When a Loved One Dies Unexpectedly

My grandfather died last June, and my heart still winces at the realization that he’s gone. How I miss his cheerful spirit, incredible stories, and joy for his family. I’m so thankful that my kids had the chance to know him like I did.

But my grandfather lived a long, happy life. At 89 years old (and a cancer diagnosis), his death didn’t come as a surprise.

It was different with Tristan. And with Barbara. And now with Mandy.

How can we deal with unexpected death? It is never easy... Here's how to find hope in the midst of tragedy.

Despite a determined, unquenchable thirst for life, my dear friend Tristan succumbed to Scleroderma nearly ten years ago at the age of 55. It was the first time that someone I’d dearly loved was “gone too soon.”

A few years later, I watched Barbara, a mom of three from my MOPS group, walk the lonely, terrifying road of breast cancer. My heart still aches for her kids who lost their mom at the age of 33.

And now, there is Mandy, a thirty-something-year-old blogging friend of mine (read her blog Worshipful Living here). She, along with her husband and two of her kids, were killed in a house fire last week! I am still in shock over it all, and can’t believe she’s really gone.

Death Leaves Us With So Many Questions…

Death happens everyday, but when it happens unexpectedly it’s somehow a thousand times more difficult.

Once the shock wears off we are filled with questions, the biggest one being “Why?”.

We want to make sense of the pain and the hurt. We want there to be a purpose.

Most of all, we are filled with questions about how to find joy through this difficult trial.

Death seems especially cruel when we can’t understand it.

Keeping our faith in God after the death of a loved one can be extremely difficult.

… But Death Also Brings an Opportunity for New Life

The unexpected death of a loved one brings a sense of urgency and clarity.

Those important things that we’ve been putting off? They get done.

Those words we’ve been meaning to say? They get said.

And we’re left behind with a bright, bold spotlight on our lives pointing out the obvious: This is important, and this isn’t.

Death reminds us that our time on earth is short, and that one day we too will come face to face with eternity. It’s not a maybe. It’s a certainty, death boldly states.

And unexpected death? That shouts loudly and unmercilessly that our moment can come at any time.

We don’t like to think about that! That’s not a nice topic for everyday conversation, is it? We’d rather distract ourselves with talk of the latest news, the hottest trends and keep ourselves happily distracted behind an overpacked schedule.

And yet when we hear of stories like Mandy—a young mom of four with a beautiful smile and a bright future ahead—we realize that there are no guarantees of growing old and of having a long life. There’s no guarantees of “it’ll happen later.

We have to live fully and love deeply right now.

And we must be ready when it's our time to meet death face to face.

Death's Million Dollar Question We All Must Answer

That's why I must boldly ask you this: “What if today was your day to die? Would you be ready?”

I apologize if asking that is uncomfortable. It does seem rather personal, especially since we only know each other through a computer screen.

But I’m convinced that it’s no accident that you’re reading this today. Ultimately, we must all face this topic, and since we don't know when our last breaths will be, why not talk about this now?

I want to share with you a truth about death that's changed my life: It is possible to face death confidently and without fear.

Now, this isn't a confidence reserved for mystics and “religious” people. Instead, thankfully, it’s a joy and hope that God offers to all of us (“sinners” and “saints” alike).

It's a confidence that my friends Tristan, Barbara and Mandy all had. And it's one I want to share with you.

Confidence and Hope (In the Shadow of Death)

I first heard about this confident hope when I was 19 years old. There was a group of college students like me that I knew who were filled with a peace, joy and purpose in their heart I’d never seen before.

I was hurting and empty and was very ready to hear about hope.

They told me about a grace-filled God who accepted me for who I was. A caring God who wanted to bring purpose for the pain I’d experienced in my life. A loving God who had good plans for me here and who wanted me to know that I could spend eternity with Him in heaven.

A mighty, omnipresent God who wanted me to not live with the fear of death any longer.

That is the message I want to share with you today: You don’t have to be afraid to die.

No one knows what those last few moments of death are like (or when death will come), but we can know what happens after death. We can life confidently today with peace about our death because we can know that our souls will be with God.

Do you want that confidence? Do you want to know that your soul will rest peacefully with God when you die?

It starts with a simple prayer, right here, right now. It starts by knowing that God that you will spend eternity with.

He wants to be in a relationship with you. He wants to live life with you everyday. He wants to take your biggest mistakes and wash you clean from them so you can start new.

There’s nothing he can’t fix, nothing he can’t mend and nothing he hasn’t done to prove how much you are loved by Him (including dying in our place for the bad choices we’ve made).

Yes, we can know that we will spend life after death with God by simply beginning a relationship with Christ today. The Bible is filled with promises about how we can confidently live today because know we are going to heaven when we die. There’s even the promise Jesus gives to a thief who is hanging on the cross next to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43).

There are no strings attached. God’s love and salvation is a free gift given without condition to all people. You don’t have to earn it; you just have to accept it.

Friend, I pray that if you’d like to have this confidence you will pray with me a prayer like this:

Dear God, thank you for making me.

Thank you for having good plans for me. Thank you that you want to give my life purpose and meaning.

God, I admit that I have made some choices in my life that weren’t the best. I’m so sorry for those, and I ask for your forgiveness for them.

Would you please come into my life and start a relationship with me? Will you wash me new and make me clean so that I can have joy and peace and hope?

I want to know that I will be with you when I die. I want to be able to live each day confidently knowing that you have all things under your control, even my future place in heaven with you.

Come into my life and change me. Thank you for loving me. Amen.

3 Important Next Steps

Did you pray that in your heart?  Are these words the desire of your soul too?

If so, I want to welcome you into a new life with God! I’m so excited for you to have this confidence and hope! I can testify that following Christ is the best decision you will ever make.

I would highly encourage you to do three things. First, tell someone about what you’ve done. You can tell me (my email is alicia@yourvibrantfamily.com) or a trusted friend in your life.

Second, I encourage you to start learning more about this hope and peace found in God! I highly recommend that you read a chapter a day of the Bible (starting in the book of John), asking God to speak to you as you read.

I recommend this Bible (the New Believer's Bible, New Living Translation) as a great resource for those just learning about God. I would also suggest you start reading in the book of John.

Here are three posts that are also helpful:

Last, I encourage you to find a local group of believers to meet with regularly. Attend a local church in your area—not as a way to “check a box” each week but instead to be filled with powerful spiritual teaching and to be encouraged by other Christians who can walk this road of faith with you.

The unexpected death of a loved one always hurts deeply. But it doesn’t have to be without purpose.

Let death’s reminder drive you closer to authentic living and to deep relationship with the one who has conquered both life and death!

Let your loved one’s death bring you clarity, urgency and joy to seek vibrant, full living!

P.S. Several of us who knew and loved Mandy are sharing our thoughts about her unexpected death in the following link-up. I encourage you to check out some of these other posts too (and please visit Mandy's site, Worshipful Living)!




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