Julie Yarbrough is an active laywoman at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas and the author of a series of grief resources, entitled Beyond the Broken Heart, for Abingdon Press. Special contributor Sheron Patterson talked with the author for a Q&A about grief; here are excerpts.
Why the title Beyond the Broken Heart?
In the Bible, we are promised that we will not grieve forever, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20 NIV). We make our way through the journey of grief as slowly we move beyond the pain and sorrow of a broken heart toward transformation and new life. In the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, we find comfort, encouragement and hope beyond the broken heart.
What will readers receive from the daily devotions?
In grief it is often difficult to focus on more than a single word, thought or idea when we commune with God each day. For this reason, the meditations in Daily Devotions for Your Grief Journey are intentionally brief. The 365 daily meditations include a Scripture passage, a thought to consider, a prayer and words of assurance.
One meditation each week is devoted to “Rest for Your Soul.” Because grief is hard work, it is important to “put it down” from time to time to rest.
What do you say to people whose response to grief is “just get over it”?
Grief can be stubborn. It does not give in easily to those urging us to move on with our lives. In grief, we expect others to understand what we are feeling.
But only those who grieve know the depth of their own personal pain and sorrow. In truth, admonitions such as “just get over it” add to our pain because they deny our loss. Instinctively we resist every suggestion that we accelerate our return to life.
Those who insist that we get on with our life do not always understand that we may never really “get over” our grief. To grieve toward growth beyond the broken heart, we must forgive the would-be comforters who try to console us or urge us on with well-intentioned words or gestures. This is the grace of grief.
Is a grief discussion just for adults?
At some time, we will all feel the sorrow and pain of grief. Our human emotions—shock, fear, anger, sadness—are common to grief. They should be acknowledged and discussed when we struggle with the loss of a loved one, whatever our age.
The grief of a child, teen or young adult often seems more urgent than that of an adult because of the loss of structure and security. When a loved one dies, children need to be assured and reassured that life will go on. They depend on the spiritual wisdom and emotional direction of mature adults to guide them.
The conversation about grief with children, teens and young adults should focus on listening to what they are feeling. Tender, thoughtful, well-chosen words that are age-appropriate and honest can guide a productive discussion of pain and loss that ultimately leads to adjustment, acceptance and spiritual growth.
The tidal wave of grief unleashed by that tragedy is, for most of us, simply unimaginable. When multiple people die violently, suddenly and unexpectedly, grief is exponential in its reach and effect. Immediate shock co-exists with anger, outrage, fear, helplessness and a sense of devastating loss. Those who die are victims; those who survive are victims. Death forever alters those who survive.
Had you dealt with grief before your husband passed away?
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was alone in New York City when the infamous events of that horrific day occurred. Like all other Americans, I was overcome by shock and dark grief because of the incomprehensible acts of terrorism. For me, it was a crash course in grief, intensified by the sights and smells and fear that permeated that seemingly invincible city. Being in that place on that day and several days thereafter was life-altering. It was my first real encounter with the emotions and spiritual depth of grief. Yet even that moment in time did not prepare me for the devastation of personal grief.
In 2004, my beloved husband, the Rev. Leighton K. Farrell, died 90 days after the sudden onset of a terminal disease. (Editor’s note: Dr. Farrell was pastor of Highland Park UMC from 1972-1995.)
He was the great love of my life. When he died, my heart shattered into a million small pieces. For a while, I was certain I would die of a broken heart. Though my soul survived largely intact, I found myself in frightening, unfamiliar spiritual territory.
Over time, what I learned about grief is a fundamental truth of life and death: We must grieve in order to live. For in life and in death, God is with us. We are not alone.
What led you to develop a curriculum from your initial book?
I read an article in the United Methodist Reporter in 2010, entitled “Where’s the Wesleyan Voice?” which talked about how many churches are opting for non-Methodist materials as curricula. So I began rewriting and reworking the book Inside the Broken Heart, as a grief group curriculum. In April 2011 I was contacted by the program VP at Abingdon Press about collaborating on an entire grief program, which was published in April 2012. That includes a variety of materials, including a DVD, for use with groups as well as individuals.
The Rev. Patterson is director of communications for the North Texas Conference.