Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. [Psalm 23:4 (NIV)]

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear. [John Newton]

golondrinas penetente NM My mother had been very clear—she was to be cremated and her ashes tossed into our rose garden. I was only fifteen when she died and filled with teen-age indignation when my father interred her ashes in a cemetery plot. Angrily I asked how he could go against her wishes. He simply replied, “Following her wishes is far easier said than done.” What had seemed so easy in theory was, in actuality, far too difficult for the grieving man to do. Burdened by my own grief, I didn’t understand; older and wiser, I do now.

I thought of my father’s reply when a friend mentioned the difficulty of planning her husband’s Celebration of Life Service—she wanted to do one thing but family members insisted on another. A few days later, I overheard two other widows discussing their husbands’ cremains—neither woman felt ready to dispose of them and yet they were being pressured to do so by family members. Grief is hard enough by itself; family dissension only makes it worse.

Each of us grieves in our own way and at our own pace. In his grief and loneliness, my father made some rash and foolish personal choices. I dealt with the loss of my mother in acts of teen-age rebellion and reckless stupidity. A friend reluctantly went off to college just a few weeks after her father died and ended up sitting in her dorm room in tears. Grief-stricken and unready to move on with her life, she flunked out of school. Once done mourning, she returned to school and graduated with honors! While none of us handled our grief well, we all needed to pass through that dark valley the best we could, just as my widowed friends will do in time.

Rather than telling our friends and family what they should do and how to behave in their grief, perhaps we could take a lesson from Abe and Sarah, a long-married couple with whom I attend Bible study. Sitting across the table from me, they’d left an empty chair between them. Jokingly, I asked if they were annoyed with one another. No, they were just leaving a spot for the recently widowed Mary. She and her husband used to sit across from them at Bible study. Not wanting Mary to sit by herself, they now save a place for her between them so she won’t feel alone. That, I thought, is what church family does for one another—they walk together in the dark valley of sorrow.

For those who mourn, that dark valley can seem long, gloomy and desolate. A Christian knows he is never alone in his grief—God is always with him. The Bible, however, is abundantly clear—we are to bear one another’s burdens. When someone is walking in the valley of sorrow, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to make their journey easier by offering our love, encouragement and support, and possibly even by saving a chair for them.

Do not mourn the dead, but comfort the living. [Jonathan Lockwood Huie]

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. [Romans 12:15 (NIV)]