Merciless Grief, Glorious Grace


Grief is neither a respecter of people, time or expectations. Its rudeness takes us by surprise; its perseverance feels overwhelming.

My dear friend Ellis lost his beloved wife Colleen on October 4. She lost her battle with ALS in the early morning hours, with Ellis sleeping beside her hospice bed. She went quietly–much the way she lived her life–with a determination not to be defined by disease but by where she was going.

Home. To heaven. To be with Jesus and her sweet daughter Heather who arrived at heaven’s gates before her, twenty-five years ago.

I can’t imagine the depth of loss Ellis is experiencing. His only child and his wife. Grief multiplied and ongoing. Pain that deserves time and attention.

We were friends with Ellis and Colleen when they lost their daughter so many years ago. Devastating to them and those around them. They grieved together yet very different.

There’s no formula or right way to grieve. It’s how God leads our hearts so we may deal with loss in a way that suits our souls. There is no end point. A softening of the hard edges of pain. A tenderness derived from beautiful memories. But uninvited, it never truly leaves. It ages with us and reminds us that death is as much a part of life as birth, loss is as powerful as gain.

Within less than a year after their daughter’s death, Colleen and I were part of a mom’s group headed overseas to minister to moms on the mission field. Colleen’s wounds were raw, and as she shared her loss, how it colored the rest of life, she ministered to women who’d lost loved ones without recognition. Who’d grieved without anyone’s understanding.

Colleen loved others in her grief.

Ellis has done so as well. Where his wife pulled back somewhat from the larger picture of our organization, he embraced the opportunity to be with those he worked with. Spending time with Colleen in their shared pain; sharing life with others, and enjoying the children and grandchildren of others.

A gift not given him. Yet never has there been resentment; only rejoicing.

Both have had an incredible impact on others with their journeys. In a culture that doesn’t easily deal with grief, they’ve been a reminder that we each need permission to deal with our pain as it comes. It can’t be approached with a strategic mindset. It can only be embraced with a heart of remembered and ongoing love.

Ellis now lives in that space where his life hasn’t gone as planned. Where his loss appears greater than what he has left. This was nothing he expected; nothing he asked for.

He walks through this with the God who gave His only Son for humanity who didn’t acknowledge the gift. The God who understands grief and loss, who loves without question those who seek Him and lay their hurts and losses in His lap.

People may see God as a crutch. Someone believers lean on because they’re weak and can’t cope.

Absolutely true.

Life is heavy, hard, messy. Apart from the promise of heaven, found only in a relationship with Jesus, I don’t know how people deal with such pain and disappointment.

Ellis has the assurance of one day being reunited with his wife and daughter. The quiet joy amidst the turbulence of sadness.

What assurance do you have for what’s next?




20 responses to “Merciless Grief, Glorious Grace”

  1. There is no pill that takes pain away, we carry that weight all the way home. Thanks, Dayle. I remember with such searing clarity the day Heather died. How much things changed, how much we all had to suffer under the cloud of unknowing.


    1. Memories are wonderful–and awful–things. But God is in them as well. The good He puts a shining glimmer on, a reminder that this isn’t home. The bad need time to soften their edges. I remember that day as well.


  2. Thanks so much for this post, Dayle. My heart breaks, again, for Ellis. Earthly life certainly brings pain. Thank God for His sustenance via caring friends and soul support.

    Sandra Auer Sent from my iPhone



    1. I’m grateful that the body of Christ is holding him up in prayer. You’re right–it’s soul support, soul care. Something we have to think about but yet can’t plan for much of the time. Thanks for your encouraging words, my friend.



    Dayle, thank you for this post. I did not know that Colleen had passed. I remember their great loss many years ago and how deeply and differently they both grieved. My heart goes out to Ellis, a devoted servant of Christ. Your article is also timely for me as I have lost several family and friends this year. Your words are filled with understanding and comfort. Thank you.


    1. Oh, Marcella, I hurt for your loss as well. This life is so full of loss, and being able to make space and time to process the grief gets harder and harder. Thank you for your kind words, and I truly am praying that you will find comfort in the power of the Holy Spirit as you grieve the loss of your loved ones.


  4. Sandy Davis-Becker Avatar
    Sandy Davis-Becker

    Dear Ellis, I understand your grief as I have grieved over the loss of my dear Jay Davis in 1995, then again Nils Becker in 2015! I feel sooo blessed by having been married to two wonderful, godly men!!!! However it’s sooo hard to lose them !!!! I’m praying for you dear brother and understand all that you’re feeling! Just know that God will eventually ease your pain and restore your ministry as you yield to Him! Blessings my friend! 🙂


    1. If death doesn’t draw the family of God together, Sandy, we’ve much to learn. You’ve walked this path faithfully before, twice. You know more than most what he’s going through. Thank you for your encouraging words.


  5. This just hurts my heart. But how beautifully written and with so much truth, hard truth, and hope. thank you for sharing your thoughts and honoring this beautiful family in this way. Glad they’ve had you guys in it all and Ellis still has you. much love.


    1. Thanks, Carrie, for your kind words. Grief is something we have to deal with. I know you knew Heather, and her death almost 25 years ago was miserable. This is hard on top of hard. He so needs our prayers. Appreciate you taking the time to write.


  6. This is a beautiful tribute, and personally, a timely and challenging reminder of the grace our Lord and the certainty of His promises
    amidst the trials of life. Thank you. Praying for Ellis (and Marcella) during their time of grief and loss.


    1. Thanks so much, Jena, for your kind words Grace is something often spoken of and yet so hard to grasp–especially alone. It’s why praying for one another is such a gift. Thanks for your prayers for both Ellis and Marcella.


  7. Deb Christensen Avatar
    Deb Christensen

    Dayle, You have penned so beautifully what many of us would want to say. Thank you!


    1. We’re all in this grieving business together. Ellis’ losses are so much greater than any of us can conceive of. He so desperately needs our prayers. Thanks for your encouragement, Deb.


  8. Dayle – Thank you for this beautifully written piece. My heart has been breaking for Ellis while rejoicing for Colleen, free from the pain that trapped her body, reunited with the lovely Heather, and seeing her Savior face to face. Colleen was instrumental in my early growth as a believer, even though she never discipled me directly. She and Ellis, together and separately, have impacted my life greatly over the past 40+ years.
    Thank you for portraying grief so well. It’s a conversation we don’t like to have much in our American culture.


    1. Oh, Carol, it’s so amazing that God uses us in each others’ lives to grow and learn. You’re so right–Colleen is in a sweet space, with her longed-for daughter and her dearly loved Savior. As a couple, they’ve impacted more than they’ve probably ever understood. And Heather’s life was a picture of growth and hope in Jesus–fully realized and enjoyed. Thanks for the encouragement, my friend.


  9. Dayle. Your words. Beautifully written. Lovingly given. To Ellis. To honor Colleen. To remember Heather. Grief changes us. It calls us into the ‘house of mourning’ as the book and gem “Experiencing Grief” describes so well. We all need our time to be with it. To work out the grief that inexplicably is also woven so deeply into the emotions and feelings we have for the one we are grieving. One thing I’ve learned in my house of mourning journeys is that grief must have its work in me. Because in the working there is also the healing. Not to undo what I have lost but to acknowledge it and honor it. Recognize the people and the experiences that have ended. I am thankful for that healing. Love you Dayle and I miss you.


    1. Oh, Mello, I knew you’d get it. You’ve walked the path of grief for many years. You know it becomes a part of us, It must have its work in us–you’re so right. Because there is no healing apart from acknowledging the pain. Miss you and love you, too, my friend.


  10. Loved this paragraph especially, “There’s no formula or right way to grieve. It’s how God leads our hearts so we may deal with loss in a way that suits our souls. There is no end point. A softening of the hard edges of pain. A tenderness derived from beautiful memories. But uninvited, it never truly leaves. It ages with us and reminds us that death is as much a part of life as birth, loss is as powerful as gain.”

    I think of Ellis and his daughter’s death at least 5 times a year since I joined staff 9 yrs ago and heard his account. His story has reminded me to treasure every day with my precious son, because there is no guarantee or promise of how long we will journey together in broken bodies and a broken world. Crisis, sin, pain, and death are our ‘new normal’. But also what hope we have in Christ.

    My precious father-in-law a spiritual mentor and my husband’s best friend and closest adviser and one of our biggest supporters in every way you can define support just recently passed away in mid September. This experience of grief has been the hardest yet, and like Ellis’ story so many years ago has taught me to do, is helping me to, treasure each moment and day and week and year with my precious husband. Because there is no guarantee we will grow old together…we are all dying ‘outwardly wasting away,’ but inwardly can be renewed day by day. My husband said at his father’s powerful memorial service, I may not know the answers to many of the questions I have, but I do know these three things: God is with me, God is in me, and God is for me. I like to say, “I love the Jesus in you.” It reminds me of the source of all good things, and that though previous places I have found refreshment and joy and love are lost in the physical sense, the spirit that drove them, filled them, and made them alive and a source of nourishment for me is still fully present, available, and beckoning me to, “Draw near, be still, take and eat all that you need.”


    1. I love the Jesus in your words, Melody. And I’m so very sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. Losing a wonderful spiritual mentor, a friend, advisor, emotional supporter as well as a heart giver, is massive. But choosing to celebrate what you have–what we have– every day of our lives because we’re loved and chosen by Jesus is worth everything. Thanks for your wonderful words.


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