Hope in the Midst of Grief

CBN.com - If you have ever suffered the loss of a loved one, you know the crushing weight of sorrow that can black out all hope for the future. Terry Meeuwsen recently spoke to well-known author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar about the loss of his daughter, Suzan. He says along the dark journey of grief is a road that actually leads to healing.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Some time ago I was given your book, Confessions of a Grieving Christian, a beautifully done book and one that I know your entire heart and soul were put into. And I was so moved by it. When people think of the name Zig Ziglar, they are used to thinking of motivation and positive, upbeat thoughts. In this story you leave us with workable things, but the story is about the loss of your oldest daughter, Suzan. Tell me about what Suzan was like and what she meant to your family.

ZIG ZIGLAR: Suzan was truly one of the most genuine people that I've ever known, regardless of the fact that I might be a little prejudiced in that statement. She had such love for other people. I had written "Confessions of a Happy Christian" and God used that to claim her for the kingdom. Her faith became a shining example for the whole family. It was so beautiful. She worked with me as my editor. She was unusually bright, with a lot of insight and just such a compassionate feeling for all people. We knew she was sick, but we had no idea that it was as serious as it was. She was scheduled to go to St. Louis to get evaluated for a lung transplant. She had gone on Sunday, but on Friday she suddenly and dramatically took a turn for the worse. We rushed her to the hospital and 15 days later she went to be with the Lord.

TERRY: What a shocking experience. This is not an unusual thing, but though Suzan grew up in a Christians home for a number of years in her own life, she was really agnostic. How did that affect your relationship with her? You've always been so bold about your faith.

ZIG: The reality is she did not grow up under a Christian father. I was saved when I was 45 years old. So Suzan was in her 20s. She was unusually bright and she had seen her dad get excited before, but she recognized substantial changes. Even a father can only go so far in his witness to her. Then one day God spoke to me and said, "Why don't you write her a book." I said, all right, Lord. I'll write her a book. We'll right her a book. Every word, every phrase, every example, illustration, story, every prayer was for Suzan's salvation. God used the book to bring her into the kingdom.

TERRY: Isn't that amazing?

ZIG: We taught her to the best of our ability how to live and she taught us how to die.

TERRY: What was she diagnosed with?

ZIG: Pulmonary fibrosis. The thing I guess that has been our salvation, the reason that our faith is stronger now than it was before, God's word is so comforting. We have total assurance of where she is, equal assurance that we will see her again and in Psalms 139:16 it tells us hour days are measured before we're born. We had the best medical care available for her. We gave her all the love any child could ever receive and prayers. I've been speaking for network marketing companies for over 30 years. We estimate that over 1 million people were praying for her. We had prayer meetings in every state, in India and who knows where else. But God had her days measured.

TERRY: How did you deal with that? You know that millions of people are praying and it's your heart desire. You love the Lord. You're serving him in every way you know how in your life and what do you do when God's purposes don't measure up with the desire of your heart?

ZIG: Well, we've all heard the old saying that we don't know what tomorrow holds, but we do know Who holds tomorrow. That notwithstanding, upon her death, when the nurse said she's gone, I was exhausted. We had to deal with the funeral arrangements and the phone calls to let people know. I laid down that night about 10 p.m., and I couldn't go to sleep. I started to hallucinate. I had imagined that my daughter was down at the funeral home or hospital, wondering why her Daddy didn't come get her. I got up and tried to pray and I couldn't. I tried to read my Bible and I couldn't. I was up and down and back and forth and finally at 3 a.m. I got up and picked up a beautiful Bill Gaither cassette. I laid down on the floor and started listening. Within minutes God's reassuring words put me to sleep. I got up at 5 a.m., went up to my bed, and slept two or more hours. I got up and went on a walk, which was so revolutionary. It was about an hour.

TERRY: What did God reveal to you?

ZIG: Well, I cried every step. I prayed every step and finally when I got about a block from home -- the Lord normally speaks to me in His Bible, but there have been at least three, maybe four occasions where it seemed that He was audible as He spoke to me -- He said, Suzan is fine. She's with me and you're going to be fine, too. I'm all you need. I want you to keep walking and keep praying and keep crying. He said, I collect your tears in a bottle and I'm saving them. And the joy that came as a result of that -- I already had the assurance, I knew where she was -- but yet that other word is what made the difference. We worship such a great God.

TERRY: We really do. You shared that so clearly in the book. I think the thing that must be so difficult as a parent is the unfulfilled dream of all that you anticipated your child finishing in their lives. How do you deal with that?

ZIG: Watching her daughter fall in love and some day get married, watching her own children and grandchildren grow up. Terry, you know, God has a pair of scales and He balances them. Along with the grief that goes with the loss came His blessed assurance that we would see her again and that was such a great balance. Then the other compensating factor, despite the fact that something like 80 percent of the couples divorce after the death of a child, my wife and I remained together. I've always loved my wife. The kids call us the love birds. I never loved another woman. But as deep as our love was prior to that, our coming together to support and encourage each other, I can't begin to tell you how much more I love that beautiful redhead today even than I did then. Our girls and our son, we've always been close. We vacation together. We work together. We eat together. We play together. We talk almost every day. And yet there's an even closer relationship today when my wife and our two girls go off and I'm occasionally invited along, I feel like an imposter. They have so much fun together. To tell you the truth, I can't wait to get back home with that redhead. When I talk about my wife, I always call her the redhead.

TERRY: I know you do. I don't know what her name is.

ZIG: When I'm talking to her, I always call her sugar baby, and her name is Jean. We celebrated our 53rd honeymoon -- anniversary is kind of boring -- but a honeymoon!

TERRY: What advice would you give to people who are suffering loss, whether it's a child or someone else in a family situation, or simply a very good friend? Where do people begin to really find relief from the grieving?

ZIG: I believe, first of all, is to understand that the separation is temporary, provided they know Christ. Second, remind them there are no known benefits for not weeping. Christ never attended a funeral; He didn't like them. In every case, He raised the dead. Understand that Christ has raised our daughter. We know we will see her again. Go ahead and shed those tears. God is collecting them in a bottle. And ignore to the best of your ability, those well-meaning friends who say, get over it. You never get over it. As I say in my book, grieving for the Christian is like going through a long winding mountain tunnel. You know there's an end to it. You just don't know where. So you keep going. Not in your own strength, but in the strength of Christ. And then the grief ends when you get to the end of the tunnel and you see the light shed by the glory of Christ and you'll see your loved one right there with Him. Then and only then does the grieving stop and the eternal rejoicing begins. Concentrate on all of the good things and the good times. Our youngest daughter, Julie, when we have a little snowflake, it doesn't happen often in Dallas, but that was her favorite thing. She used to do a snow dance and get on the telephone. "We have a big snow, you know," Julie would say, "now we can have happy Susie thoughts all day long." Emphasize the joy and the beauty.

TERRY: Where do you go with the why questions?

ZIG: Well, we never ask the why question because God's book in Psalms says the days were measured. Isaiah 57:1 and 2 says that God sees the evil that lies ahead of them. In Suzan's illness and death, I was dealing with a young couple, his wife had a similar disease and for two years she was in and out of the hospital. A lot of pain, a lot of everything. Then God called her home. We're grateful that our Suzan didn't have to go through with that.

TERRY: Your whole family works together. What is God doing with you now? Where is he taking you now?

ZIG: I'm telling you, it stuns people when I tell them. Most people think in my early 30s or late 30s.

TERRY: That's what I was thinking.

ZIG: I'm 73 and having more fun than I've ever had in my life. Someone said, I heard you had retired. I said, you weren't listening. I said, I was refired. I said, I'm not going to use up, let up, set up or give up until I'm taken up. As a matter of fact, I'm just getting warmed up. And we actually, we just launched a new company that is the most exciting thing we've ever done. We're just so grateful for it because we'll be able to distribute more of our life changing materials, including Christian motivation through this new network.

TERRY: That's wonderful. You have quite an interesting family in that they really genuinely are all involved in your business. Do you guys ever get tired of each other?

ZIG: You know, it's an incredible relationship. First of all, our children understood with repeated inputs in their lives, all of their lives that regardless, we love them very deeply. We enjoy each other. All of us have a good sense of humor. My son is a CEO and president of our new company. My son-in-law is executive vice president and chief operating officer. My youngest daughter is my editor and they're just so much fun to work with. I do all the creative stuff that I write. But my youngest daughter, being female and another generation, brings another dimension. She softens some of my work. I get pretty dogmatic on occasion. Especially about my faith.

TERRY: That's wonderful. That's one of the things I think has become a hallmark of your speaking. People know that behind all of the creative thoughts that you have is this underlying faith that has held you in good stead for many years. Suzan writes the most touching story that you share in the beginning of the book about your own childhood. You had a lot of struggles as you came up.

ZIG: Yes. We did. But we had a mother who loved us deeply and displayed that love. Times were a lot different then. There were other people who were having difficulties, but the first 27 years of our marriage we had financial difficulties. I've had my telephone disconnected and my lights turned off. Had to turn a car back in 'cause we couldn't pay for it. When Suzan was born, the bill was 64 dollars. I didn't have the money. I had to make two sales to get my own baby out of the hospital. Yet during all of that time, that redhead, she never complained. She always said tomorrow will be better. You can do it. And then the two things that rang my bell then, that keeps it ringing today. I love you and I believe in you. Had it not been for my family and my faith, I wouldn't be talking with you right this minute. Or very few other people. I was broken in death when I committed my life to Christ.

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