Personal, Wellbeing

Finding hope amid devastating grief – by Andrew Ryland

The 19 November 2020 is indelibly etched on my mind as the darkest day in my life. It’s the day that my brother Stuart died by suicide at the age of 51. 

Having just gone through another Christmas season without Stu (pictured on right), I would say that this has without doubt been the most difficult and painful period of my life.

I have gone from initial shock and devastation, to intense grief and now a permanent sense of sadness and loss. And less than a year after Stu died, my wife Annie suffered a miscarriage, magnifying the sense of grief. It has been an incredibly challenging time to say the least.

Heavy toll

The horror of Stu’s loss has been hard for me, my family and his loved ones to comprehend or process. And it’s taken a heavy toll on our emotional, mental and at times physical health. But, as a Christian, right from the day it happened the comfort and strength I’ve received from Jesus has enabled me to cope.

On that day, after receiving the devastating news, Annie started crying and screaming, but after a few seconds she became very calm. She had seen a vision of Stuart, holding hands with Jesus, with a big smile on his face.

When she shared this vision with me I immediately felt comforted, knowing that Stu is with his Lord Jesus, and is safe and happy. We later learned that a church friend of Stu had a similar vision while visiting the place where he died.

Impact

During the early days after losing Stu, I realised that my grief was having a major impact on my mental health. I was getting stressed easily and very quick to anger.

Colleagues at work noticed this. My boss had a word. I knew I needed to do something about it.

So I decided that each morning, before starting work, I’d go for a walk. During my walks I talked to God. I prayed. I cried. I let my emotions out. Sometimes I would almost make myself cry as I knew it was dangerous to bottle things up. Sometimes I would listen to church sermons, Bible verses or worship music.

Comfort and presence

Having this time with God has been so important. I felt his comfort and his presence which then enabled me to get through each day.  In a performance review at work last year my boss praised my resilience. I can’t take any credit for that. My relationship with God, leaning on him and talking to him, has enabled this.

In addition to having private time with God, the importance of being in community and communication with others has been hugely important.  Along with Annie and our kids, we have weekly family video calls with my Dad and sister-in-law Steph.

Journeys of grief

We have all been battling through our own journeys of grief about losing Stu, and sharing this with each other, comforting each other, along with catching up on what’s going on in our lives, benefits all of us.  I have also chatted at length with friends, including our Beer Club zoom calls, people at church, and a bereavement counsellor.

So, what I have learnt through this journey of grief?  I’d sum it up in 3 ways:

1. Communication with God

Jesus himself models this many times in the Bible – notably in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was going through his own angst and anxiety just before he was arrested, tried and crucified.  We are meant to communicate with God, that’s exactly what prayer is.  God listens, and I believe he answers prayers – sometimes not as we expect, but always in accordance with his will, which is always for good.

2. Communication with others

God has always intended for us to be in community. Jesus kept a close unit of disciples around him – the 12 apostles plus good friends like Mary and Martha with whom he grieved about the death of their brother Lazarus.  Our family, our friends, experts such as counsellors are all great sources of comfort and can help us get through tough times.

3. Letting the emotion out

Bottling up our emotions never helps.  Like a pressure cooker it will build up and up until the pressure gets too great and it explodes if not released.  Having a good cry is very therapeutic and will ease the pressure and stress we feel.

The choices we have

Grief will happen to us all. Loss of a loved one, a relationship break up. We can’t avoid it. But we can choose how we cope with it. At an earlier time in my life, I dealt with the grief of my marriage break up by turning to drink and re-starting smoking.

This time, happily remarried and with two wonderful kids, I turned to God. The difference in impact between these two approaches has been stark.

I’ll always miss Stu and will always grieve for him.  Despite the scale of the loss and how difficult it has been, I know that having Jesus as a constant in my life will always give me the comfort and strength to cope.


Andrew Ryland is originally from Croydon and now lives in Dublin. He is a founder member of Beer Club and is a member of Dublin Vineyard church.

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