Teaching Grievers the Hope of Easter

black and white cemetery christ church The large meeting room at GriefWorks, the free children’s grief support program in Dallas, Texas

As the circle of eager children and their family members prepared to go into their grief support groups and enjoy the company of fellow mourners their age in fun activities, I asked the group to share any exciting news that was happening in their lives. Seven-year-old Brandon, who always has something exciting to share, stuck his hand up in the air. I said, “What do you have to share with the group, Brandon?”

“Easter is coming soon!” he shouted with a big smile on his face.

“And why do we celebrate Easter?” I said.

“Because we get candy…and stuffed animals!” Brandon proclaimed.

“That’s right. Sometimes we do get candy and gifts,” I said. “But what else do we celebrate!”

“Fake tattoos!” he shot back. “Sometimes I get fake tattoos!”

“Okay,” I replied. “But what else do we celebrate at Easter?”

Five-year-old Mandy spoke up. “Jesus died on the cross.”

“That’s right,” I said. “And then what happened!”

“God brought Jesus back from the dead!” exclaimed Mandy.

WHAT!!!!!!!!!!!” Brandon shouted as he threw back both his arms and hands and his little body bent backward in rigid, questioning protest. “That’s not fair!!! How come Jesus gets to come back from the dead and my Nana doesn’t?” said Brandon as he stared angrily at me. “That’s not fair!!!”

That was certainly not the response I had expected to get from the group as we talked about the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ along with the hope we share in knowing that our Heavenly Father raised Jesus from the dead. But honestly, Brandon is not the first person grieving over the death of a loved one who has asked that question. Brandon is not the first person in history who has asked how an all-powerful, loving God could allow their loved one to die leaving them to be without that valuable person for the rest of their lives. To the mourner missing a loved one, that doesn’t seem fair.

Easter is a joyous time, yes—a time filled with candy, Easter egg hunts, baskets with stuffed animals and gifts and sunrise Easter services speaking of hope and Heaven. But for the mourner it can be an emotional and sometimes painful time. For the person still missing that important loved one in their lives:

  • Easter activities with an emphasis on family, friends and loved ones can be a reminder of their loss because they will never get to spend another Easter with their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on Death can be a reminder of the hole in their hearts and in their lives that Death has created by taking their loved one from them.
  • Easter with its focus on resurrection from the dead and an empty tomb can be a reminder that the casket, urn or vault containing their loved one is stilled filled with the remains of their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on rejoicing and joy can be a reminder of how sad their lives seem without their loved one.
  • Easter with its focus on hope for the future and talk of seeing Jesus return can be a reminder that they can’t see their loved one who has died when they want to—now. They may be thinking, “Hope for the future is nice, but I want my loved one back now. I don’t want to wait.”

As children and adults went to their GriefWorks support groups, I leaned down to talk with Brandon. I looked into his sad eyes and said, “You know, Brandon, that the same power God used to bring back Jesus from the dead He is going to use to bring us back from the dead….and our loved ones too.”

“Then I’ll get to see Nana?” Brandon said with a relieved smile.

“Yes, you’ll get to see Nana. And the rest of us will get to see all the people that we love that God has been taking care of in Heaven for us,” I said smiling back.

Remember this Easter to have fun, spend time with the ones you love most, thank God for your blessings, thank Jesus for His sacrifice and celebrate The Empty Tomb—the symbol of all believers’ hope for today and tomorrow.

But remember too those who are hurting because of Death and the loved ones who have been ripped from their lives. Sometimes in the deafening pain of grief it is hard to feel comfort, joy and hope. All they can feel or hear is pain and sadness after the loss.  Be with the mourner this Easter, support them, be patient and encourage them.  Without preaching or trying to change their grief, share some of your hope from The Empty Tomb.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… (John 11:25)

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Christianbook.com.

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX  http://grief-works.org.