Coping With Death

Dear Grace,
Nine months ago, my sister-in-law passed away from cancer at the age of forty-two. I knew she loved God and was a devoted Christian, so, I am struggling to understand why He took her away from a four year old son who needs his mommy, and also from my brother?

I know that our family is not the only one to suffer such a loss, but I prayed every night from the time she was diagnosed until she passed away only nine months later. Why did God not hear our prayers? There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about my sister-in-law and about death. I think about my own death now as well — something I rarely ever did before. I think about my own son (who is now four). What would happen to him if something happened to me? I want to enjoy life and be grateful for all my blessings and not worry about death, but I feel like it’s a black cloud hanging over me all the time. How can it be lifted away? How can I restore my faith?

Yes, life does not seem fair sometimes, does it? It hurts deeply to lose someone we love, and especially someone whom we consider to be so needed — like a wife and mother. We turn to God and we want our prayers answered. But when the outcome is not what we expected or hope so desperately for, we wonder and plead with Him, “Why?”

Death, like other events that we consider tragic, has a way of jolting us to reality. We have a tendency often to move through life taking many things and people for granted. But do you know what we most take for granted? It is our relationship with God. If we are not careful, our vision and prospective can become clouded. We look at the people, and sometimes even things, in our lives and think that we cannot live without them.

I do not mean to say that these people or things are not good for us. Certainly they are good, and God gives them to us to enhance our happiness. But they are not the ultimate source of our true happiness or the goal of our eternal destiny. When you say this to someone who is caught up in the depths of grief or fearing death, it can be very difficult to see. It takes time.

Devastated by the death of his wife Joy, the great author and essayist C.S. Lewis wrote: “Meanwhile, where is God? When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him….turn to Him with gratitude and praise, and you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face” (Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed [New York: Bantam Books, 1961]). This statement expresses the terrible, aching pain of crying out to God, who does not seem to answer. He seems, in fact, so distant from us in these moments. But is He?

With time, eventually Lewis discovers what we all must discover — that it is God whom we truly long for. Lewis comes to a point in his bereavement when he can say about God, “He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down” (Lewis, 61). In other words, we are nothing without God. It is sad that sometimes it takes losing someone we love to make us realize our dependence on Him. It is He whom we cannot live without.

Of course your sister-in-law was very much needed by her family. We could never minimize or argue that. And we will not, in this life, completely understand why God chose to allow her to pass from this life to the next at this particular time. Never forget this, though — we are His. Our happiness and fulfillment will only be perfect in Him and with Him. Can we, who are still living, compete with God? No, we cannot. Nor should we attempt to. Those who have died, and are with Him, are experiencing a bliss and joy like we have yet to know.

Your family will feel a great loss and some hardship. Yes, your lives have been changed. But trust in God always. He who created the entire universe can surely take care of you and your whole family. This includes their four-year old son.

Do not be afraid of death. Death is not the end, but rather it is the beginning. We were never meant to die in the first place. Sin caused death to enter the created world. But Jesus conquered death and thus made a way for us to be with Him someday for all eternity. Allow the grieving process its time. But try as best you can to focus on life and living well. Above all, love God and trust Him. He will never abandon you. Then, one day when you see Him face to face, you will see and understand why everything happened in this life as it did.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage