Like all good parents, Jacob loved his son with his whole heart. The news that he had been killed by a wild animal was almost more than he could bear.
Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol with my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him. ~Genesis 37:34-35, NRSV
The story of Jacob in the Old Testament is epic. Ultimately God gave him the name Israel – a name we still hear today. I do not plan to tell the tale of Jacob’s life, but you can read all about it in the book of Genesis. Here are some things I learned about grief from Jacob.
Grief disrupts our life. Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. The loss of someone we love leaves an empty place that causes all of our life to be out of balance. We react to this sometimes in significant ways that demonstrate how much we hurt. Jacob tore garments. You may do that or you may consciously choose to wear black as a signal of mourning. Other reactions indicate a disruption of our normal way of life such as not eating or overeating. It could be a desire to spend long periods of time alone. When we lose someone we love, it disrupts the normal pattern of our lives.
Grief affects our family and friends. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted. If you’ve ever tried to comfort someone else who is grieving, you know how we grasp for words and even say ridiculous things to try to ease the pain. Those suffering through grief can expect family and friends to try to relieve their suffering, even though it is impossible. The truth is that those who are hurting because of a loss do not want to stop hurting for a while. That pain is a direct result of the depth of love felt for the lost loved one. To release it is to say that the loss was not significant. It is expected that after a loss we will go through a time when there is no comfort. It just hurts. And that affects everyone around us because they love us.
Grief lasts a lifetime. “No, I shall go down to Sheol with my son, mourning.” When our son died I was afraid that the pain and exhaustion of the grief experience would never ease up. I didn’t know how I could live for very long with that kind of weight on my soul. Jacob’s initial reaction was that the would go to the realm of the dead still mourning his son. And that’s true. Years later he would say of himself…
“I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin … If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” ~ Genesis 42:36-38
Although the rest of the world goes on about their business, grief doesn’t allow the bereaved person to do so. My son died almost seven years ago. If I live to be 100 I will be a bereaved parent. The only good news is that the pain experienced in the first few years does ease up. Missing them remains, but the jagged edge of grief wears away over time. When I go to the place of the dead, I will be going as a bereaved parent.
Grief brings tears. Thus his father bewailed him. Although we do not like for others to see us cry, tears bring relief that we need. They are the way God designed us to be able to unload the heavy weight left behind by loss. THIS ARTICLE and many others acknowledge that tears contain toxins that, when released from our body, cause us to feel better. The tears cried at a funeral are not the last ones for a grieving person. In fact, tears can come at unexpected times.
Grief is acknowledged by God. Bible students know that Joseph was not really dead. All of the grief that Jacob experienced was based on a lie. He didn’t know, so his grief was very real. Not too long before he died, Jacob finally saw his son. Even years later he was, of course, elated. I wish I could tell everyone that they will see their loved one in a few years here on earth. That is not the case for us. God sent his son Jesus to this earth to address the very problem that we are talking about. He has provided a way to Heaven where we will see our lost loved ones again. In such a way God becomes our ‘God of Comfort‘ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I know not everyone is a Christian and maybe you feel there is no hope. The only thing I know is to live your life for God and let Him handle the afterlife … we cannot fix the past, we can only live and serve Him today.
We shouldn’t think of the Bible characters as cardboard cutouts…they were real people with real hurts just like us. We can learn a lot about life from them.
Thanks for reading, JD.