Mourning into Dancing: Briercrest alum writes book about her journey through grief

Kayla Malanka | Nov 18, 2013
Sheila Jolly Sheila JollySheila Jolly

It took Sheila Jolly years to navigate through the pain and hurt she felt after the deaths of her sister, mother, and father all within the same year.

“Losing so many people I love like that was pretty intense,” Jolly, Briercrest College and Seminary graduate, explained.

Her experience of learning to cope with their deaths is now written in her book, My Grief Journey from Mourning to Dancing.

“I wrote this book as a ministry because I wanted to emphasize what God did for me through my training (at Briercrest) and what He also did for me during my grief journey,” she said. 

It is a journey that began with the death of her sister.

“In February of 2003 I just got home from Caronport (Sask.) and I had no idea my sister was going to die the same day I arrived,” she explained.

“One of the prayers I had while I was at Caronport was, ‘Lord please do not allow anything to happen to my family while I am away because I would not know how to deal with it.’”

It was a prayer God answered. Jolly wasn’t supposed to arrive home the day her sister passed away, but with cancelled classes and a cheap flight available she was.

 “I got home early in the afternoon and right away I called the hospital where my sister was staying and I was able to talk to my younger sister who told me my other sister was not doing well at all,” she said.

“So I asked my younger sister to put the phone to her ear, even though she was almost unconscious with all the medications she was on. I told her, ‘pray to God either to heal you right now or take you home because you have suffered long enough.’”

She then prayed with her sister and 10 minutes after hanging up the phone Jolly received word she passed away.

“Then they called later that day and said, ‘Your mom is not doing too well’. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s and ovarian cancer,” Jolly said. “That same weekend she died and went to be with the Lord, too. So I went home to a double funeral and that was very difficult.”

“Then my father just got over his heart surgery and 10 months later we get a call on Dec. 19 saying my dad isn’t doing too well because he hurt his foot and Gangrene set in. Here I was going home to visit him for Christmas with our young son and we buried him instead.”

The losses devastated Jolly. Confused and hurt she drew closer to God and found the strength to continue on.

 “A simple faith in God and immersing myself into His word is what helped me get through. I soaked myself in the Word of God every day,” she said.

The support she received from Briercrest during this time also kept Jolly moving forward to complete the management and leadership program she was in.

“I was almost ready to give up on my program towards the end because my grief work was becoming so long and I was struggling to finish my last assignments,” she explained.

“One day my son and I were sick with the flu and my husband was away. So I told the Lord, ‘I will give up this program as a sacrifice. I will not graduate.’ I was sitting on the edge of my bed praying when the phone rings and it was Dr. Paul Magnus. He called to show interest in his student.”

The phone call was just what she needed.

“I was so surprised and encouraged that I forgot about being sick and then next day I was practically fine, so I got on the ball and started working again. He had a sense of healing in his words to me,” she explained.

Jolly said writing about her grief journey was never something she had planned on doing, but was something she felt compelled to do after attending Briercrest.

“Without the program and training I was in I don’t think I would have written the book. It was very intense to lose so many people in my family, but with the training I had received I had the confidence I needed,” she said.

The book, which was released this past September, explores Jolly’s losses, but goes beyond just that.

“This is because you have to bring out your years to show who you are, where you are coming from, the goals you set for yourself, and the dreams you had,” she said.

“I wrote about my expressions and the feelings I had during my grief and about the years leading up to their deaths.”

Worried writing the book would reveal too much weakness or seem like she lacked enough faith in God, Jolly said she is grateful God gave her the strength and encouragement to finish it.

“At first I doubted that I had written in a manner that would attract an audience to gain help or knowledge in the area I was writing about, and I doubted if I should have written this type of book because I felt I was going to maybe let my guard down too much with exposing too much weakness in my life and so much trauma it may not appeal to the general public,” she explained.

 “Then I realized God does not excuse us or exempt us from grieving and sorrow in this world. How I experienced it and how I shared it in my books shows to the world God is there to help us no matter how weak or how devastating no matter how our feelings are so crushed and broken. God is still there to keep us going and pick us up once again.”