Our Family’s Successful Struggle With Grief

I would like to talk about something that, I believe, isn’t understood very well in our culture. This is an area where many people are misunderstood and because of it are deeply hurt by well meaning observers. Since no two people handle it the same and every person’s experience is different, there is the potential of criticism and even insensitivity from others who are observing from a distance. I want to talk about the unpleasant and often uncomfortable subject of grieving.

I received a blunt and anonymous letter this past week from someone who attended one of our services. I hasten to say that I believe this individual had well meaning intentions and we also have determined that there were some good points that she shared. Our prayer has been that we would not allow the things that felt insensitive and judgmental to hurt us and in this way, hinder our walk with the Lord. My intent in bringing up this subject is to be able for us to look at how our culture has taught us the wrong ways of grieving and how we can be quick to judge others from a distance without taking the time or effort to be able to accurately see how they are dealing with their difficulties and grief.

One comment that was shared in this letter was that life is for the living and that John the Baptist’ (whom Jesus said was the greatest born of woman) ministry ended with his death. This is what she commented regarding us showing the “Father’s Son” presentation….”There is a time when the last note is sung, when you all have to pack up and go on living, loving and growing in Christ. Food must be made and ate, school work done, laundry, etc….It is time (in your hearts and attitudes) to walk away from where you buried Austin..”

As we pondered some of these statements, we concluded that we don’t believe that John’s ministry ended when he died. After all, we still have the Bible and his life and ministry is recorded in all four of the gospels for a reason. His life (eternally) still continues and we are greatly affected by his example and ministry. An individual’s life and ministry doesn’t stop just because they are no longer living here on earth. And in reality…This life is for the dying and Heaven is for the living. Just because a person isn’t able to be seen by our human eyes, doesn’t mean that we need to forget about them and quit talking about them. Before sin entered the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve saw each other in the spiritual sense and it wasn’t until after sin entered their lives that they began to see each other primarily with physical eyes. We now also focus so much in the physical realm that we have a tendency to not see with eternal eyes. Austin is physically dead in this world’s sense but we know that he is truly more alive than he has ever been. I also believe that God allows him to be aware of some of the things that are happening in our lives. Austin now has eternal eyes so he sees in the spiritual sense and we believe that God allows Austin to see when someone comes to the Lord because of Austin’s life.

Duane’s Mom told me about a situation that her brother John shared with her recently. Her brother, John, talked to a man who was a long time employee at a local hardware store. This man was using a walker and when John inquired about his physical health, he informed him that the doctors had not yet been able to diagnose his condition. John saw him again a few months later and immediately saw a big change on this man’s countenance. He could tell that he had recently become a believer in Christ.  Although he was now diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he had the joy and peace of Jesus on his face. This employee then continued to tell John about how he had been reminiscing and recalling all the conversations that John’s Dad, Merle, had shared with him over previous years. Merle would come into this hardware store and would share Jesus with him even though this gentleman was never interested in becoming a Christian. In the past few months, after he began facing his difficulties and trials, he started to reflect over his life and God used the life and example of Grandpa Merle to help this man see his need for Jesus. He finally gave his life to the Lord! The significant thing is that Grandpa Merle passed away twelve years ago! Does a person’s life and ministry end when they leave this earth? I hardly think so!

We all agree that a person has to go on living his life after a death occurs in the family and it isn’t healthy to stay focused on the past. So what is a healthy indicator that a person has been able to “move on” and “go on with life?” Is it when he stops talking about his loved one or when he forgets them? I don’t think so! At first it truly seems as if your whole life has completely stopped and you will never be able to “go on” again. With time, you will find yourself being able to do some things that initially were just to painful. I will give you a personal example of this. Brianna (our 15 year old) had a very hard time in dealing with the death of her brother and best friend, Austin. She said she never wants us to sing together as a family again. It felt to her like we were just forgetting about Austin if we did this. We gave her the time she needed and didn’t force her to do anything that she wasn’t ready for. With time and healing taking place, we are now able to sing together as a family again and God’s grace has been so apparent in her life. Brianna was also the last one to be ready for us to have our Friday night dinners at my in-law’s restaurant because this was something that was special for us to do when Austin was still here. This is again something special that we like to do. Others observing from a distance may feel like we aren’t moving forward but we see the ways that we daily experience joy and laughter in our home even as we continue to grieve the death of our dear son, Austin. Yes, we still shed tears and I believe that these tears continue to keep our hearts soft and it doesn’t mean that we are stuck in the past and not able to let go. Brianna’s heart would likely have become hard and she probably would have become bitter at God if we would have insisted that she needs to “get over it and get on with life.”

Another comment in my letter was that Brianna needs to be recognized for who SHE is and not to be known as Austin’s sister. I whole heartedly agree with this statement and we believe and are teaching our girls the most important element is regarding WHO they are in CHRIST. This has brought much security to them and Brianna has never felt threatened by the fact that Austin always received a lot more attention and recognition. This was indicated by their close relationship. In fact, Brianna stated that she LOVES it when she is known as Austin’s sister! This happened last week when she went for her driver’s permit and her driver’s instructor was the same one who had driven with Austin. We love to know that Austin isn’t forgotten and it is healing to talk about him. It was rather ironic that this letter was addressed to: Cindy Mullett (Austin’s Mom). I was honored by this.

So what does healthy grieving look like? I believe that grief does not follow a cookie cutter mold. It is different for each person. One person may find that it is healing to be able to talk about the loved one who has passed on while another individual has a hard time to be able to deal with talking about them. Some feel that after a set time has passed then it is very important to sort through the personal belongings and discard them. Let me hasten to say that you should only pursue this if everyone involved is ready for this step. Be sensitive towards someone who isn’t grieving in the same way that you are. Don’t hurry this process.

I believe that criticism and judgment typically comes from two types of people. There are many people who have never experienced losing a loved one and have found themselves judging and being critical with someone who is on this journey. I encourage you to be sensitive and “weep with those who weep.” Someday you will experience it and will find that it indeed is a journey and it is not something that you can, in a predetermined time, decide to set aside and forget about it. If you don’t properly grieve during the time of your loss, it will affect you later on in life and will stunt your growth and productivity as a Christian.

The other type of person is one who has become hurt because of not being granted the freedom to grieve when they were facing a loss or difficulty. I will share an example of a situation that one person shared with us. As a young child, this individual was greatly affected by the loss of a parent. The day after the funeral, he was told by an older family member that it was now time to “get over it and stop crying.” This was the last time that he shed tears for this dear parent. Is this what we have been taught regarding proper grieving? If this has happened to you then you may have the tendency to be critical and impatient with those who appear to be taking a long time to grieve. Jesus said that we (Christians) don’t need to grieve like those who have no hope but He also said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is a time for grieving and only God knows what that should look like for each person.

Someone recently sent this email to us: “It takes just a moment to meet a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love, but more than a lifetime to forget them.” We will never forget our loved ones so please don’t make us feel like we need to and be offended if we talk about them.

Special friends of our family are going through a difficult experience with their son who was recently shot and badly injured. He has experienced a major physical trauma and will need more surgeries. He will also need much specialized, recovery time while in the hospital and it will likely be continued even after he is discharged to go home. We understand and sympathize with this situation because we have had so much experience in seeing in the physical world. Now if we could see people in an emotional sense, we would see many people who are badly bruised and handicapped because of loss and devastation in their lives. Why do we become insensitive and critical if we think they aren’t healing as quickly as we think they should be? We would never think to tell someone who is physically hurting…”Come on now! You’ve experienced a long enough time for recovery. It’s time to put it behind you and get on with your life?”  When you have to say good by to someone who was very special to you, it is as if you have experienced one of the greatest traumas possible. Let’s try to be compassionate the way that Jesus was. Why did Jesus weep when Lazarus died? If Jesus was God then doesn’t that mean that He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead? I believe that Jesus wept because He saw how deeply Mary and Martha were hurting and He felt the sting of death that we would all have to face.

A close friend of ours recently passed away after dealing with cancer. We had the privilege of singing a few songs at her celebration of life service. We were so blessed by her life and the legacy that she left to so many individuals whom her life had touched. She had suffered a great deal from the pain associated with this disease and her son did so well in sharing the feelings that often go with the passing of a loved one. It was heart rendering to see his mom suffering and in so much pain. He prayed and told God that if there was any way possible, he would like to take her pain and carry it for her. He went on to say that, in a sense, this is exactly what has happened. She is completely pain free and enjoying the wonders and beauty of Heaven but now in return…he is carrying her pain. He shared that she is having a blast in Heaven and will never have to suffer any more. Because of his love for her, he is very willing to make this exchange.

We would like for you to be able to get a glimpse of why we continue to share our story about Austin. Our purpose has been to share the greatness of our God and the magnitude of His’ grace.  When Austin was still here with us, our story felt positive and we felt that it reflected the goodness of God. After Austin’s passing, I struggled with thoughts of…”Now what do we share? Who wants to know about something that ends like this?”  A few close friends shared with us how so many others are going through this kind of loss and need to be encouraged and that they felt that our ministry would be able to reach even more people because of this. What felt the most comfortable to us was to stop our traveling and to be able to grieve in the privacy of our own home. We strongly felt that God was asking us NOT do what is easiest and most comfortable but to allow Him to use our story for His honor and glory. We had previously never seen so many tears shared at each of our services and so many new believers brought to the Lord as we have in this past year. God has been using Austin’s life and his passing in such a mighty way and we give Him ALL the glory and honor. As long as we see Him using our story in this way, we will continue to be open in sharing it. We believe that Jesus will return very soon and if our tears and journey of grieving can be used to draw even one soul into eternity….It has been worth it all! To God be the glory!

Cindy Mullett
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44 Responses

  1. martha martin says:

    You are totally “ON!” We totally agree with all you said.You can’t know what it’s like till you’ve
    ~Been there,Martha Martin

  2. Naomi Maust says:

    Dear Cindy,
    Thanks for sharing from your heart…very well said! God be with you as you continue to find a “new normal”. If you don’t already have the book “Heaven is Real” by Don Piper I would encourage you to get it. Blessings on your family as you continue to find GOD in your journey of grief….Love you, Naomi

  3. Janelle Burkholder says:

    Amen, Sister! Keep on traveling the path that God has ordained for your family with His courage and grace as your strength. You’re often in my thoughts and prayers. Love, Janelle Burkholder (Forever and always Chelsea’s Mom!)

  4. Krissy Wilkins says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for sitting down to think through that explanation and write it for us. It amazes me at what our Lord is doing with our lives, the whole of our happy times and sad times, grief and hope. I also see Him using us in the lives of others like I haven’t really seen before. Would I have chosen this path? Unlikely, surely not. But now I am thankful to have His hemmed us in behind and before. There is my security. Appreciate you all!
    Krissy

  5. Marvin & Bertha Yoder says:

    Please continue to share about Austin until Jesus comes for us all!!
    God Bless you for sharing what you shared with us just now.

  6. marianne stoltzfus says:

    Cindy, I was so blessed, inspired, and in agreement with what you shared from your heart! I too have experienced deep grief by the passing of my Father who I was very close to.I can’t comprehend the grief associated with losing a son, but there are probably a lot of dynamics that are similar when it comes to the loss of one who was loved so much. I’m amazed at how God carries us through the deepest agonizing moments of anguish and reminds us in the midst of our tears, of the blessed hope we have as His followers—life eternal–living in the presence of Jesus–the glories of heaven–and on and on. His Word is full of descriptions of heaven,words of comfort,His promises never to leave us,and reminders of how much He cares for us and loves us,and how He understands our tears. And because of this we are blessed and grieve not as those with no hope! Joy comes in the morning! Love you Sis! Marianne

  7. Lorene Miller says:

    My heart was tremendously touched with all you shared since Austin died. Our hearts so melded with yours as we also lost two sons. I am appalled that some people don’t understand how meaningful it is to still talk about our loved one and use the experience over a year later to honor Him!

    Just know that every word you wrote rang out clearly as mature hearts wanting to Honor Jesus who has carried you through deeper waters than most of us know about! Keep sharing and reaching others!

    Lorene Miller
    Plain City, OH

  8. Julie Hertzler says:

    Hi Cindy,
    Just want to let you know again how you and your family touched our family the evening you gave a program at our church! What an Awesome “light” Austin was and is! and the Great challenge he leaves with us today to keep things in perspective! I was truly blessed and continue to be! You all are a SWEET family and I hope you can continue to grieve,as you need to, feeling loved and understood by those around you!
    Jesus hurts with you when you hurt!
    Love , Julie

  9. Kathy Nolt says:

    Amen! God bless your family as you go on in his grace.
    I even think it would be suitable to have Austin’s picture posted with your other individual family pictures on this blog site. But only if you as a family choose do have it that way. His ministry has certainly not ended just because of his new location in heaven.

  10. Sue Esh says:

    O my Cindy!! You have such a way with words!! And you are so right!!! I have never experienced death this closely but I totally agree with you!! I’ve talked to other parents who’ve lost sons & they all seem to say the same thing…life goes on but it will nver be the same & they will never be the same because of what they have experienced. And they are ok with that, they find a new normal but it seems others arent ok with it. I just cant imagine the pain of loosing a child and dont have any answers but your letter says it all!! Keep sharing, keep writing, keep being blessed!!! Luv you guys!!!

  11. Bonnie Hurst says:

    Very well written. Until one has walked this painful journey called grieving they do not understand how painful or how hard it is. Keep telling people about Austin & the testimony he had/has.
    I’m blessed at your being open & aware of the needs of your girls & the need for them to each grieve in their own way & time.
    Don’t ever be ashamed of the tears because you love you precious son.
    Blessings to you as you continue to share God’s love.

  12. Erna Dueck says:

    Thankyou Cindy,
    God bless you for sharing, I love it think its very good
    it brings so much healing to us if we share and cry from and for our loved ones.You are such a blessing.Austin was
    such a blessing to me just can see him sitting on stage etc.you need to talk of him and cry when you feel like it.
    I love God, he is my healer for the broken hearted. Amen

  13. Duane says:

    Thanks, Martha! We appreciate the encouragement.Cindy

  14. Duane says:

    Hi Naomi!
    We have read the book by Don Piper and it has been such a blessing to us.Thanks for your comment and friendship to me. I miss you! Cindy

  15. Duane says:

    Erna,
    Thanks for what you shared. He indeed is our Great Healer and I am so excited for the day when we can be healed so perfectly and completely! Blessings, Cindy

  16. Duane says:

    Hi Bonnie, I appreciate your encouragement. We have been so blessed to have so many people who love and support us. I hurt for the ones who are walking this journey with very few to strengthen and encourage them. God bless! Cindy

  17. Duane says:

    Hi Sue! It was great to hear from you again! Thanks so much for the many ways that your family has shown the love of Jesus to us over the years. We are indeed grateful and want to encourage you not to become weary in taking care of your “special gift” from God. You are loving in the way that Christ intended love to be exemplified! Blessings to you and yours, Cindy

  18. Duane says:

    Hi Kathy! Thanks for your input about the photo. We actually did talk about it and each of us wanted to have it on our site but I guess we weren’t sure if that would be appropriate.We will gladly make this change! Blessings! Cindy

  19. Duane says:

    Thanks, Julie! To God be the glory! Cindy

  20. Duane says:

    Lorene, I am so sorry that you have experienced the loss of your two precious sons. I am sure that you also feel that Heaven is more real and special to your hearts and that you have a greater desire to experience it soon. I know that Heaven truly will be worth every tear that we have shed! I look forward in meeting your sons at Jesus’ feet. Cindy

  21. Duane says:

    Thanks so much for your encouragement. Blessings to you! Cindy

  22. Duane says:

    Hi Krissy, Thank you so much for your comment. I know what you mean about us not choosing this journey but, yes, I whole heartedly agree that I wouldn’t trade the preciousness of God’s grace and His closeness for anything! I have told our girls that if only ONE person comes into a relationship with Jesus because of Austin’s passing then in reality it will be worth every tear. I don’t say that lightly but I am looking at the perspective of eternity and realizing that soon we will all be together again. God bless you as you walk this journey of grief. Cindy

    PS. Please send us a personal email sometime and refresh our memories of who you are and your story. (themullettfamily@gmail.com)

  23. Duane says:

    Hi Janelle! I was blessed by your comment. Thank you! How well you all know this journey we are on. I often wonder what our precious children are enjoying at the moment. I am sure that Austin and Chelsea have discussed their journeys and are personally helping to prepare for our great reunion with them. God is so good and we are blessed to know that one of our children are safely at home…free from ALL PAIN! PTL! Cindy

  24. Rhonda Yoder says:

    Keep sharing my friend. Keep grieving as long as it takes. When people make comments like that you know somewhere there’s a DEEP pain in their hearts that no one has ever cared about for them. How sad!!!! You guys are an amazing family and we love and care about you. Keep on ministering just the way God has called you too. Love you. Rhonda Yoder

  25. Joy Kern says:

    May the Lord bless you for sharing the truth straight from HIS heart through yours. So blessed and encouraged to see how God has brought your family through so many storms and you continue to praise HIM for the journey HE has you on. Praying that the Lord will continue to open up doors for your family to be a testimony to the world! We need more people who are not afraid to be bold for Jesus! Blessings to all of you.

  26. Bonnie Kurtz says:

    Well said!! Especially love the story of the man who became a Christian 12 years later. What encouragement to keep on! Those who are NOW LIVING have an awesome way of ministering to we who are dying. I have heard and believe it to be so true that “Hurting people, hurt people.” I have no doubt that the letter you received was sent from someone who is hurting and has not found release from their own personal hurt. Keep writing and sharing your heart, I am always encouraged!
    Blessings! ~Bonnie Kurtz

  27. Duane says:

    Thanks Rhonda! It was great to hear from you again. Thanks for your understanding and for the love shown to our family. We miss you all but hopefully we will be able to spend some time with you this summer while we are on our western tour. We would would that! Love, Cindy

  28. Duane says:

    Thank you, Joy! I needed this encouragement this morning. I was again “hit” with such strong and over whelming feelings of missing Austin and the laughter and enjoyment of life that he always brought to our days. Some days I wonder if our ministry is really worth all of the pain and tears? This is when I have to go back to looking at life with eternal eyes instead these short sighted physical eyes and pray for God to restore the joy in my journey.God bless! Cindy

  29. Duane says:

    Hi Bonnie! I agree with what you shared about hurting people. We have been so blessed to be surrounded with so many loving people who have helped to encourage and walk this journey with us. So many have not experienced this and have been deeply hurt. This is why I felt the need to share what I did. Hopefully it will enable others to feel the love and compassion that the body of Christ should be exemplifying. Blessings to you and yours! Cindy

  30. Esther Glick says:

    What you wrote is soo true! Thanks for sharing! we just hit the 1 year mark of our dear sons death and one thing we have felt in our grief journey is that our culture in general seems very uncomfortable with grief and people seem to be relieved when they see you smiling again. They may not realize that the smile they are so releived to see is often a hard choice we have to make like “Lord, I CHOOSE joy today when all I FEEL like doing is staying in bed and crying!
    One of the sweetest gifts that could be given to a greiving family is to just remember!!! Hearing the name of your loved one is soo special!
    Blessings to your family!
    Steve & Esther

  31. Duane says:

    Steve and Esther, God bless you and your family as you continue to grieve and learn how to function without your dear son. I agree with what you said about people just not knowing how to respond to grief. Yes, I also agree about one of the greatest gifts to a grieving family. I think people don’t want to make us cry but that is where they need to realize that in the long run they are actually helping us to heal.We will always WANT to remember and talk about our loved ones. Keep looking to Jesus! Cindy

  32. Lillian Bender says:

    You expressed the truth so well. I encourage you to keep talking about him and keeping memories alive. It aids the children in their grieving as well. Life is different when you have walked the pathway of God receiving a child from your home into His Home. May God continue to bless all of you.

  33. Shirley Kennell says:

    Well written, Cindy! Keep sharing what the Lord has laid on your heart. Anyone who has to write a anonymous letter, IS NOT, being used of the Lord. Your family has been an inspiration to our family in many ways! We love you. Shirley for the Kennell Family.

  34. Duane says:

    Lillian, Thanks for the encouragement. We grieve…but yet we are also so thankful that they are safe in Jesus arms! Blessings to you and yours, Cindy

  35. Duane says:

    Hi Shirley! Thanks for your love and encouragement to us. We appreciate your family and maybe we will be able to see you again this summer when we are on our western tour. Cindy

  36. Jim Horst says:

    Cindy/Duane – God bless you for sharing it like it is!
    It’s been two years since my mother left us for glory, and, depending what I hear in a song or shared by a Christian brother/sister, the tears come again. She was loved and is missed, but safe in the arms of Jesus! Oh Glory! It is only right that you should miss Austin – he is/was a part of you all and he was LOVED; not only by you but by many others. His faith was a challenge to me to trust God in everything, even when I don’t understand His timing, knowing that someday, He’ll make it plain to me.(and you). May the comforting arms of “Daddy” God be your experince daily as you and the family walk the path He has sovereignly laid out before you. Tears are a language God understands, so there is no need to be ashamed of them; they come from a well of deep love.

    Love to you all,
    Jim Horst

  37. Duane says:

    Thanks, Jim! Your words were very uplifting to us and gave the encouragement we needed for today. God is so good! He knows our desires for wanting to continue to allow Him to use our journey. He also knows when we are feeling that heaviness and when we wonder if it is truly worth it all…that’s when he sends people like you to speak words of life to us! Praise Him!

  38. Fransene Miller says:

    Oh, Cindy, I’m so sorry for the criticism and painful remarks…but I am grateful for the wonderful explanation God gave you for this situation. It should be in a book! There are many others like you who have had similar “advice” given, I’m sure, and your post shares truth that is needed for others who have experienced loss. I really appreciate the examples you shared…everything you said rings true to me. When we listen to Austin singing “Father’s Son” it continues to be an encouragement. Bless you as you continue to share your heart!

  39. Duane says:

    Hi Fransene! It was so good to hear from you. I really appreciate your encouragement. We have been so blessed to have many friends that have supported us and allowed us the space to grieve for Austin. The criticism has been very rare but we felt the need of sharing because we know that not everyone is surrounded with understanding and love in this way. We truly hope that it can keep someone else from needing to hear remarks like this from others in the body of Christ. I hope your family is doing well. We would love to see you when we are in FL the end of Feb.
    Love to you all! Cindy

  40. Erna Huber says:

    Hi Cindy! Thank you for that wonderful article. Our seven year old son said today, “I wish Jesus would come today”. We are awaiting the day when will gather around the throne with our loved ones as well.
    Erna Huber ( Lyndall and Jeremy’s mother)

  41. Hi Cindy,the tears r running,know that u all are in my prayers & my heart aches for you all! I have walked through this journey with a close friend who lost her son & husband.Wehave cried many tears together, it is something that u just can’t fathom until it happens to you.May God’s peace be with u all as u continue to b a shining light to all those u come in contact with!Blessings GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

  42. Duane says:

    Hi Erna! God bless your family as you await that glorious day. It will be worth every tear we shed on this side! Cindy

  43. Duane says:

    Thank you, Waneda, for your encouragement and especially for your prayers. God truly is good and I am amazed at His grace even in the midst of all of our tears. We are so blessed! ~Cindy

  44. Victor Knox says:

    The very fact that the letter was anonymous, greatly diminishes the authors’ credibility. Cowardly!

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