter’s death, I could trust His reasons, His purpose, and His comfort in this time. I knew without a doubt that God was with me and in control no matter what happened. I knew His glory would be made known by what I suffered and lost.

    What got me through those early days was a complete trust in God. I could literally feel God’s hands holding me up. I have lost others, grandparents and other loved ones, but nothing as profound in my life as my daugher’s. God has been with me and my constant comfort through it all.

  3. Wendy Schulz says

    In June of 2010 my husband and I went on a walk and were thanking God for our five beautiful children. Days later we received a phone call that would change our lives forever. Our eighteen year old son was missing. We were living in Bolivia as missionaries of many years and our son was in Canada with his older brother and other family members. My husband went for a walk to pray for Steven. He felt that God was saying “Steven is with me”. A short while later we received another phone call that they had found his body; he had hung himself in his grandfather’s workshop. Steven had recently finished his first year of Bible College on the honor roll but was struggling with depression. It would seem that it was the beginning of bipolar disorder. The school psychologist had assured that he was doing much better but we were in the process of going to Canada to be with him. Now he was gone.

    For all those suffering the loss of a child, and particularly if the loss was due to suicide, I can only cry for you and wish I could hold you in my arms. Turn to God with all your pain and let Him just hold you. Isaiah 66:13 was what God spoke to me those early days. He wants to comfort us like a mother comforts her child.

    Coming back to Bolivia and the ministry God has given me in the prisons here I received so much comfort from the prisoners. One young man took me in his arms and said, “God has allowed one son to go on ahead but He is giving you many sons in the prisons of Bolivia.” I look forward to the day when we will all be together in the presence of Jesus.

    • Rene Enslin says

      Dear Wendy.How I understand what you are talking about. Monday morning 6:45 the phone rang. It was my son-inlaw brokenly telling me that my daughter,22,mother of a 8 month old baby girl had just shot herself. My life exploded into a mass of pain.I had to tell my husband and my 4 other children.
      A month previously she had told me that she had been struggling to get up and face the day. I responded with the advice that she should keep her eyes on Jesus and be thankful for what she had
      Imagine what guilt engulfed me. The only way out was the sustaining prayers of so many of my faithful friends coupled with my assurance that God was in control of my life.
      Rom 8:28 became my mainstay in understanding that my vivacious,outgoing daughter had been given to us just for a time. I clung to the assurance that God would look after her baby and console her shattered husband.
      My why’s and what if’s were countered by accepting that what was done, was done.No agonizing could change what had happened. My wise pastor told me to take my thoughts captive and not take any trips down guilt lane.
      The first thing my husband and I did was to tell my son inlaw that he was not responsible for any thing in connection with her death. Thus we lifted a burden off him as well as ourselves.
      My greatest consolation was that my daughter was a believer and I would have eternity to visit with her when I also went to heaven.
      After the funeral, my husband and I decided to carry on with our lives.
      Yes we grieved but not without hope. With much grace we were able to put this behind us.In trusting God and all the promises He has in His word for us, I am able to believe that my husband, who has also joined my daughter in heaven, are joined together in their praises to the Great I AM, the ruler of the universe. God has used this to draw me soooo much closer to Him. For this I will be ever thankful. Rom 8:28 is true!

  4. says

    Celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection felt so very real this year, because of the passing of a dear, young friend (22 years old), just the week before Easter. She only had nine months after a cancer diagnosis, and as can be imagined, she is greatly missed by her family and friends.

    Thank you for the book suggestion…I am going to order it for her parents.

    I had met her five years ago, when she was only seventeen years old. Our mutual interest in horses brought us together. It grew into a sweet friendship. We shared lots of days visiting over lunch or tea, riding, or just playing games with my kids. She enjoyed our family and showed so much love to our children.

    She was known for thoughtfulness, gentleness and love–-the fruit of life in Jesus.

    Jesus said, “I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” (The Message, John 11:25, 26)

    Because of our hope in Jesus, I am looking forward to the day when I can spend time with my friend again!

  5. Angela says

    Don’t forget A Severe Mercy, written by a friend of CS Lewis — another powerful look at a man whose beloved wife died, and the conclusions he came to about why God allowed it.

  6. Josh L says

    It’s been just over two years since my dad passed away after a three year battle with cancer. One thing I’ve noticed in the time since then is the way he appears in my dreams. When I see him I’m flooded with an indescribable sense of relief and overwhelmed with things I want to express to him. But often he will return my look with a knowing smile that seems to say, “Yes, I feel the same way you do, for I can’t wait to be together again. And it’s so good to see you here. But we still have to wait a while, so rather than try to say all the things we want to say, let’s just enjoy this moment together.” Which we do, and I almost always awake from my dream with tears. I can’t even write about it here without crying. But the sorrow is swallowed up by the joy, I can tell you that much.

    Thanks for the post, Frank! :)

  7. Aaron Saufley says


    Ten years ago, I lost a close friend and church planting partner to a plane crash when he was 22. Four years ago, my grandmother–a woman of profound faith and compassion–died when she was 102. Both of those deaths affected me profoundly, and prepared me for my current career as a hospice chaplain.

    In my job, I help families navigate through the grief of losing someone to a terminal illness. I’m more convinced now than ever that God is revealed most clearly through the suffering of his children. Although each of us grieves differently, I have found that faith, support systems, time, an active life, and good memories of the deceased are all needed for a person to process their grief.

    Thanks for this post, Frank.

  8. Tim Nichols says

    A number of years ago my wife and I experienced an amazingly difficult loss in the form of a miscarriage. Even though the little life had never taken its first breath, the emotional impact of that loss was stunning.
    You spoke of grief often being done in private. The loss of a child by miscarriage (or by abortion) may never be known by others, even close family and friends. The result of this aloneness is often a grieving process that is stalled or forced into an unhealthy silence.
    My wife and I were able to work our way through the loss of our unborn child together, in time.
    I believe that a great grief is honoring to the one who is gone.

    • says

      Tim, sorry to read about your wife’s (and your) loss. Miscarriage is so misunderstood and so often disregarded as an experience that is its own complex form of parental bereavement. One of the MANY complicated, painful realities I encountered in my miscarriage 12 years ago was the fact that while many in the Christian community will fight to the death for the pro-life assertion that there is a baby at conception, those same people tend to treat miscarriage with the same casualness as the medical community, that calls the miscarried baby a fetus, or worse, a POC (product of conception). And when/if you are blessed to have a full-term pregnancy that results in a healthy, living baby at some time after the miscarriage, people seem to forget that your grief doesn’t just evaporate. The hopes and dreams that were sewn into your family when that baby was conceived remain a part of you, and produce a whole other form of hurt and disappointment because miscarriage is so common. It’s almost like you’re forced to endure the loss alone in private because many people don’t recognize you as a parent until you bring a baby home from the hospital. It’s a terrible shame. Please know that there are MANY people who care about your grief and loss. You just may never meet them because they also grieve alone.

  9. Jenny Sutter TeGrotenhuis says

    Jerry Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, details his journey of loss and grief following a car accident in 1991 that took his mother, wife and daughter.


    Sittser is a Theology Professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. The first edition of his book was written in 1996, and has recently been updated. He captures the human heart’s response to trauma and loss in a deeply personal way that resonates with others who are going through similar pain.

  10. says

    Lost Darick at age 31, four months after discovering advanced lung cancer. He and his wife lived with us on the ranch, so it was even more “up close and personal” than the older son living away and on his own.

    As a result of his reading “Sacred Romance” (Curtis, Eldredge) his life had been transformed and growing in the four months preceding that Christmas eve phone call from the hospital having discovered it wasn’t the flu, it was cancer.

    My wife was emotionally focused on the loss for months and often saw signs of comfort from God (dove flying into the bedroom, a single, long-stemmed rose on an empty parking lot as she opened the car door when visiting Ireland; stuff like that).

    I satiated my grief in writing and speaking. My take on the “mystery of life and ife with God” and the death that shifts from one to the other, is summed in four life-framing issues that affect us all: 1) Life is short, 2) Life is hard, 3) Life is unfair, and 4) its end is uncertain. Conclusion: Walk deeply with God so that the end of the journey from one mystery to the other is seemless.

  11. Nancy Blanchard says

    We lost my oldest brother last summer. It was my first experience with death with someone close to me (I am 45). My brother and I weren’t deeply connected as the dysfunction in our family has been over the top, but the Lord had been at work in both our hearts. Although, a Christian for over 20 years I have just in the past few years been coming to “know” the Lord and it was AMAZING, to say the least, to be with my brother while in the hospital (in a coma part of the time) prior to his passing and hear his grown children speak of the reconciliation between him and them in the past few years. They said if this had happened 5 years prior they would have rejoiced over him passing, but because they had been reconciled as a result of my brother cooperating with Lord softening his harsh heart that was not the case.

    I was deeply blessed through the process of my brother’s passing to see our family, a family so disconnected, actually come together in unity and agreement through the last days of my brother’s life. We saw God’s hand throughout the entire process, from having nurses on duty that gave us a period of time to minister to my brother in prayer and holistically and with freedom that wasn’t usually there to come in and out of ICU as we pleased, to all 6 of us (grown) kids being together for the first time in 8 years, to my brother being able to see his estranged daughter of 15+ years before he passed as she had recently come to terms with her anger for him. He couldn’t talk, but his eyes showed delight and tears.

    My mom is 84 years old and she was not given the proper guidance to grieve when her 19 year old brother died in WW2 when she was 16. Her family didn’t know how to grieve and didn’t talk, hug or relate with each other about it at all. She was left to herself to grieve in private. Grieving a close one has been foreign to me, and I think this book (and the others) would be a help and encouragement for all of us.

    Thank you for this post.

  12. Connie Simon says

    My spirit grieves with all who have lost a child. Without the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, I don’t know how we would ever stop grieving.

    My son died suddenly at age 34 of a blood clot. It was such a shock, but the Lord ministered to my husband and I in such a way that we could smile at his memorial service as his life was celebrated. We knew that he was with Jesus and that we would be seeing him again very soon.

    • says

      ((((((Connie)))))) sending a great big hug from Heaven your way. I’m grateful to read that God has brought you comfort. It always seems like we should say that no one should outlive their child, but we know the grievous reality that many people experience this worst of all losses. I can think of nothing more upsetting to the balance of life than the death of a child at any age or stage of life, and amid any circumstance. I find comfort thinking of all the beautiful reunions in Heaven. Although I miscarried 12 years ago, and truly do hope to meet my child in Heaven one day, if there were a reunion line, I would gladly give up my place in line so that people who actually knew and held their children could go first. I don’t even know you, but the idea of being able to turn to you and say, “Please, you first,” fills my heart with comfort. Peace to you.

  13. Lynda Disher says

    We lost our beautiful daughter when she was 15 in a road accident. She loved Jesus with such a passion. I always felt she would achieve so much. After her death I found a poster on her door which she had just recently made. It said ” to live is Christ but to die is gain” Phillipians 1:21 Little did we know that her life here was going to be so short.
    We found her journal and found her last entry. She wrote about heaven and her dream to reach the lost. Her very last sentence said. “when I’m in heaven and your reading this – ask yourself the question- am I a unique child of God?

    Our grief has been very difficult but God has done so many amazing things through our tragedy. We spend a lot of time in India amongst the Dalit people and have many children there who call us mum& dad. We have outreach programs and are helping to solve poverty. Our daughter is achieving so much- just not in the way we imagined or would have preferred.

  14. says

    Wow, this post popped into my inbox just minutes after hitting send on an email to a veteran who knew my father. God’s timing!

    My dad was a casualty of the VN war. Sadly, my mind was too young to carry many memories of him. Through the years I have been able to construct a shadow of the man he was through conversations, old letters, documents and online research.

    Early on the most difficult days were the big accomplishments. I remember at my high school graduation looking out over the auditorium with the expectation of seeing his face in the crowd. Then there was college, marriage, the birth of his first grandchild and then the second that looks so much like him.

    Now as I begin this second half of life, I just miss him. I long for his wisdom, his hugs, his validation of my life. Grief is something that never really fades, it just changes – going through stages of sorrow, joy, questioning and wonder.

    The experience has brought me to embrace and appreciate God the Father in a way I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

  15. Greg says

    I lost my father in January to cancer. I had the privilege to be able to speak at his memorial service and share the gospel with those in attendance. I based the few minutes that I spoke on 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 and gaining wisdom in light of my father’s passing.

    For me on a more personal note, I can see God’s hand throughout circumstances in my life over the past few years that better prepared me to handle my dad’s death. Outside of Christ, there is no hope. In Christ, although there is still mourning and sadness, there is hope!

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