Supporting Someone Whose Grieving
Joan Didion has acknowledged a profound truth about grief: that when it comes, “it is nothing like we expect it to be.” Because it often comes unpredictably, it controls you, and so the only way to deal with overwhelming grief is to “bow down to it and allow it to move through you”.
As Christians, we are in a position to offer compassion in circumstances when grief intervenes, but having the right words and reactions can be difficult. When we encounter that degree of suffering in someone we know, it can be overwhelmingly awkward. Very often, the first thing to go is eye contact. While we react empathically to another’s suffering or loss, it may be easier to default to avoiding contact altogether in fear that we will say the wrong thing, or offer platitudes that don’t heal. As past recipients of condolences, we may recall the things said that are intended to help, but that confound our suffering more: “It’s for the best; they’re in a better place now; I know how you feel; At least….” and so forth.
While social media has become a platform for some to publicly express their grief and solicit short condolences, good advice is to sit down and write a tangible letter or note that the person experiencing loss or suffering can process when they are ready.
When a person has passed away that you know, it may help to recall a specific memory about your relationship. It’s not a requirement that we know the individual in suffering well. A d friend who passed this year had shared some of her garden flowers with me; the note I sent her daughter described how those shared plants were thriving in my garden, a living memorial to our friendship. Sending a note on the first anniversary of someone’s death can also be helpful.
We offer meals, we offer our helping hands and we offer the comfort of a hug and prayer support. Beyond those kind of sincere responses, Kenneth Haugk, pastor and clinical psychologist who founded the Stephen Ministries assures us that we don’t have to “hit the home run” in our interactions with those in suffering; nothing we do or say will make the pain go away. Hauk maintains, that’s God’s terrain. An attainable role is simply to “walk with the person in suffering, sharing and being Christ’s love”.