It can be difficult to talk about grief, and often it’s hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Often times, in fear of saying something wrong, we say nothing at all, which can create an isolating community for those grieving. 

July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of the support necessary when one endures the loss of a child. 

Bradley Vinson is a volunteer police and fire chaplain with the town of Flower Mound, Texas, and is the web and multimedia services manager for Buckner International. He serves the grieving community as an advocate and in this article shares the lessons he learned about grief after his 4-year-old granddaughter tragically died five years ago.

Imagine with me: It’s your first day of school, a day filled with anxiety, fear, nerves and prolonged hugs and tears – from adults and children. 

It’s also filled with questions: Am I smart enough? Will I make any new friends? What time is lunch? With each new first day, there are new doubts, new questions, new fears. 

Now imagine that last day of school before summer vacation. The excitement of finally being done with all this school stuff and being able to use the whole summer to forget everything you learned during the school year. 

Summers are cool, but that last, last day of school is special, capped off by a walk across the stage into a new world. 

For me, these two opposite experiences collided on May 11, 2016.

Learning from the school of grief

My 4-year-old granddaughter, Alanna, died in an accident and graduated to Heaven. At that exact moment, my family and I were enrolled in the school of grief and there were lessons to be learned as we started our journey of life without her.

I remember that morning very clearly. First, a call from my wife where I barely understood the words she was saying. Then a second call from the principal of my grandchildren’s school in Louisiana informing me I needed to come now to the school.

I don’t remember much of the journey from the office to home then to the school. Silence and tears were our driving companions for the rest of the journey.

We get to the school, a group of teachers and administrators usher us into the principal’s office while telling us what happened and consoling us. 

“Bryce [Alanna’s 6-year-old brother) does not know what happened to his sister, and I feel it’s only right that you tell him,” the principal, who was also a pastor, tells me.

That was my first lesson: When you’re thrown from the boat into rough waters, you can’t breathe. You’re drowning, and all you can say is “God help me!" He will.

I sat with my grandson and told him his sister was not coming home.

I was able to minister to my grandson, and quite frankly he ministered to me also, and God was right there in the midst to comfort both of us.

We stayed in Louisiana a few more days to make arrangements for Alanna’s funeral. On our journey back to Dallas, God speaks to me as I’m driving.

“If I asked you when would be the best time to have Alanna back with me, what would you say? When she’s 50, 100? How about after you died?”

“Yes God, that would be best,” I answered.

“You know if I asked you when would be the best time to have Alanna back with me you would say ‘no time would be the best time’ wouldn’t you?”

Again, I agreed with God.

“I knew you’d say that, that’s why I didn’t ask you.”

This was my second hard lesson: I had to actively believe and trust God for who he is. I had to trust and believe God was still good despite my circumstances. I had to trust and hope in him.

We finish our drive home, pick Alanna’s gravesite and complete the final arrangements. 

About two or three days after Alanna’s funeral, I received a text from a close friend of mine asking for prayer for his sick wife.  

My first thought was, “Doesn’t he know Alanna’s dead? Doesn’t he know I’m grieving?”

Honestly, I hadn’t prayed since Alanna’s death. I felt all I had was grief talk for God, but God showed me how far I was from reflecting in his grace and love.

The same God who comforts me has never brought up what he sacrificed to be with me, to save me, to love me through this moment.

I learned right then, I have to grieve with grace.

It’s not easy praying for a friend’s wife to be healed when you didn’t get a chance to pray for your own granddaughter. It’s not easy leaning into someone else’s pain while you’re hurting. It’s not easy to forgive those who are not grieving at all when they say or do something insensitive.

I had to learn, even while grieving, I’m still a Christian— and God is more concerned with my pursuit of holiness than my happiness. 

The blessing is having a community come alongside you, emphasizing the love of Christ in difficult times and reminding you of our Savior’s love and compassion. 

I’m thankful God was moving on my behalf, preparing a place with caring individuals ready to help carry the burden of our grief when we were ready. 

In that community, I found my footing and learned God wanted to use me to help others. The journey is rough, and I will admit I’m damaged, but not destroyed.

What I have learned is if I serve in my brokenness, God can use my brokenness to heal others. 

I’m continually learning, but these are the lessons I’ve learned so far: 

  • Ask God for help, even when I cannot see him through the cloud of grief and tears, because he’s there. 
  • Actively trust and believe in God for who he is and have hope.
  • Grieve with grace and forgiveness.
  • Seek help because we don't have to carry grief alone.
  • Serve others who are hurting even while I hurt.

Whether you’re on the grief journey, supporting someone else on their journey, or yet to be affected by grief at all. Embrace the lessons God has for you. Have hope. Lean into your healing. Journey well. 

The lessons may not make the journey better, but they will make you better for the journey.

I’m Bradley Vinson, Alanna’s PawPaw. Be blessed.

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