I Didn’t Know How Difficult It Would Be – Personal thoughts of a grieving husband and father

The following introduction article is a preview to a coming book to be published by Reformed Fellowship.


With this book I desire to share with you the struggles I experienced in the journey I began with my first wife, Melanie, and the later struggles I faced without her. In December 1993 it became known to us that she had a malignant brain tumor. After about two years and two months, the Lord took her to be with him at the young age of twenty-nine years. I remained behind with five young children. As a pastor I knew which Bible texts were fitting and comforting for such an intensely sad situation, since I preached weekly about God who is good and gracious but also wise and sovereign. Yet I have to admit, sometimes it was a huge struggle for me to believe that myself. The struggle to find rest in him was real. I was often tossed about with storms from within my own mind. “Does God exist? Is everything I believe really true? God is good, but why does he inflict so much pain and grief? Why would he take a mother away from her young family and leave the father behind alone? Is everything that I preach Sunday after Sunday really true?”

The Lord didn’t leave me alone in such moments of intense wrestling. Countless times he pulled me out of these pits. Sometimes through a rainbow which stood at just such a moment along the skyline. Or through the mighty display of his glory with the sunrays beaming through the clouds upon the earth while driving to preach his Word. Or I would be called at just the right time by someone who again pointed me to the God of the Scriptures and his goodness in caring for us. His timing was marvelous. But mostly he comforted me by what I read in the Scriptures.

This book has been written about the struggles we may experience as we travel through the valley of grief, and how we can help others in these storms of life.



A Helping Hand

Don’t expect a scientific treatment of grieving in this book. For such insights I direct you to other authors who have done extensive research in the area of grief. Don’t expect in this book a Bible study or the biblical teaching on death, grief, the promises of God, and the crucial importance of the anchor of faith. About those subjects many valuable books have been written. In these pages I share the thoughts and the struggles that I experienced surrounding the loss of my dear wife Melanie, with the hope that I may be a practical, helping hand to others who are journeying through the deep valley of grief.

During one school year, my children were involved in a learning experience called “Shoes.” Each week they were challenged to walk in the “shoes” of another person who lived through a specific need or situation. It was intense for them to experience in this attempted simulation what it meant to be discriminated against because of race or sex, to be permanently handicapped (blind or deaf), or to belong to a poorer social class within a rich country. In unbosoming my struggles with grief, I make an attempt to take you along in the shoes of a grieving person. It could be enlightening for yourself, or it may be helpful in your conversations and interactions with others at work or within your family circle.

Reading through this book may also help us to not speak or judge as thoughtlessly as we often do. One author put it like this:

How often have I given my opinion when I wasn’t asked for it? Why do I judge when I don’t wear “their shoes”? How can I judge how many children a couple can handle? Or how someone spends his money? Or when the following words slip into my daily conversations: “If I was her, then . . .” Or I might ask someone, “Say, would you do that when . . . ?” Often, before we realize it, we have stepped into the shoes of someone else. Let’s stay out of those shoes of the other unless we are called to wear them! Their shoes usually don’t fit us. Our calling is not to wear their shoes but to make sure that the shoes another has to wear feel a little more comfortable. Therefore, jump into their life, without judging, when you see someone struggling. Lend a real helping hand; speak or write an encouraging word. Give a financial gift. Let’s not look for great deeds in these situations. Try to give one a little foot rub; give another some help with a shoe-horn to get their shoes on, or obtain for third an arch support. This may help people to wear their shoes a little more comfortably. Or, as it is often said, it may help others to “carry their cross more cheerfully.”

We can all profit from these wise words. In this case the old proverb is fitting: “If the shoe fits, wear it!”

First Aid

First aid can mean life or death. In this connection I think about our (foster) daughter Kim. At the very moment that she had a serious accident, a fireman/paramedic was literally sitting in his car talking on his phone, just a few hundred yards away. In less than a minute he was with Kim, and partly through his expert intervention, we still have Kim with us. Of course, behind all these human interventions, we see the hand of God’s grace. In his providence he placed her near this well-trained fireman/paramedic who knew what was critical for her survival. It would have been no help for someone like me to find her, with limited medical knowledge about the medical condition that she faced as she lay there in the totally twisted wreck of her car. Consider this book therefore a first-aid course in grief.

To Speak or to Be Silent

When you haven’t experienced grief, you may think that it is better to avoid the subject of grief or loss. Isn’t it painful and difficult to say something or to ask specifically about the great loss experienced? Be assured that it is not when it is done in a meaningful and genuine way. It is more painful when we act as if there is not a cloud in the sky. Compare it with a great flesh wound. Would you stand by and let it bleed? Would you say, “Don’t touch the wound because it may bleed more”? Such a reaction could be fatal. Yet treating the wound with a dirty, infected rag could also be deadly. Through the reading of this book I hope to take away the shyness you may feel when you suddenly find yourself looking into the eyes of a one who grieves. I hope reading this book will provide you answers to question like “What should I say then? How do I begin a conversation? Should I avoid speaking about it at this time? How do I answer them when they ask questions or when they pour out their story?”

Intended Audiences

In writing this book, I hope to reach a varied audience, but mostly those who are trudging through the valley of grief. Perhaps your journey has just begun, or you have already been traveling for years. As I share some of my struggles, you may find a sense of recognition. It may feel like a relief that you are not the only one. Judging by the numerous reactions I have received from those grieving in the Netherlands, where this book was first printed, I am confident that grievers will feel less alone in their journey through the valley of grief.

Another target group is those who walk with the grieving. Perhaps you haven’t experienced grief yourself in a personal way. You may feel awkward and unsure. But as you peek into the griever’s world, it may give you more confidence walking along with them, knowing what or what not to look for, what or what not to say or do.

I also think of the office bearers who are called to visit the grieving. So often you are called to minister to the church family in times of sickness, death, and the aftermath.

In addition, even adults who have lost a parent or parents or a sibling or siblings while young may benefit from reading this book. Many have shared that the wounds inflicted during their childhood have continued to ooze because they were the forgotten mourners. As one young man said to me the other day, “In those years, they always asked, ‘How is your mother doing?’ but nobody asked me, ‘How are you doing?’” Reading through this book may help those of you who never processed the grief appropriately at the time of loss.

Last, I think of those who contemplate entering or have recently entered into marriage with someone who is a widower or widow. Reading through these pages will give you a better understanding of your spouse. A new marriage can be very satisfying, very close, and beautiful. Yet that doesn’t mean it has cancelled the grief of the loss about our former lover.

Rev. Arnoud Vergunst is the pastor of the Reformed Congregation in Carterton, New Zealand.