Grief is perhaps the most deeply personal and mystifying of all human emotions. Some of us seem to express our grief easily, while others struggle intensely to express it at all. Sometimes grief manifests itself as an explosion, but at other times it is nearly invisible-tucked away, safely hidden from view. Grief can appear out of nowhere and, like an unwelcome guest, linger on center stage-prompting feelings of uneasiness and discomfort. And for the person on the outside looking in, the person who desires to support a grieving friend or loved one, the world of grief can be a bewildering landscape. It is not easy to accompany a grieving person through such varied and unfamiliar territory.
Yet when those we love grieve, we long to offer whatever comfort we can. The difficulty is, few of us know how to comfort. We live in a society of impatient, optimistic quick fixes, and offering true comfort involves more than checking off a list of dos and don'ts. It requires a simple but deep commitment to accept the grieving person "as is" on his or her journey through grief.
Acceptance says, "I don't have the answers, but I'm here. I can't change your situation, but I want to walk with you as you go through it." Acceptance allows the grieving person the freedom to express sorrow, anger, or to be silent. Acceptance doesn't try to "fix" losses that can't be fixed. Acceptance doesn't demand to understand or to agree with the route one takes through the landscape of grief. Acceptance doesn't judge or offer cliches. Acceptance simply provides a wounded heart a safe place to mourn.
The following reminders can help those on the outside of grief to walk in grace as they provide comfort to those who are grieving:
- There is no proper way to grieve. Like our fingerprints, every person's emotional response to loss is unique. We dishonor our friends and loved ones when we place expectations on their grief experience or compare their experience to that of another person.
- A grieving person needs human companionship. Part of the pain of grieving is a feeling of emptiness deep inside. It comes from the realization that something or someone is missing from life. While that loss can't be replaced, the physical presence of a person who cares serves as a warm reminder to the grieving person that he or she is not alone. There is no substitute for human companionship.
- Resist the urge to "fix it." It is painful to witness another person's suffering, and our human sympathy leads us to want to relieve it. But a "fix it" approach to grief doesn't fix anything; it only denies the pain. It may also communicate that we want our grieving friend to "hurry up and get better" so that our own pain will diminish.
- Never minimize a person's grief. There is no way to quantify another person's grief. There is no legitimate way to put another person's loss into perspective by pointing out what might have happened, what didn't happen, or by exploring the worst-case scenario. Such efforts don't minimize the loss, they trivialize it!
- Listen, listen, listen. Part of the grieving process involves exploring all facets of the loss. Those who are grieving need to feel their loss in all of its horror and agony, and they need to talk about what they are feeling. A true friend will stand by and honor those feelings by listening with ears, eyes, and heart.
- It's okay to talk about the loss. People often avoid talking about a loss with a grieving person because they are afraid it will cause more pain. But the truth is, people who are grieving are already thinking about their loss. When others name that loss, they affirm the value of the loss and give the grieving person permission to talk about it.
- Grieving is exhausting. Dealing with grief depletes a person's spiritual, emotional, and physical energy. So a grieving person may not have the energy or clarity of mind to complete routine tasks, or may suddenly fail to follow through with commitments. During these times, it's important for friends to adjust their expectations and offer to help with tasks that are particularly burdensome.
- Pray without ceasing. The pain of grief can lead us to feel separated from God, to feel that He doesn't understand or care about our pain, or even to become so angry that we don't want to talk to Him. A true friend can accept where a grieving person is and pray specifically for his or her needs. A friend can ask God for wisdom and grace to bring comfort to those who grieve.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Reprinted from "The Encourager" Magazine, a publication of Dave Dravecky's Outreach of Hope, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Used by permission. For more information, visit www.OutreachOfHope.org