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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Barbara Beckstrand

Christmas Joy in Times of Grief

In late 1975, just before Thanksgiving, Barbara Beckstrand lost her 14-year-old daughter in a tragic accident. Weeks later, her husband passed away at age 39.

In the years that followed, Beckstrand married a pastor and served God faithfully as a pastor’s wife, church leader and Sunday school teacher. She recently spoke with Pentecostal Evangel Technical Editor James Meredith about dealing with grief during the holiday season and finding hope in the Lord to endure despite tragedy.

evangel: Describe the tragic experiences you endured around Christmastime in 1975.

BECKSTRAND: I was not prepared for the death of my 14-year-old daughter, Julie. She had attended the midweek service at our church, Finley Assembly of God in Finley, N.D. On her way home she fell on a slippery sidewalk. As a result of the fall, she died instantly of a broken neck. This accident occurred Nov. 13, about two weeks before Thanksgiving.

At that time my husband, Harley, was not well. He had a rare heart condition and had undergone open-heart surgery a few months before Julie’s death.

The shock of losing Julie was very hard on Harley. We went through this difficult time together, and he was there for me at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But on New Year’s Day, about six weeks after Julie’s death, Harley had a stroke. He died on Jan. 4, 1976.

I became a widow at 37 years of age.

evangel: What was Christmas like that first year, and years following?

BECKSTRAND: The first Christmas was so very hard. Julie’s favorite time of the year was Christmas, and she was always so excited to put up the tree and decorations. Her birthday was on Dec. 11, and she would celebrate by inviting her friends for an overnight party.

So it seemed for me that all the joy and happiness that she had brought into our home was gone. The next Christmas was again very hard, as that was the first Christmas I did not have my husband with me.

evangel: How did God help you through that first holiday, and in the days to come?

BECKSTRAND: Christmas was always a very busy time for me. I was an elementary teacher, so I had many responsibilities and activities at school as well as at church. I’m so thankful for the students, teachers and friends at school and church who were so good for me. I’m also thankful for our foster daughter, Jane, who was 17 years old at the time. What a blessing, comfort and help she was for me.

When I was at school I was busy, and things were the same as before. But when I got home I had to face the reality of my loss.

I depended heavily on God’s Word for comfort and strength. The night Julie died, I was reading in my Bible and it seemed as if some of the verses jumped off the page in bold type. They were promises from God that would help me greatly in the days to come.

Later, I wrote many of the verses God gave me on index cards and placed them throughout the house to dwell on or memorize. One of my favorite verses is found in Matthew 6:34. It says, “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time” (The Living Bible). I found a lot of comfort in the Psalms, as well as the promises found in the Book of Philippians.

Many friends came to visit, prayed with me, and called me. The Holy Spirit was my Comforter. The Lord was my strength. I had many fears, and I felt so weak. There were sleepless nights, loss of weight, and lonely and frustrating times. But I depended on the Lord to help me through each day. I enjoyed records and tapes of favorite songs, Christian radio, and helpful books.

I knew it wouldn’t be good for me to stay home a lot, so I kept busy, visited friends and relatives, and attended many local and school activities. I also had my parents living close by, as well as my sister and her family, and my husband’s brothers and their families. My family was a wonderful help and support to me.

When a person is grieving, it’s important to keep busy. This is especially true during the holiday season, when there is so much going on — and when feelings of loneliness and depression are already heightened for a lot of people.

evangel: You went on to enjoy decades of fruitful ministry as a pastor’s wife and leader in the church. Talk about how you overcame and worked through grief.

BECKSTRAND: Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (KJV). That verse became very real for me. About three years after my husband died, I was remarried to a pastor friend who had lost his wife the same year my husband died. He had a family of six children, and one of his daughters was married with two children. So I became an instant grandmother!

We had a very full and wonderful life together with family and ministry. Floyd was in ministry for 54 years, and I was privileged to be with him for almost 30 of those years. Our lives were filled with many happy times together with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Christmas is a time of great joy and happiness as we gather together to celebrate, share testimonies and Scriptures, and thank the Lord for the bountiful blessings He has given us as a family. Floyd went to his heavenly home in 2007 and is missed so much by all of us.

evangel: What would you say to someone facing his or her first Christmas without a loved one?

BECKSTRAND: The first Christmas after losing a loved one is especially hard, but our lives must go on. It is good to change some of the usual holiday traditions the first year or two. I had a hard time even thinking about putting up a Christmas tree and the other usual decorations the first year, so I kept it simple.

As a grieving person, you must allow for feelings of joy, and try not to feel guilty if you find yourself enjoying the holidays. Having a good time does not mean that you’ve forgotten your loved one.

Remember, too, that we heal as we reach out to others. Inviting other friends who have lost a loved one to join you in observing the holiday festivities can encourage you both.

Being surrounded and supported by family and friends is very important. Recalling past holidays with loved ones we’ve lost can be difficult, but should not be ignored. Sharing these memories with others can bring healing for everyone.

Above all, when tragedy comes, it’s critical to commit ourselves to placing our hope firmly in the Lord. The One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is also the One who will walk with us through our darkest hours. But we must place our trust in Him.


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