It’s hard to stand in the presence of grief. At best, it takes us out of our comfort zone. At worst it actually touches us through someone we care about; someone that has been thrown into a “club” that nobody ever wants to join. In either case, those of us outside the club usually have little insight on how to love, support, carry, or (leave be) people that are carrying the heavy burden of grief. We just “don’t know,” and to some degree we all fear what we don’t know. Fear drives us inward and away from hurting people that need us to be strong and stand when they struggle to do so. So what do we have to offer those who are experiencing a pain that we cannot understand? Surely, we have something to give.
I’ve always felt that I was a relatively compassionate person who could be of comfort to those dealing with a loss, even a tragic loss. Perhaps I am more equipped than some but certainly less equipped than others when it comes to offering a kind word or act to someone grieving the loss of a friend or loved one. It seems very natural to me to do this; until it’s not. It is one thing to make a small offering to someone you’ll never see again or only run into on occasion. It’s an entirely different animal when you are in relationship with a person who suffers a tragic loss. Whatever the case, it is an uncomfortable thing to rub up against grief, and not everyone has the stomach for it. Below is a list of lessons I’m “trying” to learn when in a relationship (of any degree) with someone suffering a tragic loss.
Embrace Holy Silence
One of the most uncomfortable things you can do is to sit in silence and SAY NOTHING. There are times when there are no words to be said. In those times, the grieving might not want to hear about hopeful promises and the beauty of an afterlife. Muster the strength to just sit with them in their pain. Let them talk, vent, scream, cry, or be silent. Look at yourself as a protector, someone to help create a safe space for the process to play itself out. These moments are painful and precious.
You can feel God’s presence during these times, and your silence can make room for the divine to inhabit that space.
Remember, the words you don’t say will not be forgotten by the grieving. All they will remember is that you were there.
Resist Pain Comparisons
When those we love or have compassion for are hurting, it is our heart’s desire to connect with them on a level that lets them know we understand. The bottom line is that unless we have walked the path they are on, we don’t. Bringing up our own examples of pain in our lives can fall very short of making the connection we want to make. Our intentions can be pure yet have the opposite effect of what we wanted to do. If asked, surely talk about your pain and loss and how it helps you at least see what they are up against. We need to remember that this is about them and the state of their spirit. Running all thoughts and actions through that filter will help us to be better comforters and protectors.
Ask the Question
It has been mentioned that many who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially a child, have a fear that the lost will be forgotten at some point. They also fear that everyone else is afraid to say anything around them that might upset them. Yes, at some point you are going to ask the wrong question or say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It will be awkward and you will feel terrible. It’s just part of the deal when you are willing to love someone through grief. Err on the side of engaging with them and asking them about their loved one when you feel it’s appropriate. They will let you know if you’ve gone too far and then you will have to reset. It’s okay. These situations are a mess to begin with and in the end, they will be thankful that you were willing to ask and listen.
Follow Their Lead
Everyone grieves in their own way. Your method of support for one person might not work at all with another. If we truly want to serve, we will need to get a feel for how they are processing their pain and moving up the path towards some degree of healing or just plain survival. Make no assumptions. Observe and pray. Listen more than you talk. Do these things as best you can and stand in the gap for those needing help. Take no offense when the sting of pain and sadness get on you, and it will. This is not work for the faint of heart.
Don’t Try to Save The Day
There will be no “saving the day” when a tragic loss occurs. There are no short-term solutions if there are solutions at all. There is no need to try and be the hero. They just lost their hero, or at least one of them. Some days they are just trying to breathe, so take nothing personally if your efforts aren’t met with outward gratitude. Our role is to be present and open. Our challenge is to love them where they are and walk with them where they are going.
It can be uncomfortable and painful to see a friend or acquaintance move through the stages of grief, knowing that it is a lifelong process. Obviously, there are more things to consider when trying to be of loving value to those we care about who are dealing with loss. When supporting a griever, we must be willing to try and fail, and try again. Much of it will be awkward and uncomfortable, but remember that they are in a place far beyond awkward and uncomfortable. They need someone strong and courageous in their corner.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe that’s me.