My dad and my son–grandparents are important in a child’s life.
My dear friend, Suki, is a very bold evangelist who is not intimidated about talking to people that truly scare other evangelists. I had gone to see her earlier this year when she spoke to a group in Turin. At that time I had hardly gotten to speak with her for five minutes. So when she told me that she was feeling low and needing encouragement, I knew that I had to go see her.
I was traveling to Rome on Sunday, and since she lives about halfway to Rome from Milan, I suggested coming to visit her on Saturday before continuing on to Rome Sunday, as planned. She was thrilled at the idea—we both were.
On Friday, Suki contacted me, saying to pray for Lincoln, her husband, because his mom just died. Of course I prayed for him and for the whole family. I could just take my original train to Rome on Sunday, but I knew that the timing, the day before my planned visit, was no accident. If she didn’t want me to come, Suki would tell me.
The rest of the day, I marveled, thinking about how God had done this before, having me visit a family in mourning very soon after their loss. A few years ago Nina and I had made plans to return to visit friends in Bulgaria. Five days before our visit we got the news that their youngest child had drown in the swimming pool. My heart broke for them, and I asked if they still wanted us to come. They said yes. And instead of us comforting them, they comforted us. Plus I think it helped in some way to have sympathetic ears to tell about the tragedy—and how God had both prepared them for it, and His grace carried them through it.
So I am not a stranger to visiting people early in the mourning process. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to have the right words to say because no words can take away their pain or speed them through the grief process. Job’s friends modeled the right way early in his mourning (Job 2:13). Sitting with your friend in silence is the most loving way to help them through the process. Unfortunately, when they heard him curse the day of his birth, they spent most of the rest of the book blaming him for his misfortune, thus modeling the wrong way to help a mourning friend. Sometimes your friend has no words. You don’t have to fill the silence. Sometimes silence is the most healing thing they have.
In both cases, my friends while deeply saddened by their losses, were also filled with the joyful assurance of their loved one’s reception into Jesus’ presence. They wanted to talk, and I did the other important thing: I listened. Sometimes talking about it helps the person to process their loss. They don’t need you to solve their problem—you can’t! So just listen attentively and sympathetically. Don’t offer them advice—they don’t need it. If they want your advice, they will ask for it.
If the deceased was dear to you, too, in other words, if you’re mourning the loss, too. Always give precedence to your friend who was closer to the person than you were. In other words, if the deceased was your friend, but your friend’s spouse, parent, or child, then you need to be there for them, and not the other way around. They might appear to be handling the loss better than you are, but remember that sometimes a smile is hiding a broken heart. Be there for them.
When I arrived in their little town, I saw Suki at the other side of the station. We waved to each other. She came to help me with my luggage. She told me about a large group of South Africans that she had met just minutes before. I said, “What on earth are South Africans doing in your town?” She said, “That’s exactly it! I was feeling so sad, and then I heard one of them say [something that sounded to me like] ‘buy a donkey,’ so I asked her if she was from South Africa. They all were!” Their being there precisely when Suki was at the train station was definitely an unexpected gift and a divine appointment for the purpose of comforting her. And it did. I didn’t get to meet the South Africans because they had gone to their track to catch their train while Suki was helping me with my luggage.
Suki told me that Lincoln was taking it very hard. He’s the oldest son, and he can’t leave Italy right now because they’re in the process of getting their permits to live in Italy. If he left, he would run the very real risk of not being allowed back into the country. Thankfully his youngest brother is still living with their father, so he’s not alone. The other siblings and family members are returning to South Africa for the funeral, but Lincoln cannot.
Throughout the day Suki baked, doing the thing that comforts her most. Both of them took turns fielding calls from various family members. Angelina, their eldest daughter, showed me some family pictures. I have always loved looking at family pictures, so I enjoyed looking at pictures of her grandmother, and of herself and younger sister, Kerrie, when they were little. At one point Angelina told me: I don’t have any grandmothers now. She said it like the thought had only just crossed her mind, which it might have. It’s one of the saddest milestones in growing up. My response was a simple: “Hmm,” with a sad smile and eye contact. Meanwhile Kerrie busied herself with schoolwork, preferring to lose herself in math problems. I didn’t intrude.
At one point, Lincoln’s sister called and asked him to send her a something to say on his behalf at the funeral. He agreed, but then the “what to say” weighed on him the rest of the day. And then he got the craziest news of all: they can’t bury her for two weeks. South Africa is suffering so much violence these days that the cemeteries are having trouble keeping up with the number of dead that need to be buried. He told me: they’re going to have to keep her in the fridge for two weeks. I said, “That’s horrible!” I know it’s only the shell that her soul had lived in, but I can’t imagine the suspension of closure as her body rests in a refrigerated drawer at the mortuary (of course, I didn’t say that to Lincoln).
Our day together also had many lighter moments, sharing stories, catching up with each other’s lives. Because it was September 23, Lincoln asked me about the Rapture. We discussed some ideas and pretty much came to the same conclusion: it looks like it’s not going to be this year. And you know, I’m okay with that. Lincoln said that he feels like he’s done. I didn’t know how to react, so I just listened. I understand. I’m ready to go home to Heaven. But more time on earth means that there is more work to be done. I want to see it through to the end.
This morning I had to leave early to catch my train to Rome. Lincoln carried my suitcase down the stairs and put it into the waiting cab for me. Both of he and Suki hugged me and thanked me for coming. I’m glad I did. It was good for me to be there for them. I know that God set it up every bit as much as He had set up the meeting of Suki with the South Africans. I was His arms to hug them and ears to listen to them and heart to understand them. God is good!
 I have no idea what she actually said. This was the closest I could approximate the Afrikaans.