Learning How to Grieve Well
The last five years have been very challenging for our senior pastor, Jeff Jones. During that time, he has lost both his dad and his older brother, Steve, to terrible diseases. Recently, Jeff shared some of the important lessons about grief that God has been teaching him during this tremendously difficult time.
Q: Tell us about the illness that struck your dad.
In 2015 Dad was diagnosed with ALS, that is Lou Gehrig’s disease, when he began having the classic symptoms of weakness in his legs and feet. Gradually he progressed to life in a wheelchair when he lost the use of his arms and legs and even needed help breathing.
However, even with those severe limitations, he worked until the day before he died. His company had numerous instruments going up on one of the Mars missions and he was committed to seeing that through. It definitely extended the quality of his life and his sense of purpose, even though it took an unbelievable amount of energy to do it. He passed away in 2017.
Q: And while your dad was fighting ALS, Steve was also struggling with cancer?
Yes. About seven years ago, Steve was diagnosed with a very rare form of lymphoma that affected his skin. At the beginning of this year, it moved under the skin and then quickly transitioned to his brain.
Then about four months ago things started to get progressively worse. Steve’s son was getting married and our mom was driving him to the wedding. She knew something was very wrong when he kept asking her, “Hey, where are we going?”
The following Monday they took him into the hospital where he lost consciousness.
On Thursday morning of that week I called him and he was completely lucid for a very short period of time. He told me, “I love you, little brother,” and I told him, “I love you, big brother.”
Those were the last words he ever said to anybody as he slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness.
Q: How have you felt the loss of your dad and your brother?
Grieving for my dad has been extremely difficult because we were so close. Sometimes I’d call at night on my way home from a meeting or before making a significant decision. He was always right there, giving me unconditional love and acceptance, which is so rare in this conditional world. It’s easy for me to understand God’s unconditional love because of the love I received from my dad.
Steve was seven years older than me and we weren’t very close until about ten years ago. Then our families started to vacation together and we were making plans to do fantastic things. With Steve I had someone who knew me and loved me no matter what. But then he got sick. You never think you’re going to lose your brother so early.
Q: How did your dad and brother become Christ followers?
I would never have thought Steve would have become a believer as he was such a skeptical and cynical agnostic. He was probably Jesus-positive but church-negative. However, it was the testimony of our church that really won him over.
I decided to send him a link to our online church and never thought he would watch it. But I started receiving texts on Sunday afternoon that kept getting more and more thoughtful. One of our capital campaigns forced him to decide that he wanted to be all in both at church and with Christ. He even led a group in his neighborhood when we did a New Testament challenge. With him becoming a Christ follower and a part of the church, we had a whole new relationship I never thought possible.
My dad, on the other hand, grew up in a very legalistic church which left a negative impression on him from an early age. But when Christy, the boys and I started to attend Chase Oaks (it was then called Fellowship Bible Church North), he developed a great respect for Gene Getz, our founding pastor, when he and my mom started listening to his sermons.
That accelerated after the transition when I became senior pastor and later when we started online church, they would watch together every week.
Both my dad and brother had never been connected to a healthy church before, never even knew that they existed. I’m very thankful for Chase Oaks, our healthy (but imperfect) church body, who helped to win them over. Our corporate expression of the body of Christ was a big part of how that happened.
Q: What have you learned about grief over the last five years?
Grieving is not something I do naturally. I’ve had to consciously learn how to grieve because an unhealthy part of me just doesn’t want to go there. In the past I just wanted to gloss over the sad emotions and move on.
However, in this process, even if it felt mechanical at first, I’ve forced myself to lean into the grief.
After Steve died, I spent half a day with the Lord, asking Him to help me feel the loss and to reflect on it. Not just to say how great it is that Steve’s in heaven. I know that’s true but I just lost my brother. And his kids just lost their dad and his wife just lost her husband.
It’s OK to be sad about that and to enter into that space and to meet God in that loss in a healthy way. You have to grieve what you’ve lost before you can be open to the new things God has for you.
Steve didn’t want a funeral but chose to be cremated and asked that his ashes be scattered. I’m on the hook to scatter some at Augusta National Golf Course. That will be a significant step where I know I will feel close to Steve. (I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to pull that off!)
Q: How is your mom doing?
Obviously, Mom is really grieving the loss of both her husband and her son within five years. The ALS was definitely a shocker—it’s such an unbelievably devastating disease. However, Mom does have a strong community around her and understands the importance of deep relationships.
Q: How have you relied on the deep relationships in your life during this time?
I’ve been meeting weekly with Bruce Miller, my long-time friend and pastor of Christ Fellowship in McKinney, for 20+ years. He’s been a huge part of my journey during these tough five years. He was the one who strongly recommended that I take a half day away with God to process my grief. I’m so glad I had invested the time in that priceless relationship before the crises hit.
And I love our elder board. They understood how much I needed to take the time off to grieve well and how important my health is to the well-being of the church. I so appreciate their leadership in my life and the godly wisdom they offer to our church.
Chase Oaks offers a grief recovery group to help process the loss of a loved one. For more information about GriefShare and our other care groups, click here.