I am in an interesting place today. I have friends 1,000 miles away that are serving a classmate that is facing the most difficult kind of grief journey imaginable. All that I can do on their behalf is to cry out to God. My heart is in deep pain. I feel a natural affinity for a classmate.
And then I found out that my son’s close friend lost his mother. She had been fighting cancer for some time. She was my age. My heart hurts, but how could a father be more proud as he watches his son step up to the plate and serve his classmate skillfully and naturally? As I watch both of these situations unfold, what counsel can I offer those that are inclined to get in the trenches of grief with those whom they love?
I have learned a lot about grief over the years based on personal experience and years of serving people in such situations as a minister and law enforcement chaplain. I would say two things to those that are brave enough to truly embrace their grieving friends.
People in grief do not need unnecessary commentary. In particular, they do not need comments of a theological nature. Telling a grieving father that God just needed another angel is pure nonsense. If I hear someone tell a parent that has lost a child that again, they are going to grieve over their lost ability to speak after I sew their mouth shut. Imposing your own journey of grief in such a setting in many cases falls under the heading of unnecessary commentary. The loss of your 90 year old grandmother is a source of real pain to you, but comparing that experience to what a parent facing the loss of a child is feeling is simply not helpful. The rule of thumb is to keep the talking to a minimum. Listen. Allow the grieving person to determine the direction and extent of conversation. If they want to talk, then listen. If they want to be quiet, don’t feel uncomfortable with the silence.
I lost my father over 33 years ago. What do I still remember about the initial dark days following his death? My mother died almost 20 years ago. What do I remember about that event? Here is my short list. The lists of others might look different.
• I remember those who showed up. Friends drove 200 miles in horrible weather to comfort me at my mother’s funeral. They braved the elements just to embrace us at the cemetery. I will never forget who was there. I recall colleagues of my father’s flying down from Racine, Wisconsin to Lubbock just to attend his funeral. They just showed up.
• I remember those that served. My mother’s friend Donna became chief operations manager of our house during those initial dark days. She did a lot more in the year that followed. She will always be a saint in my eyes. When my mother died, my sister’s friends came in and took over. They organized the food people brought, washed dishes, and did the laundry. It was just comforting having them right there. I don’t recall anything that these individuals said during that time period. I mean nothing! But I will never forget what they did.
• I remember those that chose not to forget. Years later after my mother was gone her friend Donna said specific things about her that I appreciated so much. Others remembered what it was like to work for my father. Such comments years after the loss of a loved one are amazing. I have some friends that plan to compile a book of memories for the children of a classmate who has been deceased for several years now. I don’t know if my friends realize that such a gift will become the most prized possession of those children.
Today I am forced to watch and not act. I prefer to be in the trenches. But today I am watching others reach out. And that is not a bad place to be actually. I get to observe people whom I love and value show up and serve. I wonder if they know that their friends will never forget….