Tim lost his wife sudden from a brain aneurism while on a family holiday; that was 7 years ago, and the pain is still very real, but he has found grace, joy, new life & learnt to love again. Tim shares openly about the trauma and how God has led him through it all in today’s Story of Hope on CCFm’s Breakfast with Friends.
Posts by Tim Tucker:
George Matheson was a 19th Century pastor and hymn writer. Blind from his youth and having faced grief, loss, and disappointments of many kinds, he was a man who was familiar with the challenges of suffering. He wrote:
Many of us would tearlessly deal with our grief if only we were allowed to do it in private, yet what is so difficult is that most of us are called to exercise patience, not in a bed, but in the open street for all to see. We are called upon to bury our sorrows not in restful inactivity but in active service; in our workplace, while shopping and doing social events… No other way of bearing sorrow is as difficult as this, for it is truly what is meant by running with patience.
Matheson is highlighting the challenge of navigating public and private grief. If it was difficult enough for him in the 19th century, how much more challenging is it for us in the digital age? We don’t just handle grief in the open street for all to see, but on the information-super-highway! In particular, social media has provided a new and complex platform for those of us who are grieving to navigate. As Matheson implies, those of us who have been through deep grief often want to curl up into a ball and hide away. However, psychologists tell us that grieving people require social proximity to help facilitate healing. Social media is clearly one opportunity for us to connect with other people as we seek to process grief and loss. But how do we do this in a healthy way given some of the constraints and challenges of this relatively new communication tool?
For many of us, social media became exponentially more important during the global COVID-19 pandemic. We have become increasingly connected to our devices and it has simply become part of our daily life. However, many of us are also concerned that there is an intrinsic link between social media usage and the state of our mental health. If this is true (as many studies are indicating), then we need to be even more cautious about how we utilise social media while we are processing grief.
The challenge is that social media is not just a vehicle for us to share about what we’re going through, but it also exposes us to the pain of others, which can compound our own grief. As one researcher has written, Death is becoming a much more public experience… due in part to the introduction of technology (Resa Ware). The long-term reality is that, whereas, in pre-social media, we tended to lose touch with people as our social circles changed, we now have an increasingly long list of online ‘friends’. It is, therefore, simply the mathematics of probability which means we are going to be exposed to more loss and sadness, alongside the frivolity, triviality, and downright ridiculousness of social media.
The breaking of tragic news via social media seems to now be part of everyday life. I first became aware of how social media would change our interaction with grief in 2011. My good friend, Mark Versey, tragically died aged just 38. He had worked with me in Pretoria for three years and had recently moved to London and taken up a new position within our organisation. I heard the news of his passing via telephone from my dad. Later that afternoon I realised I needed to phone some people with the news. As I was calling some people, I became aware that word of Mark’s passing was spreading very quickly. So, I logged on to my Facebook account and saw that my feed was filling up with messages that tagged Mark. Tribute after tribute was being posted. I felt a bit stunned as I witnessed this global expression of grief. It was an amazing testimony to the impact that Mark’s life had had. And it was also an incredible comfort to be able to relate to a global community of people through the shrinking world brought about by social media.
That was 2011 and it was the first time I became aware of how this could be a powerful medium to help people through their grief. However, an equal and opposite danger has emerged: tragedy can become commonplace resulting in us being desensitised to our newsfeeds. In the same browsing session, we can see acquaintances or far-flung friends celebrating an engagement or the birth of a baby, while others are announcing that they have cancer or have lost a job. At any point of any day, our lives can be interrupted with uninvited heart-breaking news as friends and loved ones, or even long-lost acquaintances, experience and share their personal trials and grief.
The fact is that social media is here to stay and it is a vehicle of communication that people going through grief need to navigate. And there is no playbook on how best to do that. Some people lay their hearts bare for all to read through highly personal and emotive posts. Others withdraw completely. When I lost my wife in 2016, I took a different approach. I determined to try and use the platform sensitively and sparingly. Reading other people’s tributes to Laura and messages of love that came through various online platforms was certainly a comfort. It was also a great vehicle through which to mobilise prayer and support for our family. However, there were many private and personal things that I didn’t feel were appropriate for the world-wide-web to be aware of at that time. So, although I browsed regularly, I posted sparingly.
Now, in 2023, the world is more connected than ever. Pre-Covid, the average American was checking their smartphone up to 150 times a day. During 2020, we became hooked on tracking the spread of the disease and how each country has adopted different strategies to counteract it. Since covid, it seems that we are increasingly aware of tragedies that sweep our world, be it raging fires in Canada, loss of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, war in the Ukraine or dams bursting in Libya. We are exposed to the tragic devastation that this is causing, which fuels our fears and compounds our concerns about the future. We are more aware of people’s grief but can feel powerless in our interventions. This can also be exhausting!
Therefore, in the midst of a tragic storm, I would advise caution in your engagement with social media. Develop a strategy to handle it. I believe the danger of over-immersion in social media is that it can exacerbate your sense of isolation. Your strategy needs to enable you to share appropriately about what you are going through with your broader social network, while also finding ways to connect more deeply and meaningfully with people you love and trust. We need meaningful relational connections in order to survive the worst that life can throw at us.
The critical principle is that you feel empowered to utilise social media in ways that helps you and doesn’t harm you or others. Additionally, although research is indicating that there are many positive advantages to processing grief online, don’t allow social media to become your only platform where you seek to process your grief. My experience on social media after losing my wife was largely positive but it was not all-encompassing. Connect with people directly. Seek professional help. Join an online or physical support. Some small groups have started working through the Grief and Grace book and video series, which now contains a reflection guide that can help spark conversation. Look to a diverse community of people to offer you support and help in the aftermath of losing a loved one.
I came to see the community of people around me as a gift that God had given me to help me through my journey of pain. Just as I don’t see my relationship with God as a crutch, but as a gift of grace, so I began to see people as gifts along the way. There were people, in my physical and online community, who journeyed with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and I learned a beautiful thing that I hope will be your experience. Although both online and physical relationships can be a sensitive and challenging reality to navigate while grieving, people became the source of God’s gracious gifts that helped me along the way. And this led to some breakthroughs at various stages; glimpses of light breaking through my smog. This brought relief, support and even some joy even in the midst of pain.
The Grief and Grace book was released in 2019. This interview was on Radio CCFM morning show as part of their “Story of Hope” segment. With the launch of the new edition of Grief and Grace, it seemed like a good time to repost this video. I’m also looking forward to going on the show later this year (October 2023) and again early next year (February 2024) when my new book is released.
Discombobulated is one of my favourite words to describe my state of being when I was going through deep grief. The state of being discombobulated is to be characterised by confusion or disorder. In other words, grief caused my brain to be scrambled. All the things I had taken for granted were now thrown into the mixer. My plans, my future, even my identity, were suddenly all up in the air. When we go through grief, we are reminded that life is fragile. This can cause a sense of fear and despair as we face a future we didn’t choose. It’s hard to come to terms with the uninvited interruption which is grief.
Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one, or a sudden change in circumstances (e.g. redundancy or ill health), being discombobulated is an innate feeling that things are simply not as they should be. Grief does that. It is a pernicious force that can destabilise and cripple us physically and emotionally. Grief is an exhausting bedfellow that, if unrecognised and ineffectually processed, can have a long-term detrimental impact on our sense of well-being and purpose. However, my reason for writing is not to add to your woes but to provide you with hope to courageously face the future. It is possible to find a depth of resilience that can enable one to persevere along the road of grief and, indeed, find joy once more. Discombobulation does not need to be your permanent state. However, grief is not something we simply get over. But it is something we can journey through. Thankfully, there are signposts that can help us on this journey. I hope that my own story can be a signpost for you.
On 9th August 2016, Laura and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary with breakfast at the Company Gardens in Cape Town. Over bacon and eggs, we reflected on the previous couple of months. Laura had been hospitalised twice but we were now grateful that she appeared to be on the mend. We were looking forward to my brother and his family coming to stay with us in just a few days’ time. A long-awaited holiday was an enticing prospect and a chance for us to recover from the stress of the previous weeks. I couldn’t have imagined that, within just 9 days and while on that very holiday, I would be sat by Laura’s side as she lay in hospital, unconscious, having suffered a brain aneurysm. She did not recover and 24 hours later I was instructing the doctors to switch off the life support machine.
I have described the details more fully in my book Grief and Grace. This uninvited and unwelcome interruption in my life was utterly devastating. As I sat beside Laura’s bedside on the night she died, I cried out to God in despair and confusion. Let’s face it, there is no explanation for why a 38-year-old mother of three is tragically taken from this world. My Christian faith means I believe that there is hope beyond the grave. But for those left behind on planet Earth, grief can be a cruel and dangerous journey. I was facing a future I would never have chosen or imagined.
In the weeks following Laura’s death, many concerned friends and family members counseled me that I would have to find my “new normal”. That expression became something of a cliché during the COVID years. But back in 2016, it was a phrase I had not heard before. However, I struggled to accept that anything about my new reality was normal. So, I started referring to my situation as a new abnormal. Grief had brought me into discontinuity with my previous life.
I subsequently came to refer to grief as my sixth sense as I navigated this new abnormal. And when in grief, the sixth sense dominates all other senses. I recently read Michelle Obama’s book, and her description of life after loss resonated with me:
“It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colours go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful – a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids – and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.”Michelle Obama, Becoming, p. 144.
This is the sixth sense. The lonely journey of life in slow motion where every decision to keep going requires Herculean resolve. In times like these, the platitudes, clichés and greetings card poems don’t help. It is literally a case of survival and determining to put one foot in front of the other.
Maybe you can relate to some of this in whatever situation you are currently facing. Grief brings about an abnormal reality full of unexpected consequences that blindside us. C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed that sorrow is not a state, but a process. The process is not easy. But it is necessary.
I have always been careful not to express my journey through grief as a recipe for others to follow. I don’t believe there are sequential steps that can guarantee your recovery from grief and loss. Rather, the fact that I’m still standing after facing my personal experience, can hopefully provide encouragement to you in your own journey through grief and loss. Critically, I am not the only example of someone who is rebuilding their life following a loss. There are tens of thousands of such stories (some of which are contained in our Grief and Grace video series). In itself, this can be an incredible encouragement. Just as no one is immune from the vulnerability of life so, I believe, everyone can find the grace and strength required to endure and progress in life in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges and heart-breaking sadness.
Although not a recipe, there are three pieces of advice I would give anyone going through grief.
The first is to recognise your limitations. Grief, of any kind, is exhausting. The sixth sense can drain your energy and emotional reserves. Recognise that your capacity has been compromised and be kind to yourself. Don’t just push through. Rest. Sleep. However, be careful of absolute lethargy. In the midst of the hardest moments of my grief, I still tried to make sure I got up each day, made food, got outside for walks… and even took up surfing (distractions can be necessary). I became an avid list-maker. This helped me feel a sense of accomplishment as I worked through necessary daily tasks. But still, I had to be gracious to myself and simply find ways to get through each day.
My second piece of advice is to try and find things to be grateful for. Author and motivational speaker, Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, writes, “one of the best ways to take the pain out of past experiences is to replace the hurt with gratitude”. This is certainly not easy, but I learned that I can be grateful even if I’m not particularly happy. I’ve always kept a journal. After Laura died I journaled vociferously which helped me process my emotions. In the journal, I started a gratitude list that included things I was grateful for about Laura and the life we shared together. It was tough. But it was incredibly helpful. I also read the Psalms in the Bible which spoke directly to my situation as the authors themselves grappled with the deep challenges of life. Over time, I began to find other things to be grateful for and, on occasion, having a grateful attitude began to spill over into times of joy. This wasn’t always straightforward as joy can quickly be juxtaposed with pain (I call it two sides of the same coin). However, it enabled me to occasionally lift my head above the cloud of the sixth sense and gain fresh perspective and, eventually, hope for the future.
Finally, don’t cut yourself off from community. If you’re going through a particularly difficult experience, your friends and family might not know what to say or how to help you. Sometimes it can be draining to have them around. But we cannot get through the quagmire of grief unless we let other people walk with us through the journey. Additionally, seek professional help when necessary. I was so grateful for medical help and counseling. The people who walked with me through my grief were gifts from God, able to assist me practically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Let’s be honest, grief sucks and is a tough reality that all human beings will face. However, all is not lost!
My own journey continues. I have remarried and we have a two-year-old daughter. This isn’t about finding my happy ever after but recognising that, as I continue to walk through grief, new chapters emerge. My story has shaped who I am becoming.
My hope and prayer is that, even if you are currently feeling discombobulated by your grief, you will find the grace, resilience and courage to move into the new chapters that God has for you.
How do we retain courage and hope in difficult situations? Whether we are facing personal challenges or feeling overwhelmed by the scale of pain impacting countless millions around the world, it can sometimes be difficult to keep the faith in the face of suffering.
How should we respond, as Christians, when the problems around us seem insurmountable? This is a valid question. Over the past few years, I’ve found Psalm 42 an incredible encouragement to me when I’m feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.
One thing I love about Psalm 42 is that we don’t know the direct context of the Psalm. In that sense, it seems like a timeless cry for help to God for all people facing desperate situations. The authors (the sons of Korah) give two metaphors for what they were facing – both involving extremes of water. The first is the lack of water, the image being a hunted deer that is dying of thirst and desperate for a sip of refreshing water in order to survive (see vs. 1-2). The second is an over-supply of water, as the authors see their troubles as a torrential waterfall, Niagara-esque, which is overwhelming them (vs. 7).
Can you relate?
In this place of deep desperation, the authors cry out to God. Even though they are in deep trouble, they retain their trust in God whose resources of love and support are deeper still. I love the honesty and desperation of these metaphors. But I also see this Psalm as providing practical help for those of us who are feeling in despair about our circumstances. I will summarise some guidance that this psalm gives us when we are feeling discouraged.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask God hard questions
The psalmists go to God with their audacious questions. They effectively ask God, “Have you abandoned us?” (see vs. 2,3,9,10). As Christians, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and survive on cliché’s and platitudes to explain away our problems and the deep troubles we see in the world around us. Peter Scazzero learned:
“I couldn’t build God’s kingdom with lies and pretence. I found out the things I ignored eventually erupted into much bigger problems later. We have to ask the painful, difficult questions we prefer to ignore” (Emotionally Healthy Leadership, p. 41).
We shouldn’t hide our deepest doubts and fears from God. The very act of naming them to Him is a major step towards finding the faith to face them. I learned this lesson when I went through my own grief process. John Mark Comer helpfully summarises it this way:
“God is not shocked by your emotions. No matter how messed up your soul may be, God is right there with you, listening” (My Name is Hope, p.24).
We may not always get the answers we want – just ask Job! Sometimes we may feel we don’t get any answers (that’s a subject for another day). But God’s shoulders are broad enough and He invites us to unburden ourselves to Him, even if we sometimes wonder if we’re being irreverent or offensive.
2. Remember God’s Faithfulness
The second encouragement the psalmists give us is to remember God’s faithfulness in the past (vs. 4 & 6). They are not advocating living in the past. Rather, actively engaging memories of when God has come through for us in the past can enable us to find courage and strength to face today and the uncertain future. This seems particularly important for those of us who live in South Africa at the moment. Even though the challenges are real and borne of entrenched poverty and inequality, this country is still a miracle nation! God has miraculously intervened in the past and we can trust Him that He is still at work.
The problem is that we all seem to suffer from memory loss. This is the perennial human problem… from Adam and Eve to the Israelites wandering the desert, and the disciples who fled when Jesus was arrested (even though he’d told them it would happen). Remembering God’s promises and provisions requires effort and discipline. I think it’s one reason that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper. When we take communion we are reminded that He has secured the ultimate victory over sin, evil, and death through His own death and resurrection. So when all around us seems to be falling apart, that’s a great place to start our journey of remembering!
3. Speak to your soul.
I love the refrain of Psalm 42 found in verses 5 and 11.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.“
Tough times can negatively impact our souls. Our sense of well-being gets out of sync and can impact our perspective and disturb our faith. But we can take action. Yes, sometimes we need to seek professional, medical help in order to find healing. But God has also given us two amazing gifts that can help restore our souls. The first is His Word. We can speak truth from the Scriptures to our souls. I have personally felt the healing power of reading Scripture through times of crisis, even when I was struggling to believe the words I was reading. The second is worship. In spite of everything, the psalmists still praised God. This can be our one constant in trying times. God is worthy of praise and we need to believe, with David that:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14).
In this beautifully honest psalm, we discover three actions we can take when we find ourselves in deep trouble: bring our questions and concerns to God; remember his faithfulness in the past to find confidence for the future, and speak to our soul words of hope so that we can continue to praise God.
This post is a summary of a talk I gave. The full message is available by clicking here.
This psalm has brought courage and hope to countless millions for three thousand years. We recorded this clip as part of the Grief and Grace video series.
A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
I featured this poem in the “Grief and Grace” video series. I found it particularly helpful when I was experiencing life in slow motion in the aftermath of losing my wife.
Walking with grief
Written by Andy Raine of the Northumbria Community.
Do not hurry
As you walk with grief,
it does not help the journey.
Walk slowly, processing often:
do not hurry
as you walk with grief.
Be not disturbed
by memories that come unbidden
Swiftly forgive, and let Christ speak for you
will be resolved in him.
Be not disturbed.
Be gentle with the one who walks with grief,
if it is you
be gentle with yourself.
Take time, be gentle
as you walk with grief.
Most other griefs are external.
This is internal.
A part of me has died.
The person I was, has died.
The person I was becoming is no more.
Another one lives.
In my experience, the best books about grief are short. When it feels like the sky is falling, you don’t need or want lots of words. You rather need to know you’re alone and that you’re not completely losing the plot because of what you’re going through. Hence books like CS Lewis’ ‘A Grief Observed’ and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s ‘Lament For A Son’ do that, in very different ways. With eloquence and insight, reflecting on the author’s own experience of grief, showing us what it’s like for one person on the understanding that by doing so the reader gains insight into their own unique experience.
This is what Tim Tucker’s book does, and does so with similarly powerful beauty and eloquence. Reflecting on the experience of the sudden and untimely death of his wife, this is a deeply helpful and moving account of one person’s grief which provides rich reflection for anybody (that’s all of us) who also experiences loss. Tim understands, and frequently says, that everybody’s experience of loss and grief is unique; there are few rules and straight lines in these experiences. But even in acknowledging that, there’s much here that will help us make sense of some of what we experience in grief, not least in the profound and unusual ability to hold grief and joy together in tension, not as mutually exclusive but rather shedding light on each other. It’s the sort of book you’ll read and reread, want to give people and want to grow to become friends with.
This post was initially on Katherine Graham’s website and has been reproduced with her permission.
“Would you like to borrow this?” My daughter’s preschool teacher Sue held out a book to me. It was small, about the size of the SA constitution (in the early democracy days when you could pick up a copy for free from the Post Office).
I glanced at the cover. Grief and Grace, read the title. There was a picture of a Knysna Loerie. I saw the author’s name, Tim Tucker. Sue explained that Tim, of the Message Trust SA, lost his wife unexpectedly in 2016, leaving him alone with three children.
“Sure,” I said. The circumstances of Tim’s loss and mine were different (see my previous blog post), but I thought it couldn’t hurt to read someone else’s experience of grief. And the subtitle appealed to me, too: “Facing the future I didn’t choose.” That spoke to my situation as well.
There were so many things that I could relate to. Tim wrote about how time slowed down in the aftermath of his wife Laura’s death. I could relate. I felt weighed down. Even simple things like taking a shower or getting dressed were so hard for me in the early days after losing my younger sister.
Tim also wrote about a “sixth sense” that he felt. This was the grief that he carried, which could turn a pleasant trip to the beach into a nightmare because it would remind him of Laura. For me, it’s like a ghost that follows me around. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable and at other times it overwhelms you, flooding you with memories, pain and regrets.
But what I liked most about Tim’s book is that he keeps pointing to grace. While the journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is real, I don’t want to miss whatever flashes of joy, hope or grace there are along the way. Tim writes about the many agents that God used in his life to remind him of his love – family, friends, books, songs, hugs. I cried frequently when I saw a look of compassion on someone’s face when I told them what I was going through. That feeling of empathy was so deeply felt and appreciated, especially when words fail.
What I’m learning, and what Tim’s book has reminded me, is that grief is a journey and it can’t be rushed. Some tell you it will take a year to get over someone’s loss. They say birthdays, Christmas and family celebrations are the hardest things to cope with. That is when your “sixth sense” or the ghost of past memories will be strongest.
I’m not sure how or when this journey will end. My friend Linda told me recently, “You’ll get through this, but you won’t get over this.” And I think that’s true. Until then, I’ll keep reminding myself to be kind and gentle to myself – and accept grace in whatever form it may come.
For more of Katherine’s writing, please see https://www.wordcount.co.za/
For Grief and Grace purchase options please see https://griefandgrace.org/home/the-book/
To view the Grief and Grace video series please see https://www.message.org.uk/griefandgrace/
Image: Kelly Sauer, flickr.com
A review of Tim Tucker’s book, Grief and Grace, facing the future I didn’t choose.
by Dr. Carolyne Akinyi Opinde
I have just completed reading “Grief and Grace” By Dr. Tim Tucker, our Youth Development subject-matter expert, at The NGO Whisperer™ Magazine. It is available on Amazon and local bookstores in South Africa.
In his book, “Grief and Grace”, Tim shares his journey of grief following the untimely passing on of his dear wife Laura Tucker on 18 August 2016. Dr. Tucker paints a vivid picture that we can all relate to.
“Grief and Grace” is a great read that ushers us into his world through entries from his journal, bible verses, quotes, songs, other books that he references, and his emotional ups and downs.
Even though “Grief and Grace”, is not a manual on how people should grieve, Tim opens our eyes to see how much grace is available when we purposefully choose to be grateful in our darkest moments. He shares the paradox of experiencing occasional moments of joy despite the pain his family felt.
Tim has shown us that there are moments of blessings in every battle we face in life, and there is grace for everyone who is grieving. I highly recommend this book to anyone experiencing grief and loss.
Carolyne Akinyi Opinde, Dr. h.c.
Founder and CEO, The NGO Whisperer™
Dr. Carolyne Akinyi Opinde is an award-winning global consultant and social entrepreneur providing technical support to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean so they can successfully impact people’s lives.
Dr. Opinde’s commitment to making a difference in people’s lives, especially among women, girls and children in underserved communities led her to establish The NGO Whisperer™ in 2018, as a consulting business with a global reach that provides technical support to nonprofits and social enterprises, so they can successfully impact people’s lives.
Dr. Opinde holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities from the United Graduate College and Seminary International, U.S., a Master of Science in Project Management from the University of Salford, UK and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Chemistry from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, among other accredited qualifications.
Image by serhii_bobyk on Freepik