Nine months after my husband died, I was invited to speak to a group of mothers on walking with someone who grieves. I started with this quote by Dr. Gary Collins, “Our western culture is intolerant of prolonged grieving. They value efficiency and pragmatism, so death often is seen as an inconvenience, embarrassment or interruption. Emotional expressions are not encouraged and grief is viewed as something that, while inevitable, should end as quickly as possible.” Pretty much sums up how the world views grief. Entering the space with someone who is grieving is like going into a haunted house; it’s a scary, unknown space that takes courage to step into.
It’s also one of the greatest gifts you can give, to walk with a person who is in indescribable pain, while sensing your own powerlessness. The comforter wants to “fix it”, but the “it” cannot be fixed. Recognizing your own discomfort is the first step that allows you to note it and move on. The best comforters I know have been people who have been present. They came to be with me. They brought a meal, took a walk, sent a note, or texted a prayer. They spoke very little. They listened well and didn’t ask too many questions. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” When they did speak it was with silver lined words.
I also had experiences with people whose words were like needles that poked my brokenness. Saying things like, “At least ___________,” or “He’s in a better place,” or asking me, “Are you better yet?” were not helpful. When asked, “How are you?”, my response was always, “I’m upright, breathing and hanging onto Jesus.” It actually described how I was. I love what J. C. Rylie says, “Many of us carry around great pain and sorrow. True companions cut those sorrows in half, often with just their mere presence and the rightly placed words.” Consider these things as you walk with those who grieve:
Observe: See if there is a task you can complete or an errand you can run.
Be Present: Pay attention to the person as they share.
Listen: Empathetic listening is done with our faces, especially our eyes.
Speak: Offer hope, not answers. Offer condolences, not comparisons. Say, “It’s good to see you”, not, “How are you?”
There’s a scene in the movie, “Same Kind of Different”, with the actress Rene Zellweger, who plays Debbie Hall. She befriends a homeless man, Denver. Debbie has been diagnosed with cancer and the outcome does not look hopeful. She and Denver sit on a couch together in complete silence and cry together. Its poignancy is palatable. No words were needed. Being present is a gift to the griever and the comforter. Don’t doubt your ability to walk with someone who is in pain. There is a level of connection that comes no other way than sharing in their suffering. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Grieving is not glamorous, but gritty. There’s a gift in the grittiness when we walk with those who grieve.
Used with permission from Pam Luschei.