By Penny A. Bragg—

As far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to be both a famous chic singer and a noteworthy author. But, while I’ve spent the better part of forty-something years dreaming about sound boards, stage lights, and book signings, I’ve found myself slated for the one gig nobody wants: Grief; front and center.

During the first year of grieving my brother’s suicide, I cringed every time some well-meaning soul told me God had a purpose in what happened and that He would “use the grief and loss for good.” While that counsel is undeniably true, it’s not what you say to someone in the aftermath of loss. I’ve kicked myself for every time that, prior to Jay’s suicide, I said those same words to comfort someone in pain. Not until his death did I realize those words aren’t at all comforting.

It took eight months for me to even crack open the door to purpose, and then I did so in private. It started with a question I asked God in my journal. “Have grief and loss flung me right smack dab into the center of Your purpose for my life?” The rest of my entries from that time period reveal that while I was starting to open up to God’s purposes, I wasn’t about to use Jay’s death as some form of utilitarianism.

Several months later, I was asked to write a series of grief articles for My Purpose Now. By that time, I thought I was ready to offer some help to others. I made an assumption that part of God’s purpose was assisting others who were grieving. Now I realize that I had no idea what I was in for.

Every writer knows that wasting time always wrestles against the discipline of actually writing. But stewarding a gut-wrenching topic like grief takes the fine art of procrastination to new heights. It isn’t as if I can put off the pain by avoiding it. The sorrow is there regardless of whether I write about it, or not.

Writing about grief means I have to revisit some incredibly painful places. I write with a tight, hot lump in my throat; squeezing out every word through a blur of tears. But, through writing about my grief I learned something intriguing about pain. We often keep at arm’s length the very thing that will heal us. Maybe we do so out of fear or weariness. I don’t know. But I do know that I see some of this same behavior reflected in the plight of Jerusalem’s exiles.

Due to the difficulties of life on this side of heaven, the nation of Israel found themselves in the face of terrible grief. Their holy city of Jerusalem had been burned and raided. Many lives were lost in the brutality and bloodshed. As a consequence of generational sin, they were taken captive by their enemies and exiled to Babylon, a foreign city, for a period of seventy years. It was in the midst of their deepest pain that these words were penned.

“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of the poplar trees” (Psalm 137:1-2 NLT).

Captivity had ceased the choruses of God’s people. Thinking about their homeland was painful and it made them weep. In response to their exile, the people put away their harps. They were in too much pain to sing.

Much like the exiles of long ago, I’ve pondered the prospect of laying down my pen or at least writing on another topic. However, when I sift through my piles of notes and random drafts dated before Jay’s suicide, all those rabbit trails and ramblings—once so intriguing—have lost interest and meaning. Because, that was then, and this is now. Everything is different now.

So here I sit, cathartically staring out into space when something snaps me out of my mental haze. I set the box of Kleenex next to my computer and start writing. I write and I cry. I cry and I write. I remember Jay’s life and long for his return. I tell myself that Jay is with Jesus and his torment is no more. I remember that Jesus is here with me, too and I ponder all the lessons I’ve learned, trying to craft them into cohesive thoughts. And as I do all these things, something holy happens. I do not understand it. I cannot describe it. All I know is that somehow, someway God uses all this writing about my pain to heal—of all people—me.





Penny BraggPenny A. Bragg spent the majority of her professional career in the California public school system as a teacher, principal, and district administrator. Through the miraculous reconciliation of her marriage after an eleven-year divorce and a distance of 3,000 coast-to-coast miles, God led Penny and her husband, Clint, into fulltime ministry in 2006. Together, they serve as marriage missionaries—sharing their testimony of marital restoration across the nation and abroad during their 40-Day Marriage Mission Trips. Through Inverse Ministries, their non-profit organization, Penny and Clint have written extensively about the ministry of reconciliation including their most recent book, Marriage on the Mend. In addition, Penny ministers to those who, like her, have experienced traumatic loss and grief. For more information, visit her blog at


  1. 5-26-2014

    Thank you Penny for opening your heart and bleeding on paper. That’s courageous.

  2. 5-26-2014

    Sharon, thank you for your encouragement. It means more than you know.

  3. 5-26-2014

    What a touching and beautiful article. You are an incredible gift to those of us who wrestle with grief on a daily basis. I have always accepted Matthew’s death as God’s plan. There are days I don’t like it, but deep down in my soul I knew I was not going to have him for long. Love you lots!!

    • 5-26-2014

      Oh, Lisa…I hear you. God’s plan can feel so painful, at times. And yet, we know that we know that we know He is in control. Love you, too.

  4. 5-26-2014


    Thanks for your willingness to put the real deal on paper. I believe in my heart that God is using your experience, and your transparency about the pain, to encourage others and help them heal.

    Bless you.

  5. 5-26-2014

    Deb, thank you for opening to door here to express my experience. Bless YOU right back.

  6. 5-26-2014

    Oh, Penny, you describe your grief journey in a heart language that touches us all, but especially speaks to other hearts on the same journey. Thank you for allowing God to use this pain for others’ healing.

  7. 5-26-2014

    Ava, thank you for your words. I often refer to grief as a “Philistine beast,” but I also know that it is through this very “giant” pain that Jesus so profoundly comes to heal.

  8. 5-26-2014

    When my mother was killed in a car accident many years ago I struggled with some of the same things you shared. Two thoughts:
    *There are some things that I will never understand this side of Heaven
    * Because of what I have experienced I can truly come along side of those who have also lost a mother.
    And sometimes talking with someone who has gone through the same thing is a big help.

    In my position as a teacher, I was able to encourage two of my sweet little 1st graders who lost a parent when they were way too young. I even had several wonderful books I could give to them about losing someone you love.
    Pam Wilson

  9. 5-26-2014

    Well, as usual, your writing grabbed me and drew me in, and spoke to my heart. You are so gifted, my dear friend, and so glad that you listened to God and didn’t put down your pen. Love you, and learn from you, so much.

    • 5-26-2014

      Awww, my friend. You melted my heart. -Love you as far as the miles between us and then some.

  10. 5-26-2014

    And, one more thing…congrats on your contract for your book coming out in a few months!!

  11. 5-26-2014

    Pam, thank you for sharing some of your story here. No doubt you have been able to encourage many people in need, especially children. Sacred ground. God bless you as you minister to others from your own place of pain.

  12. 5-27-2014

    Penny hi I’m a friend of melody heal and deb d and privileged to have spent
    8 years living in California and now my hubby and I live in Texas
    Thank you for your post,

    I heard a mentor named Margie caldwell say that Jeesus has mercy and
    goodness on ppl who commit suicide and I believe you will certainly
    C your brother in heaven one eternal day like Rick and Kay warren will c their
    son Matthew one day
    God bless you
    Have fun writing
    Mrs Sue Hardey Caldwell, houston texas

    • 5-27-2014

      Hi Sue, thank you for taking the time to respond. I look forward to the day I am reunited with Jay. He prayed to receive Christ into his heart a few years before his death. For this, I am so very grateful.

  13. 5-27-2014

    Penny, I tell others I have to write about what I know, and unfortunately that includes some yucky things I never signed up for. I kid that I wish God would make me suffer through a round-the-world trip in 30 days and have to write about how I did it while eating 30 gourmet meals and losing 30 pounds and it costing just $30. Yeah, a girl can dream. It makes me sad to think of what you are now qualified to write because of your experiences. But I’m glad you are there for the many others who can feel your pain and need someone to be their voice. God is using you mightily in that way!

    • 5-27-2014

      Kathy, amen amen to girls who dream! 🙂 SO grateful to God that all the tragic things of this life will one day be redeemed.

  14. 5-27-2014

    I have never experienced grief as you have. Yet my eyes are open so I can be a better comforter. You amaze me.

    • 5-27-2014

      Karen, it moves my heart to hear your words. Bless you.

  15. 6-23-2014

    Thank you for sharing. Your courage inspires me, Pen!

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