Sackcloth and Ashes: Processing Grief

Posted by | September 09, 2019 | Balance, Family, Loneliness, Pastors' Wives | No Comments

Grief is a part of life that we all deal with. Many of us deal with it more often and maybe tragically at times. I have shared Eric’s Story with you as his wife, Krissie, has been healing the tragic death of his suicide. She is determined to get Eric’s Story to as many people as possible in hopes of changing Christian society of the stigma that comes with mental health, especially when it comes to pastors. Another goal she has in her blogs is to hopefully prevent others from getting to this dark place of wanting to end life.

I am sure we all know of someone in ministry dealing with depression, I pray Krissie’s blog will be one you can pass along to others dealing with mental illness and they realize it is not something to ignore.

This post doesn’t have words of wisdom but simply thoughts from experience. I am no expert on grief. Honestly, I didn’t truly understand it in its intensity until I lost my husband, Eric. Head knowledge and heart knowledge are two very distinctive things. I could see it and grasp it, but to have someone ripped from your life in an instant is grief like no other.

Several months ago, Eric and I had a conversation about grief. I presented the question about why Jewish people in the Old Testament would often wear sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes. I knew it was symbolic of grieving but wondered why they physically practiced it. We had a short conversation about it, but like most of our conversations we went on to another topic (probably kid related). I have revisited these thoughts in the past few weeks. Although some of the rituals in the Old Testament aren’t practiced today, I can now, not only see the significance of that grieving process, I can relate to it.

The day after Eric’s death I watched the sun come up. My eyes were swollen and covered in fresh and deep-rooted tears. I had little energy to even look up at it.  I yelled at the sun that morning. I asked it why it could even rise on such a horrific day. I asked God why He could allow the sun to come up and not allow my husband to be up with it. The God who creates all things, who raises and sets the sun and demands the moon and stars to shine, how could He not take away Eric’s depression and his pain? Why couldn’t He save him from death? I know He was there with him that evening. He never left his side.

These feelings—this cycle– went on for days. I would watch the sun rise and be angry that it shone so bright. My pain was too great to bear. The hardest concept to comprehend was how the God that I continue to question is the same God that gives me peace and strength for each new day. Though this concept will most likely always circle in my mind, I must choose to stand on faith and believe that God redeems what He allows.

As I studied about sackcloth and ashes, I discovered that sackcloth was usually made of black goat’s hair. It was a course potato-sack like material that was very uncomfortable to wear. It was meant to be this way. It was meant to remind the person grieving of the pain of what they were feeling. Ashes represented desolation and ruin. Jewish people would roll around in ashes, wallow in them and cover their heads with them. It was an appropriate symbol of the humility and depression that accompanied grief and distress. We see this when David mourned the death of his son and when Job lost everything in his life.

Although I did not and have not physically put on sackcloth, I feel it emotionally. I am reminded of that pain and discomfort every day. It’s a daily desolation and rawness to know that a part of my life is gone—a daily reminder that the pain runs deep from the loss of a beloved husband and best friend. Losing Eric is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. In the midst of the deep sorrow, the busyness of each day, the struggles, and just life in general, I simply miss him being here.

Sudden death, specifically suicide, is the kind of pain that you can’t accept. It’s unpredictable. It is accompanied by so much guilt and emotion. That emotional pain turns to physical pain, to questions, to bargaining, to constant crying, to begging for relief, to sadness, to not understanding, to peace and then all over again when you least expect it. Grief is messy. Losing a part of you is not normal and it’s agonizing. So when people ask how I’m doing, I simply say, “I’m here.”

There is no roadmap on grief. In my case, it’s the grief of a suicide. Everyone’s grief is different. Everyone handles it in his or her own way. I choose to take one day at a time. Thankfully I am in a more peaceful place now. It doesn’t mean these feelings don’t come back at times, but it means that I can trust that the God who makes the sun to rise and set, can get me through the day. I’m not mad at the sun anymore. I see it as a reminder to live–to shine—to take the opportunity that I have to make the most out of this life.

I am already seeing God‘s glory and multiple victories in this dark time. A few days after Eric passed away, a dear friend of his told me that “The blood of Abel will speak (Hebrews 11:4) and that Eric’s life will speak and already has begun to.” I receive messages from people every day. I am thankful for their stories and for their words of encouragement. Two people have shared with me that they have given their lives to Jesus after reading “Eric’s Story” on the blog. At least five people who were contemplating suicide told me that they chose to keep fighting and not to take their lives the day they read it. I am honored to hear hundreds of stories of how Eric’s life (story) has given people hope and motivation to keep fighting. And, while some may talk about how he died, I will talk about who he lived for. His story will live on and, prayerfully, continue to save lives.

I never imagined that my life would be this way, but somehow it is. However, one day I will take off this sackcloth and wash off the ashes that cover me. One day I will see the beauty from this time of suffering and sorrow. If you have had or have now any of these same thoughts, I wish this for you and for me: that through our grief and in our suffering, we will one day proclaim that the sun came up and that God is bringing beauty from the ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

One day…

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, PLEASE reach out to someone and continue reaching out. I can guarantee you that you are not alone. We are all broken, and it’s ok. It’s what we do with our brokenness. Stand on truth. “You ARE a person of worth because of what Jesus says, not because of what society labels you.” (Eric Garland) Share your story, keep fighting and do not give up.

 – Krissie

Please pray for Krissie and her two twins that God will continue to heal their broken hearts and continue to use Eric’s Story to ministry in ways we could never imagine. I admire Krissie for being brave to share his/their story to help others.

If you are dealing with depression or struggling in anyway, please let us come alongside you on your journey.

Click here to read the original blog on KrissieJoy.com

About Rodetta Cook

Rodetta Cook has been a pastor’s wife for over 40 years. She and her husband, Ron, have actively served the Lord together in ministry during the entire time and are co-founders of Care for Pastors. She understands the expectations, loneliness and how hard it is to find balance in ministry as a pastor’s wife. Rodetta also leads the pastor’s wives initiative at Care for Pastors called The Confidante and ministers to hundreds of wives each week. She strives to share blogs with other pastors’ wives that will help them in their ministry walk.

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