How to Support With Those Who Are Grieving
My Grandma died in February 2017.
Typing that sentence instantly gives me flashbacks to the night I got the call from my Dad confirming what I felt earlier that day was going to happen. I'll tell you something, that night changed me forever. Not because I've never experienced loss or heartbreak, but because this loss felt so final. I had never had a death this close. Although death is part of life, because it was never part of God's original design, it still feels completely unnatural. Perhaps that's why I've discovered, that people find trying to comfort the bereaved so difficult and unnatural. It's uncomfortable. I know I had difficulty comforting others in their time of grief in the past, but being someone who has faced death and has had her world flipped upside down by grief, I've learned some pretty valuable things in this season of mourning. You’re probably thinking, “ Well, today isn’t going to be a light reading day…” And, sad to say, you’re right. But, I hope it’s filled with some awesome take aways.
My pastor, Rick Warren said something profound this last week and I can't seem to stop thinking about it. He said, "People who are hurting don't need a sermon, they need your skin. They need your presence." He went on to say that people create distance because they don't know what to say to the person in pain. "I didn't call or I haven't come around, because I don't know what to say.” This is something I have wrestled with myself. Especially being a woman with the gift of gab, what if my words fall short? What if I can't say the right thing? That used to be my fear. Sitting on the other side of things now, I don’t see it that way anymore. Can I just say something very bluntly? Because it’s now the same thing I will say to myself moving forward. What if I don't need you to say anything? What if I just need you to show up, shut up, and sit with me? What if you just cry with me? What if you stop trying to find the cliché Christian words to try to comfort me and just hold me instead? What if you take a step back and not try to tell me for the hundredth time that Jesus is catching my tears in bottles? Even though that is true, what if you just shed some with me instead? Oh, the difference it makes when your heart has been softened by the blow of loss. See, though I had always been able to have compassion, I never fully understood how to mourn with those who mourn. At least not well. When my words started falling short, so did my ability to reach out, to show up, and to listen. (Humble pie a la mode for one please.) Life eventually picked back up and the loss was yesterdays news and on the world went. I never realized that though the world resumed as normal for others, the person hit with a bullet wound no band aid could fix, was still there, with their world still in complete disarray. That they, like me now, were still crawling around, disoriented from the bomb that went off, desperately looking for the fragmented pieces of their heart somewhere in the rubble. How God has broken my heart with so much more than compassion on this subject has literally transformed me.
There has to be a better way to be a better comforter. We fall short. I fall short. We don’t know how to love so deeply that our hearts break when others do. The tendency is to try to fix. "Let’s just get you better, lets keep moving, let's get you out of this painful place". Can I just say, I have learned more in this season of pain than any other season of my life? There is a time to mourn and a time to dance and too often I think we want to start the dancing without fully mourning. We rush the healing process of a heart that is being refined to understand the deeper love of God. A heart that is being softened, tenderized, to feel the pains and aches of a world that has become hardened and cold. It's a balance. We can neither sit in the pain forever and become the victim nor can we rush the grieving process. And grieving is healthy. It's a normal response to heartache. The length of time will be different for everyone and patience will serve the person well who desires to be a servant of Jesus and wants to learn how to love without limit and without a timeline.
I have much to be thankful for in this time because of others who have done this well. I have been surrounded by some great people who have been patient with me in my season of pain and sorrow, and they remain steadfast and diligent. The only repayment I can even think of at this point, is to be that for them through my friendship, especially in their time of need. Others, have already checked out. I don’t blame them, I’ve wanted to emotionally check out on myself and just feel all better, just go back to happy me, but I can’t just reset despite my best efforts. My grief was compounded by other heartbreak and hardships following my Grandmothers passing and so my season feels like it has gone on longer than I would like, and try as I might to simply bounce back, it’s not happening quite as I would want, or as quickly for that matter. I'm having to learn patience with myself. That dreaded "P" word. C'mon already.
While some friends have remained close, and others have gotten closer, others have moved forward, causing my inner circle to shrink dramatically. Most people stopped checking in, they don’t come around. Occasionally, a text will come through saying they are thinking of me, or praying for me. And I believe prayer works, so I’ll take it. But for myself, I want to be better at being present for others. I want to be very intentional. I’m working on it. It's not easy to always be there. Life gets busy. I tend to thrive on being busy. But, I really want to do my best to not let people who might need a little extra TLC and attention feel like it's ok that they have it. Because if I feel as frustrated and as disappointed as I sometimes do in this time of sadness and “wilderness” season, and I KNOW God is with me, I can only imagine what those who feel completely lost and without hope must feel like.
So how can I let this “ugly” season create something beautiful within me? I mean, broken ground is better ground for planting, so surely there can be a harvest, right? Something beautiful, something fruitful, can grow from the desert sand that has been watered by tears. How can I allow God to take my season of grief and make something good out of it?
I can remember the ways in which I have found comfort and I can do my best to comfort others. How can I TANGIBLY do this?
I can say less and stay longer.
I can be present. REALLY be present, take in every word that the hurting person is comfortable sharing and let them feel like they are really being heard. Sometimes they aren't looking for advice, they are looking for a sounding board--- a safe place to process their emotions and the endless thoughts tied to them.
Check in. Check in. Check in. Be consistent. Be thoughtful. Be ok with being a little "inconvenienced". So what if my to do list has to get reordered in order to meet with a friend? My laundry can freaking wait. So what if they want to talk about the same memory or thought for the 20th time? Maybe they are just like me and they have to dissect it more to fully understand and move on. And use discernment for when they need space.
Keep praying. And don't just tell them I am, actually pray with them, pray over them, hold them.
Stop being so "Christian" and be more Christ like. Don't spew verses at them and head off to the next prayer meeting. Sit with them. Hear them. Wait in the mess with them. Speak truth yes, but show them how Jesus brings comfort, show them how He wipes their tears, show them how He's a friend that loves at all times and that He doesn't leave them or forsake them, show them by being like HIM.
Don't say silly phrases like, "They wouldn't want you to be sad."; "They aren't hurting anymore"; or if it's not a death, but a heartbreak: "You need to just get over it."; "Time heals all things." These go to phrases that we fall back on in times when we don't know what to say, actually do nothing in terms of comforting the hurting. They actually try to diminish the pain that the person is feeling. (Sadie Roberston says, "Time does not heal, Jesus HEALS." @legitsadierob) And it's true, I believe that. I also believe that as an ambassador of Christ, it's my job to reflect Him better and love more like He does so that people experience real healing by encountering Him and not have to wait for their wounds to just scar over for the next 15 years. Though these phrases are well intended, I can admit that I have found them to be maddening in my own healing process. I want to literally high-five the person in the face and tell them to print their cute little phrase on a filled coffee mug, because coffee actually makes me feel better and their words don't.
Be patient. Even if I don't fully understand, especially not right away, with patience, I will understand more and hopefully, be of more use.
Serve. Some of the most powerful ways people have been ministering to me is in acts of service. Small little things that help take the load off, little gifts, little sacrifices, notes, showing up to walk my dog, finding ways to lend a hand... extending a hand is like extending your heart. So, I try my best to find ways to serve people. It doesn't have to be expensive or extravagant. It just needs to be thoughtful.
Put myself in their shoes and think about them/others more than myself. Ask God, "How can you use me today Father to show your love to this person?" Every time I pray this, I kid you not, God gives me an idea on how to meet that person where they are at in some really sweet ways.
Figure out/learn their love language. Do they feel most loved with quality time? Words of affirmation? How about gifts or acts of service? Are they a physical touch kind of person? Even if it's not my primary love language or I don't receive/give love the way they do, it's not about me. It's not about whether I feel "comfortable". It's about loving well and that requires sacrifice of self, it requires service, it requires commitment and I can get better at speaking more than one language. (Except Spanish. I still can't speak that.)
I'm sure there are a ton more ways I can find to help others "grieve well". I mean, in scripture, there were legitimately professional mourners that were hired to walk around in all black and wail loudly. I tend to have a very rich emotional life, perhaps learning to professionally cry with others is number 12. I'll try it out and let you know how that works. I don't know. I don't know a lot. I do know that grief hurts. And through it, I know that God can cause good to come from it. How have you learned or can you learn to be a person who helps others in their time of hurt?