Connections: Larry Burgbacher
God Will Bring You Through
Larry Burgbacher is pastor of Faith Assembly of God in Summerville, S.C. In 2008, he lost his wife, Tania, in an automobile accident. Pastor Burgbacher recently spoke with Pentecostal Evangel Technical Editor James Meredith.
evangel: Tell us about the events surrounding the loss of your wife.
BURGBACHER: It was June 10, 2008. I was in my office when I received word that Tania had been in a car accident. A neighbor driving a dump truck had turned out in front of her only a few yards from our house.
They called me from the accident site and told me they were going to send her by helicopter to Medical University of South Carolina Medical Center in Charleston. At that point I knew it was quite serious.
My son, who is on staff here at the church, came to my office, and we began praying immediately.
Ten minutes later, I received a call that they had decided to take her to the hospital nearest the accident site. Immediately I thought, This is not good — they wouldn’t take her to the closest hospital if there were any hope at all.
When we arrived at the hospital, we received word that she had already passed. Several of the board members from the church had already gathered. Our neighbor who had hit her was there too. That was very hard, dealing with the emotions. It was an incredibly traumatic day.
This occurred just two days after our 34th anniversary. We had gone away for a couple of days, and we spent hours talking about our years of marriage, watching our kids being born, and all that God was doing in our church. And two days later she was gone.
evangel: Our relationships with Christian friends and loved ones are so critical in times of tragedy. Talk about the support you received from your church as well as friends and family.
BURGBACHER: My church was absolutely amazing. There was a flood of support from the congregation, as well as pastors around the state.
We had about 3,000 people at Tania’s viewing. At the funeral, there were more people than the church could hold. It means a lot, when you’re going through something like this, for people to be there for you.
After the funeral, I took my family and got away for about a week to grieve together. Immediate family is probably the strongest tie you have. If your family relationships are good, the support is there. When that isn’t the case, sadly, it can make times like these even more difficult.
It is my observation that in dealing with death and tragedy, we often don’t know what to say or what not to say. We don’t know how to deal with tragedy. So, while I wanted to talk about Tania, to verbalize, other people were reluctant to bring up the subject. They weren’t sure if it would be too hard for me. Yet there is something to be said about presence — just being there and listening.
evangel: What are some ways our faith — both as individual believers and as the body of Christ — helps us through tragedy?
BURGBACHER: I remember telling someone soon after this happened, “I don’t know how people can go through this without Christ.” We know where Tania is. That’s our hope. We cry and mourn, but not for her. She’s in heaven.
Also, people in the Lord have a special connection that comes through Christ. We have a deep, unique relationship as the body of Christ, which leads to incredible support for one another in these times.
evangel: How can we best deal with the emotions and questions we grapple with in times of tragedy?
BURGBACHER: There are some good resources out there on the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I thought I wouldn’t go through those stages; looking back, I did in fact go through each one.
At first, everything was in such a whirlwind I could hardly believe it was happening. I knew it was reality, but it seemed so surreal.
Then, I believe I did go through an anger stage. We tell ourselves that, as believers, we accept God’s will and we don’t get angry. We quote the verses about God working all things together for good. We know His promises intellectually, but emotionally it doesn’t stack up. And so, I found myself asking, “Why, God?” It didn’t make sense to me.
It’s easy to put on a good face in those times. We don’t want to look vulnerable. Yet, inside, we find ourselves struggling with the “why” questions. I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that sometimes we never understand why.
Yet through those times, I dug in with God, and all those verses, all those promises, became so real. He was right there with me. I think God understands our emotions, even our feelings of anger.
From there, I went through a time of depression. I coped by staying busy at work studying, and working out at the gym, rather than going home to an empty house. That really helped me.
Ultimately I began to turn the corner. I began to look to my future. In all, it was about a six-month process. Even so, I still struggled with grief. Yet God is incredibly good. About 15 months after Tania’s death, I married again — God brought another wonderful woman into my life.
evangel: How can the experience of a tragedy help us minister to others going through difficult times?
BURGBACHER: I always tell people it just takes time to work through tragedy. We want to rush the process, believing that, because of our faith, it won’t hit us as hard. But it does. So, it’s important to reassure them their grief is natural. It’s a process they will go through. Some might handle it differently than others, but everyone will experience similar stages of grief — just as I did.
It’s important for people not to isolate themselves. Having others around them will force them to keep moving forward and focusing on what God has in store for the future.
It’s also vital to dig into the Lord. We need to be “Psalm 1” people, planted and well-rooted beside streams of water. Then, in times of drought, we feast on the Lord for His strength. For me, I really felt His presence. He was real to me in so many ways, speaking a word to my heart.
I also reassure grieving people of God’s promises; however, I don’t try to give them answers. Some people try to say they have answers, but they don’t know. God’s ways are beyond our understanding.
Talking about your loss is really important as well. It’s good therapy. In my case, people weren’t even asking, but I wanted to talk about the good memories.
Through it all, we need to recognize that tragedy is part of living in this world. To say we’re immune because we’re Christians just sets people up for failure and greater pain. While we don’t know why, we do know God is faithful. He has good things in store for us. It’s important to remember His promises.
evangel: Any final thoughts?
BURGBACHER: Sorrow has been compared to waves on the water. When tragedy strikes, the waves are very close together. But over time, the waves of grief grow further and further apart. God will bring healing over the course of time. When we feel overwhelmed, God’s grace comes in, and He raises our faith and hope. He will bring us through.
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