(Originally posted on 3/23/11)
*Re-posted on Facebook May 9, 2011 after the passing of my grandfather.
Note: My original draft of this was actually written several weeks ago, shortly before the death of my friend Brian. He was a friend and much more to many in my family of friends and acquaintances. Because of this, I greatly delayed the posting of this blog. This wasn't because I thought the timing was wrong. In fact, it was probably the right time. No, it was delayed because I...well....I had to go through my own process before I revisited it. I've written on the topic of grief before; but this time it holds a much more personal meaning. In addition to our loss, many I know have lost other loved ones over the past year or so. I hope this helps in some small way, whether you are the griever or the comforter.
This is dedicated to those who have left us, we who are left, and those who comfort us.
Loss is one of the most difficult things for us to deal with in our society. It's not a concrete thing with easy answers and tangible hope we can touch. However, the feelings, effects, consequences and pain are real. Very real. I can't speak definitively for everyone else; but for me, it feels hazy, disorienting, draining and sometimes empty and lonely. After the recent passing of Brian, I even had dreams in which I had died. I found myself thinking of my own mortality. It was unnerving. When someone leaves us, it feels destabilizing, like there is no gravity to hold us to our foundation.
Unfortunately, people often just don't know what to do or say when someone is grieving a loss (myself included). Death in particular forces us to acknowledge that we will die too. It also exposes the empty hole we all feel sometimes. It makes us face our own feelings of disconnection and loneliness that everyone feels sometimes I've seen and heard many responses to someone grieving. They range from “You gotta get up and move on!” to endless scriptures and quotes.
Let me address the first one. Contrary to what modern society says, you do not have to “get up and move on.” At least not right now. We are forced to grieve way too fast these days. Someone we love passes on. We cry for a few days. Then, it's back to work a week or so later. If you look at history, at other cultures, people grieved for extended periods of time...until they were ready to move on. And it was healthy and right. Now, I know we can't physically check out for extended periods of time today. We'd lose our jobs, etc. In addition, it is healthy and helpful to get back into a routine when going through the grieving process. I'm simply saying that we don't have to push down our feelings, abbreviate our healing process and smile for everyone's viewing pleasure. Don't ever feel like you are somehow weak or less spiritual because you still feel a little angry or sad when others have seemingly moved beyond these things. Just don't isolate. Don't fall into despair. Feel, acknowledge, work through, reach out, listen, let others help and heal. The missing of them will never go away. But, it will get better.
Second, in terms of quoting endless scriptures and inspirational quotes to someone. These things are important and helpful in context. They certainly speak to someone's faith. However, I promise you, a person of faith already has these in their arsenal and “know” all the right things to believe. But, often, when these things are thrown at people who are grieving, over and over and over, they start to sound hallow and sometimes even accusatory. For instance, if “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” then why do I feel weak? If “God is my comforter,” why am I feeling so empty and chaotic? "I must be doing something wrong." I'm not saying don't share these things when appropriate, especially one on one, in the context of relationship and conversation. I'm just saying, throwing a million inspirational quotes at someone is not going to do it alone. In fact, I know for myself, I'd rather hear or read a personal note of comfort and empathy from someone rather than something that can be stitched on a pillow.
On that note, one of the things my faith does tell me to do is to “weep with those who weep.” One of the most powerful things we can say to someone grieving is...nothing. When you don't know what to say, just be with them. We often feel like we need just the right word or phrase to say. But, honestly, not much of what we say will even get through the haze of grief. An author once referenced this as “the fog of a broken heart” (which I, of course, stole and turned into a song...). That is a true description. Maya Angelou has a great quote that is true as well: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Be with someone. Support them. When they want to cry, cry with them. When they want to laugh, laugh with them. And when they want to talk, listen. Really listen. Speak when necessary. The wonderful thing about grieving with someone is that when they are ready to get up, you will get up together. Your strength will be there to lift and offer a safe place to land when the stumbling comes. An author named Donald Miller tells a moving story he heard in regards to a “rescue." I'll attempt to retell it here:
There were a group of POW's who had been in captivity for a very long time. They had been tortured and mistreated, toyed with and lied to. They had been so hurt and torn down that there was no need to shackle them. They had little hope. The American government finally found out where they were and staged a rescue. The team began the daring rescue of their fallen comrades. They came in with force and then a few of them entered the place where the POW's were kept. They were on the floor, beaten, tired and fearful. One of the commanders
began loudly proclaiming that they were from the U.S.A., there to rescue them. He forcefully told them to get up and come go with them to safety. However, the men were scared and did
not believe them. They had been played with before. Their shock and trauma kept them on the floor. Then, one of the rescuers noticed what was happening. He gently approached the men on the floor, carefully put his weapons down and laid down on the dirty floor in the middle of them. He reached out and put his hand on one man's chest and said quietly to him “You're safe now. We are from America. We are here to rescue you. Will you stand up with me? I'll help you if you need me to.” The man slowly rose with his rescuer. Then seeing him move, the others began to follow. Soon, they were in the air, on their way home.
This is one of my favorite stories. I try to remember it when I am attempting to help someone. Sometimes you have to become like them to help them . Sometimes, you have to get down in the dirt and be with them.
I don't have all the answers. There isn't a concrete path to go from brokenness to healing. But, we can heal. There may be obstacles and setbacks. In grief counseling, we know there are steps: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. But, these can get jumbled up. You may go back and forth a little or feel a few, or all, at once. Don't be discouraged. I do want you to hear this though. If you fall into prolonged depression, please reach out. Get help. You cannot do it alone.
In closing, for those of us who find ourselves on the broken side of grief, take heart. It will get better...but on your own timetable. None of us are alone. When you do feel restored, though not the same, reach out to others and return what has been given to you. Bishop Tutu, when putting together the HRC, once used the term “wounded healers.” When assembling the team that would be a part of the restoration in South Africa after Apartheid, he said he did not want angry, vengeful victims, but instead he desired “wounded healers.” I hope that is who I am. For those of you who are comforting, be patient and truthful. Get down in the dirt. Offer hope. Then, we will all find our way to the other side of grief. And one day, we will see those we miss again...in a much better place.
(Feel free to leave comments here or on Facebook where this was linked)