It’s hard to believe. Amid turkey-dinner plans, anticipated shopping trips, and gaily decorated stores, stands a group of folks who aren’t excited. The turkey sounds dry, the shopping trips stagnant, and the season’s “ho-ho-ho” greets a spirit of inaudible sighs of heaviness. That’s right. Many folks do not take pleasure in the approaching holidays. A variety of reasons come to mind: expenses, booking flights, flights canceling, and dysfunctional families. I could write several posts on each of the lists that pop into my mind today. But today I want to focus on one. Grief.
Do you know someone who has lost a loved one this past year? Two years ago? Four? These folks struggle with the paralyzing emotion of grief. They come to church, they pass you in the hallway, they sit next to you in pews. And they see everyone celebrating. The grieving are partnered with a variety of emotions–“stages”, experts call them. Denial, anger, acceptance, depression. There are no particular order one experiences these. But through them all (even acceptance), a person simply holds on; they cope. They hear the plans of family gatherings (even their own) and they feign excitement. People remember what they’d like to forget: the last time they celebrated with their loved one. Thoughts can range from a good feeling to a troubled situation that was left unforgiven or unresolved. Often these people see little reason in the complaints of others over holiday hustle and bustle. They think to themselves, “You ought to be grateful you have that problem.”
So, people are angry and hurting. They’re bound by emotional chains of events.
You see, the grieving see things from an entirely different perspective. They see today as a fleeting thing. They see temporary pleasures as just that–temporary. As they cling to memories of what was, they must face the future with what is. Their reaction to you and your plans may be met with any number of emotions–from outbursts of anger, inexplicable tears, aloofness, discontent, weariness, and silence.
I think it would serve a church well to have grief support classes begin in October and last through January. I think those classes should include topics such as: Helping others cope with loss. Understanding grief without complicating it. Sympathy is not Empathy. It’s okay to feel like this. No, I’m not over it, yet. Don’t keep grief to yourself–share it. How I share grief without even trying. While others grieve.
People who are grieving are just like you. Except they are nothing like you. Many times you ask, “How are you doing?” and they say, “fine”. And they know it is impossible to be feeling fine, but they know that is what you want to hear. Can you relate to that question? When a person loses a loved one, especially a spouse, parent or child–they are never the same again. A chunk is missing forever. The grieving never know how they are going to feel from moment to moment. They react to things that, before their loss, they never would have reacted to. They are more sensitive. And many do not know how to feel at all anymore; they cannot remember what “normal” felt like.
So how do you deal with another’s grief? Suggestions for now:
Send them a note of encouragement–“just thinking of you” is enough. If you can share some little kind thought about their loved one, something they did or said while they were living that made you laugh or remember the significance of their life to yours, add it to the card. If not, don’t offer platitudes of I know how you are feeling, because you don’t. Your loss is not their loss.
Don’t tell them how to feel.
Don’t tell them how much better off their loved one is with God.
Don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk about things.
Don’t force a conversation you will feel uncomfortable continuing.
Hugs are always good. No words necessary. A hand on the shoulder. An elbow squeeze. Eye to eye contact of caring.
Through it all remember most importantly to lift them up in prayer. For what you cannot do, God can.
[© SelahV Today, hariette petersen, 2008]