177: Coping with Grief and Shattering Loss when Tragedy Strikes with Lisa Appelo

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We are starting a brand new series–how to manage our mind during hard times–and today we’re talking about managing grief. How can we manage our mind through shattering loss and have hope in trials when we lose a loved one unexpectedly?

Today’s guest, Lisa Appelo shares her story of suddenly becoming a widow and, as a homeschooling mom, becoming sole provider to seven children. Lisa shares so vulnerably about her grief journey and how God has helped her put her world back together about her husband’s death. Discover what she’s learned about managing grief and how you can be encouraged in your difficult season.

How do we cope with grief after a shattering loss? Lisa Appelo shares how she managed grief and found hope after her husband passed away unexpectedly.


  • [9:10] Lisa’s Story of Shattering Loss: Unexpectedly Losing Her Husband
  • [12:25] Coping with Grief and Realizing That God’s Plan Differs from Our Vision
  • [15:05] How Lament Is An Important Part of Managing Grief
  • [21:44] Focusing on Lament Versus Turning to Bitterness After Shattering Loss
  • [23:37] The Big Lies That Can Build When Managing Grief
  • [26:50] The Temptation to Move Toward Acceptance (Without Really Managing Grief)
  • [33:16] Finding God-Given Hope Rather than Misplaced Hope In Trials
  • [37:02] Saving Grace Versus Sustaining Grace Through a Grief Journey
  • [41:22] Lisa’s Advice for Someone Struggling with Grief and Feeling Hopeless
  • [4:38] Jessica’s Journey: Growing Up on an Emotional Rollercoaster

[9:10] Lisa’s Story of Shattering Loss: Unexpectedly Losing Her Husband

Ten years ago, on Father's Day weekend, Lisa woke up to hear her husband, Dan, breathing funny. She nudged him and told him it was just a nightmare, expecting him to turn over and go back to sleep. When he did not roll over, Lisa jumped out of bed and turned on the light. Immediately, she could see that something was very wrong. 

She dialed 911 and the operator walked her through CPR. She did not even get through two rounds and the paramedics had arrived on the scene. Lisa was hopeful, but at the same time she could tell things were not going the way she was praying. She had not felt a pulse when the operator told her to stop and take it, and they took him to the emergency room by ambulance, still unresponsive. 

When Lisa arrived in the emergency room, it was quiet. Eventually, they called her back and told her that they had worked on Dan for over two hours and had never been able to revive him. 

Lisa shares that it felt as though they had started with something very rough and worked hard on their marriage and their family. It had become a beautiful Venetian vase, and it had been dropped and shattered into a million pieces with her husband’s death.

[12:25] Coping with Grief and Realizing That God’s Plan Differs from Our Vision

Lisa shares that it can be challenging when we have worked hard toward a vision, and then God has a different plan. In the early days of Lisa’s grief journey, she was confronted with the reality that she was now a widowed, single mother to seven kids. Her dream of her marriage and her family life was not how things were going to turn out.

Lisa would stay up and make herself tired, so that when she finally went to bed she would be able to fall right to sleep. It was an escape from the pain, and the hard things she was facing every day. Every morning, she would wake up and experience a brief second of excitement for a new morning before reality came crashing down on her again. She probably would have pulled the covers up and stayed in bed, but she had to will herself to keep going for her seven children. They had already lost one parent, and Lisa did not want them to lose the other.

Her children were a huge motivation for her during this time. She was not perfect, and they saw her cry as she learned to be a single parent. Lisa walked them through grief as well, and together they continued to fight for the life and the joy that might be. Lisa had an inkling that, if she could do the hard work of coping with and managing grief, she might smile again.

[15:05] How Lament Is An Important Part of Managing Grief

Lament, Lisa shares, really is a gift to God who created us and our emotions. It is a biblical process that we go through when our emotions are too much for us. We were not made for death, divorce, or disease, and we can find ourselves in these places of overwhelming emotions, indecision, overwhelm, and navigating kids through things we cannot fix for them. It can all become too much, she says.

Lisa would get her kids going in the mornings, and then she would park her minivan around the corner and journal, cry, or pray. She would pick up the Bible, without looking for anything in particular. At one point she picked up Dan’s reading plan, and she just turned the page and started reading the passage assigned for that day. 

She shares that God always met her on the pages of scripture, lifted her head, and reminded her of who He was in the midst of her shattering loss. He gave her promises and showed her His faith through these narratives. This time with God would give her enough hope to go back to the house, parent, and complete the tasks for that day. The next day, she would go back and do it again. 

That process is lament, she shares. It is saying, “God, I am hurting.” Then we have to take the pain to God. Lament is not just venting our emotions and hard questions. Rather, it is laying them before God very honestly and authentically. It is raw. In addition, we have to pick up trust.

In Psalms, David would ask the Lord how He could let some injustice happen. By the end, however, he would cry out for God’s help. He trusted God, and that is what lament is. It is partnering trust and honesty. We can pour our emotions out to God to unburden our heart, and then pick up that trust.

To avoid veering toward grumbling, complaining, or being stuck in a negative mindset, Lisa looked at the difference between Ruth and Naomi in the Bible. They were both widows; they both suffered losses. Naomi became upset and bitter against God, and she was so hopeless. She was willing to send Ruth back to her pagan family, but Ruth told her no. She said that Naomi’s God was her god, and Naomi’s home was her home. 

When Naomi returned home, she requested not to be called Naomi (which means pleasant) but rather to be called Mara (which means bitter) because the Lord’s hand was against her. This really impacted Lisa, because she thought about how many people feel that way in response to grief or any kind of shattering loss. When we grumble, we say, “God, you should have made this different. I deserve different.” In lament, we say, “I wish this was different, but I trust You.” There is a real heart difference in how we come to God in grumbling versus lament. 

[21:44] Focusing on Lament Versus Turning to Bitterness After Shattering Loss

Coping with grief allows for the opportunity to stay stuck in anger or frustration, or to trust. God’s word was helpful in reminding Lisa of His character as she focused on lament while managing grief. Lisa says that she learned that we can nurture bitterness with the same energy that we can use to nurture trust. It does not take much for our emotions, fear, or the enemy to come in and try to lie to us about the future, yet every day, Lisa shares that God’s word anchored her and realigned her thoughts.

The process of grief is never one and done, Lisa admits. It is a day in, day out experience. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back. Processing with the Lord, and staking ourselves to Him, allows us to also stake ourselves to the truth.

[23:37] The Big Lies That Can Build When Managing Grief

Our emotions can lie to us. When we feel badly, it can feel like God is bad. It can feel like He is not being good to us. Emotions can lie about our future. While emotions do a good job of signaling what is wrong with us right now, they do a very poor job of telling us about the future. They will try to come in and tell us that we will always feel like this. We will never smile again. Life will never be good again. It will never be what we want it to be. Then fear comes in, and then the enemy. They discourage us, pointing out what God has withheld from us. These lies can skew who God really is, even in our worst circumstances. These are powerful lies that can distract us as we try to cope with grief.

[26:50] The Temptation to Move Toward Acceptance (Without Really Managing Grief)

In Lisa’s book Life Can Be Good Again, she talks about the temptation in grief to escape true lamenting and to jump forward toward acceptance. God does want us to have that healing and get to that place eventually, but jumping too soon in an attempt to snap out of it and move on can be super harmful, she says.

When we experience shattering loss, it is uncomfortable. We have to manage grief and other hard emotions like anger, regret, despair, pain, and loneliness. Often, we do not know what to do with those emotions and we want to fast forward through them to get back to feeling good. It can be tempting to mask our pain or to self-medicate. Lisa adds that if we do not cope with grief on our terms, however, it will come back on its own terms later. 

There are no shortcuts, unfortunately, she says. Lisa recalls telling a friend that she just wanted to be on her porch as an old woman, remembering back to God’s faithfulness. Her friend told her that she could not be who God wanted her to be unless she walked through the hard times.

Our culture is not familiar or comfortable with grief or other painful emotions, and we have access to so many pleasure-inducing opportunities around us at any given moment. 

As adults, we tend to process our grief all at once. Children, however, will grow into their grief. They can only understand what has occurred at their developmental level, but as they grow older and hit new milestones they will experience their grief in new and different ways.

[33:16] Finding God-Given Hope Rather than Misplaced Hope In Trials

When life trials happen, they really reveal where we had misplaced our confidence and hope. We realize where we have set up idols. For Lisa, the loss of her husband revealed a deal she had unintentionally struck with God. 

Early in their relationship, Lisa wanted three children while her husband wanted two. God vetoed them both, and they ended up with seven children. That was a process where God was wooing them to trust Him. Lisa continued to trust God with her pregnancies. As she got older and had her last two children, she thought that if she stepped out in faith, surely God would let Lisa and her husband both live to see them grown. She did not realize she put that condition on God until her husband died.

Looking back on that, Lisa now realizes that when God calls us to step out in faith, it is a call to Him. It does not mean things will pan out the way we want. From grief, however, we can chisel out the misplaced hope and restake ourselves in Christ.

 [37:02] Saving Grace Versus Sustaining Grace Through a Grief Journey 

Lisa describes herself as being “grief naive” when her husband died. She did know, however, that we all grieve differently. She understood that it would look different for her children, ranging in age from 4-19 years old. Grief might come out in their behavior and how they showed up in the home, and she recognized that everyone was going to need to have a lot of grace with each other. Lisa felt like she was a student all over again, as she learned how to single parent her children. Grace was necessary as they grieved for each other and as Lisa parented out of fear. There is no manual, and she was parenting from instinct.

In addition, we need God’s sustaining grace. Lisa had always known about God’s salvation grace, but when life falls apart we learn about His sustaining grace. This grace gives us wisdom and gets us through the lonely nights. Lisa had prayed for God to save her husband from death, and He did not do that. He did, however, give Lisa sustaining grace.

Grief is exhausting and it is all-consuming, she shares. It is physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional, and we cannot do the things that we could do in other seasons. We need to extend grace to others as well as to ourselves. 

[41:22] Lisa’s Advice for Someone Struggling with Grief and Feeling Hopeless

A pivotal moment for Lisa came in the second year of her grief. She was alone in her minivan, and she just said that she did not like her life. On the heels of that, however, she had the thought that this is not plan B. God does not do plan B. God does not give us leftovers. Our lives might take unexpected turns for us, but God is still intentional. Life following shattering loss can have as much abundance, joy, and good, as the life we had before, she says.

While Lisa did not immediately feel better, these thoughts gave her hope amidst her trials and realigned her to the truth that she did not have to live out the leftovers of the life she wanted. She could lean into this truth until her heart and emotions caught up. She realized that she had the opportunity to live an intentional “chapter two”.

[44:32] Managing Our Mindset During Hard Times

Lisa shared so many statements about the difference between honest grief and trying to push through the emotions to just get to joy. I loved how she talked about the story of Ruth and Naomi, who encountered the same loss but responded in different ways. Their perspectives and their mindset dictated their results.

I believe we all have the opportunity to grow closer to God through everything we encounter. It is our choice to lean into that, as painful and excruciating as it can be. Leaning in is critical because we either have the opportunity to grow closer to God or to move away from Him. We can grow toward bitterness or toward healing. The journey in between is part of the healing process.

I also loved what Lisa said about grumbling versus lament. Many of us can feel like we have to put on a show and feel good all the time. Going through difficult emotions might mean that we don’t trust God or that something is wrong or we have not found the perfect scripture to help us deal with this in our faith. That is just not true, and I really hope you hear that through the conversations we are going to feature during this series. Sometimes there is no other answer other than to sit in the pain, lament, and let healing happen. We want to fix things quickly, but we cannot fix what God needs to heal. God has to be the one to do the work in us.

Throughout this series, we are going to be looking at having a hope-filled mindset through life trials from different angles and hearing different women’s perspectives of how they got through difficult life seasons. We’ll talk about how they maintained a Christ-focused mindset that kept them from believing inner lies. Then if they did fall into the lies, we’ll talk about what God helped them to do in order to release the lies and find healing.

Let’s talk about this more on Instagram. I would love to connect with you there!

CONNECT WITH JESSICA on on coping with grief:


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