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When I was growing up in Southern California, I heard the phrase sweet sorrow several times, but could never figure out what that meant. How can sorrow be anything but sad? Even more perplexing, how can sorrow be sweet? It didn't make sense.

One of my sisters told me that sweet sorrow applies to situations like leaving grandma and grandpa's house. It's sorrowful to leave, but we know we'll go back. That was a little better.

But in my mind, I would kick out the word sorrow, and think of the visit as sweet. And it would be even sweeter when we went back!

My sister was on the right track, because in Shakespeare's play when Juliet said good night to Romeo, the sorrowful parting is considered sweet because they were making plans to come back together. I think Juliet's line was: Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be the morrow.

The noun sorrow denotes loss, disappointment, grief, sadness, misfortune, and so on.

The noun sweet denotes one of the four basic taste sensations: salty, sour, sweet, bitter.

So, I suppose sweet sorrow can refer to a sad or disappointing event out of which a happy time or event may emerge.

One of those events happened today (as of this writing). My sister, Gena, called and informed me that her husband, Clarence, had passed away.

Believe it or not, this was one of those classic sweet-sorrows. Why?

Clarence had been ill with a debilitating disease for over eight years. The medication helped in one aspect, but the side-effects were terrible. The old saying, the cure was worse than the disease seemed to be appropriate on many occasions.

Gena's social life was severely hindered because she was Clarence's care-giver, and he needed her almost 24/7. Her sleep pattern was irregular at best because of Clarence's physical night-time fights with imagined enemies. But Gena is a trooper, and she was ready on every count to help her husband through all the turmoil he faced: both physically and mentally, both imagined and real.

But today, it all stopped.

I answered the phone. "Good afternoon."

"Hi, Eugene. It happened. Clarence is in heaven."

We discussed the immediate situation, funeral plans, graveside service, and how Gena was faring. She's a trooper, but troopers still hurt.

Her grown sons will arrive from around the country to be with her for a week or so, and church friends will be on hand to assist as needed.

Gena knew this event would eventually happen and had made preliminary plans. Her boys will help finalize the plans.

But Gena is about to enter the deepest part of the sorrow that has been building for years. She has a huge hole in her life because she is without her husband of 54 years. Her pets are of some comfort, but they cannot make up for the loss of her life-partner. And she hasn't yet experienced the fullness of Clarence's departure. That normally hits hard two to five days after the funeral.

But Gena is not ignorant. She knows the emotional storm is about to hit, and she knows how to prepare for it. The key is two-fold.

One -- she has family and friends who are ready and willing to help.

Two -- she is emotionally and spiritually anchored in Jesus Christ.

Those two facts will not erase the pain, but they will help alleviate the sorrow. They will not make the loneliness evaporate, that's where friends and family -- and pets -- come in. She also knows that, although the grieving process must be allowed, she cannot allow herself the luxury of wallowing in self-pity.

Here's the sweet portion. As Gena heals, she can experience joy again without disrupted sleep and torn up rooms, and Clarence will never again fight those imagined night-time enemies. Gena can enjoy the peace of mind and a stable life again, and in heaven Clarence is well and enjoying life to the fullest. His medicine prescriptions are no longer needed. He is with the Lord now, and he knows full well that he'll see his beloved wife again.

Gena has a family that loves her dearly, and, most of all, she has a solid relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't care what the naysayers spout. I've also experienced the presence of Jesus, and I can attest that He is real, and that He cares for us.

Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. That will finish this article.

-- S. Eugene Linzey is the author of 'Charter of the Christian Faith.' Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his website at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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