“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Luke 21:34
A few months after Kim died, I had a doctor’s appointment for a regular check-up. Dr. Harrington knew Kim and me from our mutual missionary service in Africa. Dr. Harrington served in Eastern Africa, and we served in Southern Africa. He’s been my doctor for a long time. During the physical check-up, he spent some time asking how I was doing in my grief.
When I left his office and stopped by the receptionist’s desk, she said we needed a follow up in three months. Normally, I go every six months or year. Then, I noticed something. Dr. Harrington had listed a reason for the follow up. Grief. He knows something most of us don’t know unless we’ve been thrust into this journey. If you’re in grief, you’ve entered a vulnerable state. Self-care is paramount.
I was jogging one day and listening to Ecclesiastes again. I came across Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
I’ve always loved this passage. However, that was when I was a married man. Two are better than one. But now, I’m alone. Dr. Harrington is right. I’m in a new and vulnerable state. I need to be cautious about so many things.
But let me back up.
The week Kim died I saw Dr. David Fort when he and Laurel brought a meal to my home. He is a friend and a colleague who is in a member care role for our organization. I told him that I needed time with him when the dust settled. After all, I had no idea what was ahead of me. To be honest, I felt a foreboding, a fear, concerning my future. I knew enough, even in the shock and numbness, to know that my life was drastically altered. I had a long journey before me. Besides that, I had often encouraged new missionaries not to think too highly of themselves and, instead, to reach out to member care or their sending church to help them through the inevitable struggles that come with missionary life—and life in general.
Three weeks after Kim died, David Fort and I sat in a coffee shop to talk. I learned a lot. But I had one major concern. I feared anger. I had always heard that anger was a part of the grief process. For some reason, I feared the prospect of experiencing unrestrained anger. I pressed him for guidance and insight. It was very helpful, but David avoided discussing anger the first couple times I brought it up. Finally, after I pressed a third time, he spoke a sentence that I found comforting and liberating.
“D. Ray, anger is not inevitable.”
Clearly, anger is not a wrong response. It’s a normal, oft-experienced part of grief. But in response to my concerns, David explained that if I faced my grief, mourned appropriately, and took care of myself, I did not have to experience out-of-control anger. If I kept my loss in a biblical perspective by not sugarcoating the loss but by keeping it in the context of truth, I did not have to be overcome by anger.
About two and a half hours later, I realized how blessed I am to have the support system I have to help me face my loss. In community. I’m learning self-care must be sought out; but care must also be received. Vulnerabilities must be met with care.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Hebrews 3:12