In honor of Ellie

I want to share a story of tragedy and triumph I found on Facebook. It is worth the read. Todd Nigro lost his daughter, Ellie, about a year ago and he shares his thoughts and words of scripture to aid and comfort him and his family as they live the loss of their precious daughter. Like he says, “It is a work in progress”. May it bless you in some way on your personal journey.

 

Some Thoughts on Grief and Loss Romeo and Juliet, Act 4, Scene 5 O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day! Most lamentable day, most woeful day That ever, ever, I did yet behold! O day, O day, O day, O hateful day!

Never was seen so black a day as this. O woeful day, O woeful day! Those words describe January 20, 2012. It all began as a normal Friday. I woke up holding my wife, Kristen, and snuggling before stumbling out obed. My daily act of love is to make the coffee and bring it to Kristen. She seemed to enjoy it so much and it always felt great to deliver it. My six-year-old daughter, Ellie, would sometimes try to beat me to the coffee and would bring in two cups to us or just ask if she could deliver Mommy’s coffee to her. Ellie inspired me to write her a note of love. The inspiration was simple. The night before she said in a delightful and innocent voice, “Dad, I wish you would write me a note, I haven’t seen one in awhile”. I left the note in the usual place on the wall where I knew she would find it and left for work. I went to work and the family was having a normal day of homeschool. Kristen and I had planned a long run in preparation for a marathon that she had dreamed of running ever since we were married. I came home from work just after noon and Kristen had just left to go shopping for a few things. I walked in the door and greeted Ellie sitting at the table. She smiled at me as she always did. “Hi Dad!” she said. I patted her on the head and could see she was doing her work. She was writing while snacking on some peanuts and having a hot chocolate. She would drink her hot chocolate with a spoon like soup and somehow managed to always make a mess. To be honest, I didn’t notice the hot chocolate at this point, but would later. I grabbed a snack from the refrigerator and asked Ellie, “So how is your day going?” She replied, “I’ve been doing my work.” Then she beamed, “And, thank you for the note”. She jumped up and showed me where she had been hiding the notes she received under the kitchen bar counter. She liked having secret hiding places for important things and it seemed she treasured these notes. I came up with an idea at work that I wanted to start, so I went up into the office and began to work at the computer. I was sitting there for about 5 minutes. My world was about change. Life was so good. I didn’t have any real problems or concerns. My kids were delightful, my wife was amazing, and I was a happy person living the good life.

Then it happened. Ellie was killed in a tragic accident within minutes. 

I’ve learned many things since January 20, 2012. I hope that this list of thoughts is helpful to you.

 Gifts. Life is a gift from God. Our children, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers are all gifts to be savored. Although some days may be full of hardship and sadness, each breath, heartbeat, and thought illustrates the beautiful gift of life.  When a loved one is lost, try to avoid the feeling of being robbed or wronged. Keep the positive memories alive and thank God for the blessings in your past, present, and future. Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Revelation 22:17 – Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Your Path. God has planned a path for you. You will travel the path on your own, with God to help if you choose. Don’t compare your path with someone else. Other people’s paths may cross or run nearby, but only you can take steps on your path. Only you can choose to see the beauty around your current location and enjoy your journey. There may be amazing drops to deep valleys, but keep looking forward and take it one step at a time. Psalm 23:4 – 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 119:35 – Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.

Feelings. You will experience many feelings in a way that you never have before. Sadness, guilt, despair, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, longing, anger, and frustration will likely run through your mind.  Your feelings need to be expressed, but always remember that they are “at this moment”. This gives you hope and permission to have different feelings at a later time. Consider writing a letter to your loved one or keep a journal of your feelings. The “why” and “what-if” questions will be asked over and over in your mind. At some point, you will realize that you cannot understand the divine nature of birth or death. Embrace living without an answer by trusting and embracing the mysteries of God. Matthew 6:10 – your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Cry. It is human to cry. Crying helps you to heal. Cry with friends, family, and alone. Don’t be surprised when the grief “freight train” runs over you. Just be in the moment, and it will pass. Struggle through your emotions and you will find relief as your reward. Ecclesiastes 3:4 – a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Psalm 30:5 – Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Talk. Talk to people about your loss and pain. Don’t hide or deny your feelings. Let people know that you need them and ask for help. Be patient with those that don’t know what to say. Talk about your loved one, and share your precious memories. Always remember that you can always talk to God through prayer. Matthew 12:34 – For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 1 Timothy 5:5 – The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.

Grieve. During your time of sorrow, bring your family together and not pull it apart. Realize that each person is different and will grieve in ways you may not understand. Be patient and find ways to support each other. Guilt and anger need to be expressed and released. Sadness and sorrow can be so heavy and paralyzing. You might struggle with this thought, but grief, guilt, and anguish can be a blessing. Matthew 5:4 – Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Psalm 88:9 – my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

 Grow. It is not in people’s nature to change. Significant change usually does not occur without a significant catalyst. Although loss is not comfortable, it can provide an amazing marker in life for incredible transformation. Look for the lessons to be learned in your situation about yourself and in life. What can you do to overcome and survive? Vow to use your loss situation to generate the energy to become more. Seek to serve others and value the gift of life in a way that you never knew before. John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Become. Follow the example of Jesus Christ. Love God with all heart, soul, and mind. Love people unconditionally. Forgive. See beauty everywhere and give thanks for all the blessings in your life. Become the person that God wants you to be. Luke 10:27 – He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Accept. Accept that your loss will offer you a new understanding. Accept God’s leadership and live in the palm of His hand. Accept His peace and comfort and be an instrument of His will. 2 Timothy 2:21 – Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Isaiah 61:3 – and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. 

Forgive. God forgives you and loves you. Forgive yourself and others and free yourself from guilt. Let the anger go as it only destroys you and serves no purpose. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is you. Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Apologize. No relationship is perfect. You have made mistakes. There are things you wanted to do with your loved one, or things you wish you didn’t say. Thinking about all the things that could have been different can overwhelm you. Apologize from your heart in prayer and let those thoughts go. Acts 3:19 – Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

 Give. Seek meaning and a positive outcome for your loss. At some point you will understand that there is not an answer to the “Why”? Your loss will open your eyes to those experiencing loss, giving you the unique ability to provide support and compassion to others. Serve other people. Open your eyes to other’s needs and provide comfort. Loving other people will take your mind from your pain and heals your grieving soul more than you realize. Be the rescuer, not the victim. Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 1 Peter 4:10 – Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

 Hope. Have hope for a brighter day. As painful as it seems, you will survive and thrive. Always believe that the rest of your life can be the best of your life. And, our greatest hope is that of an eternal heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:5 – the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel. Isaiah 40:31 – but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

 Seek Help. Grieving is a normal process, but is also unique to each individual. Seek help if you are “stuck” or not on track. Learn what “on-track” might look like. Read books and/or seek counseling to see how you are coping. Seek a support group if you need to discuss and vent your feelings to people who understand in a non-judgmental environment. Seek help from the Lord. You can make it through the process of grief and growth. Matthew 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Proverbs 15:22 – Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

 Connect. Seek help from your church community and compassionate people. Consider GriefShare and Stephen’s Ministry programs. Connect with family members and close friends. Don’t go through grief alone. Reach out to people that love you. Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Hebrews 10:25 – not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another.

 Choose. Your thoughts determine who you are. Just like “you are what you eat”, “you are what you think”. Each one of us wrestles with our thoughts, and no one will ever “understand” you or be able to see into your mind. Choose your thoughts, actions, and reactions wisely. Take responsibility for your “current” reaction to whatever may have happened to you. Choose positive memories over regret, love over sorrow, forgiveness over anger, and peace over anxiety. Philippians 3:13-14 – Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Proverbs 23:7 – For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 

Patience. Don’t put unrealistic demands upon yourself. Let yourself heal according to your own time frame. Each path is unique and will have many ups and downs. Be patient with other grievers and with friends, family, and strangers that do not understand. Keep an eternal perspective. Colossians 1:11 – being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. James 1:4 – Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 

Work. Find something to be passionate about. Challenge yourself and take action. Channel your energy and anxiety into a new hobby, sport, or learning something new. Exercise and eat healthy. Staying busy can be an effective way to move forward during stressful periods. Proverbs 14:23 – All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

 Courage. Do not be afraid. Your loving and forgiving Father is in control. Trust in Him and His wisdom. You will find the strength to survive and thrive through any situation. John 14:27 – Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

 Suffering. Realize that suffering is a part of life. Learn to suffer well. You and your loved ones will experience trials many times and in many ways. People are watching you, especially as you suffer – show them how to do it with integrity, honor, love, and grace. Ask “God, what am I to learn through this?” Find moments of beauty and joy in the depths of your anguish. Seek God and open your heart to His love and peace. James 1:2-4 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Job 23:10 – When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.

 Love. Remember the love that you shared. Don’t forget the family and friends that are still part of your life. Stay sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Spend quality time with those that you love and enrich their lives. God loves you unconditionally. Love all people with no expectations. Seek those that need both your love and God’s love. Love involves action. What we do says more about what we believe, than anything we might say. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:13 – Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love. 

Prayer. Turn to God with everything you have. Read the Psalms.

Pray silently and loudly. “Lord, thank you for the beautiful gift of life. I trust that the path created for me is perfectly designed by you. Father, as I struggle through this valley, thank you for the blessings in my life. As I cry in despair, please draw near and soothe my heart. Guide me to be patient and kind, and to reach out to those that love me. Open my eyes to see the eternal souls all around me who are in need. Lord, please help me to grow and be transformed through this situation into a more compassionate and loving being. Thank you for forgiving me and saving me through Your Son. I’m sorry for the sins I have committed, and Lord, help me to turn away from them and be the person you want me to be. There is great hope, Father, in the promise of an eternal heaven with you. Thank you for the encouragement and support of my family, friends, and church. Lord, sustain me to seek you in each moment and to choose my thoughts wisely. Help me to be patient and find the strength to do your work. Thank you for helping me to be unafraid. Father, please shine your beautiful light through me, despite my suffering. I love you, Lord. Your amazing unconditional love is beyond my comprehension. Father, I pray that love, compassion, acceptance, and peace will blossom in me as your presence lights my soul. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.”

~Todd Nigro

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