by Al Newell written May 19, 2012
“Close your eyes. Raise your hand if you have experienced a tragedy or serious illness
in the last five years.” Half of the audience raised their hand. “Keep your
hand raised if that has happened in the last two years.” 10-15 hands remain.
“Now, of those remaining, keep your hand raised if your loss was the death of a
spouse or a child.” Only 3-4 hands remain. “Now keep your hand raised if you
lost a beautiful 28 year old daughter named Amy that was one of the godliest
people you have ever met.” That was the way I introduced the topic of grieving
to my audiences at every High Impact training event this year.
Do you know what I’ve learned since the loss of our precious daughter
Amy? I have learned that I am not very good helping others to grieve. I wonder just how often I have made the pain of others worse or poked around in their open wound. Shocking gaffes have taught me a lot about what not to do and I have garnered even more from watching the body of Christ show real love.
It is only a matter of time before someone you know experiences a profound loss.
Maybe you can garner a tip or two from these guidelines that come from the raw
broken heart of a hurting Dad.
What NOT to do
Don’t use feigned compassion as an opportunity for personal gain or future
opportunities. Don’t send plastic flowers. Don’t get the name wrong of the person who has died, just saying….
Don’t tell someone you “understand”. With the best of intentions,
person after person has said to us, “I understand because…” The moment I hear
those words, besides wanting to punch them, a wall rises in my heart like a
spam blocker to fend off more emotional pain. I Kings 8:38, Solomon talks about
people approaching God in prayer and says, “each one knowing the affliction [or
plague] of his own heart.” You may understand what it’s like to change a flat
tire or to experience a computer crash, but you cannot possibly understand
someone else’s pain, precisely because it is so personal. As my introduction
illustrates the only way to understand my pain is to be me. Pain is deeply
personal and directly links to years, relationship, memories and the bond of
love or the lack of those personal elements.
Don’t tell me your story. Wendy my wife is a cancer survivor. She survived chemo and the loss all of her hair, but untimely cancer stories almost killed her. It was astounding just how many people shared cancer stories ending with the death of their loved one; NOT what Wendy needed to hear. “I lost a child too.” You would think that would be comforting, but it is far from comforting when a person begins to cry and share for thirty minutes just how devastated they still are, especially when our wound is so fresh.
Imagine you are experiencing a heart attack. An EMT is standing over you and rather
than life-saving medical techniques, the EMT begins to share, “Yep, my uncle
had a heart attack once; he suffered for years, had a bypass and then…” Sharing
grief is NOT a competition. What’s amazing is to receive a card from someone
that we know has experienced deep pain, and yet they don’t mention their loss.
Don’t expect me to get over it. If I seem angry, despondent, and hopeless or
if I scream, yell, or even swear, I haven’t jumped off the God boat. I am
mourning, grieving. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is
53:3). Ecclesiastes says “Better is the house of mourning.” Jesus said blessed
are those who mourn. Jesus wept after the death of Lazarus. Grieving is normal.
It’s okay to grieve. It’s healthy to grieve. There is no time limit on
grieving. Don’t expect me to make progress on your time table. We’ll never get
over the loss of Amy. We’ll always walk with a limp. Sometimes we cry every
day, sometimes every few days. It is what we are supposed to do. And, it’s also
okay if we don’t cry. Allowing ourselves to grieve has been healing. It is my
common prayer, “Help us to grieve as You would have us grieve.” It’s therapy
for our souls.
What TO do
Listen. For all of the failings of Job’s friends, they waited 7 days before they spoke. They
saw his pain was so deep they said nothing. I told a friend and executive at a
Christian organization, who also tragically lost a child, that we thought about
writing a book on what to do. He said he’d thought of it too, but then realized
the first chapter would be blank. Bridling our tongue is maybe the godliest
thing to do. Let me talk, scream, cry and yell if I want to, or let me sit and
say nothing, but just listen.
Feel. Sharing grief with others has far too often been a to-do list for me. Send a card; say
the right words; buy flowers. I have failed often at feeling another person’s
pain. Now, I try to shut up and consciously feel their pain. After hearing of
our loss, a pastor from a church that had been a client called and left a
message. He was sobbing uncontrollably about our loss. I listened to that
message more than once. How much it meant to me.
Say something. It is also important to verbally acknowledge someone else’s loss. Avoiding the subject or talking about sports simply is not going to cut it. You must address
it. I am so sorry for your loss. There are no words. I am sorry for your pain.
Some other helpful phrases: How are you holding up? Would you care to talk
about it? What was Amy like? If you know positive things about their loved
ones, share it! Reading hundreds of comments through our daughter’s tribute
page has been wonderfully healing. One of the most beautiful things a Christian
leader said to me was, “I’ve met your daughter Becky and if your daughter Amy
was even remotely as incredible as her, I can’t even begin to imagine your
loss.” Amy was that incredible and I cherish that comment.
Do something. I often wondered if sending flowers was a waste, not any more. We received many flowers, and I read every note more than once. Sending a card is great. What was even more special was receiving a beautiful card with carefully crafted
words. The first meals we received were from Christian leaders, from a client
in Canada. Our daughter Becky had many friends who would just come, watch her
kids and or sit with her to help her make it through the day. Family members
sat with us. Without being asked, several of them just super cleaned our SUV.
Don’t ask what you can do, just do it. One day we came home and our hearts were
grieving so hard, we could barely stand up. That day, we opened an envelope
full of countless restaurant gift cards. It was perfect, we cried and cried. Many
people skilled in grieving just gave me the biggest hug. I never knew how much
an embrace could mean.
Recently I shared some of these lessons at an event. After the session several people
stood in line to greet me. The last man, a big ol’ country boy with a ball cap,
waited patiently. When his turn arrived, he stepped up and hugged me for
several moments and then left without a word. I just stood there and then I
Experiencing God’s power together with others is a cause for celebration; however suffering together produces an adhesive bond that is unbreakable.
[Posted with permission from the author]