Sometimes there are moments in life that are just simply awful. Just outright heart achingly sad. In my personal life and also as a psychologist I have been witness to stories that made me weep for days, and yet I’m supposed to be the one who tells people how to hold it together in these moments! Grief is horrendous to go through, debilitating to watch and one of the most difficult things to know what to do with.
I am not writing today to tell you how to grieve, and this article is not for the grieving. Everyone’s experience of loss is different, everyone is impacted in different ways, and everyone has different needs. I could no more tell you the right way to cope with loss than I could stop it from falling on you in the first place.
Instead, this article is for those who are standing alongside those who are hurting, feeling the uselessness of their words but with hearts burning to ease the other’s pain. How can we possibly care for those who are broken in spirit in this way? We try to say the right thing, or sometimes avoid the person because we don’t know what to do or say. But COULD there ever really be “the right thing” to say? What everyone needs will be different, but here are some thoughts on the ways that can help you move in the right direction in each situation, for each person, each time:
Pray – Creation has been frustrated through the curse of sin, and we can and do GROAN for its resolution, for the doing away of suffering and decay (Romans 8). Even if you don’t know what the person needs, what words to say, God speaks fluent “groaning” and He is capable of meeting their needs. Submit the grieving, and your feelings of uselessness over to Him. Yours is not to solve the pain.
Listen – people communicate and respond to needs in many ways, not just with words. They use expression, they go or don’t go places, they do or don’t do certain things. Listen to all these languages and respond in kind. Those freshly wounded don’t need solutions. They need to be safe to express the full range of everything swimming around in their mind and heart, an anchor to stop them from floating out on the sea of grief. Meet them in their loneliness, sit with them, listen to their struggles without trying to fix them. There is time later to speak and challenge, but when it’s new, it’s time to listen.
Acknowledge – To acknowledge that there has been a loss is a powerful act of solidarity. Again, the individual will have their specific needs and preferences in this, and I’m not saying you need to ask them every time you see them “how are you since…” The lost thing is always there, because it is always NOT there. If they don’t want it talked about, then don’t, but often their heart is waiting to hear someone say “it also matters to me that this has happened.”
Respect – Nancy Guthrie puts it this way – “[the grieving] have an intense sadness that is lonely and lingering that needs to be respected”. This is why it hurts when people tell you to “cheer up” or “you’ll get over it”. It’s not respecting that sadness is there, and may always be. I will still be me, and I could still be a functioning member of society, even if my sadness never goes away. Grief is a normal, natural, perhaps even essential part of the human experience and to deny that is to compound it. There are times when someone may need support to manage the impact of grief on their life but this should never be in a way that minimises the value of what has been lost.
Grief will often be part of our school’s experience as a community. If you or your family have been or are going through a difficult time, we want to respect your experience and do our best to care for you. One of the ways we can do this is through providing a safe, supported space for your children to spend some time with other students who have experienced a loss, through something called “Seasons for Growth”. If this, or any other idea would be a helpful way for us to care for your family, please call me to talk it through.