"In your latest post you mentioned your friends who responded to your emails in a somewhat harsh or maybe an unsympathetic way. I'm curious and also want to be sensitive in these situations and would like to ask what would have been a better response for you at that time? "
She went on to acknowledge that different people handle loss and trauma differently, which is VERY true, so how does she know how to respond?
My answer is going to sound packed full of theology and theory, which I mostly find useless, but stick with me. I'll show you how to apply it, but first, let me give you a place to start.
Matthew 7:12 says to do to others what you would like for them to do to you.
In other words....
Take the scary step.
Put yourself in their place for a moment.
Honestly, someone else's loss is not something we can ever truly understand. However, we can "imagine" their reality. Think about your spouse or child or parent. What would you miss? What kind of holes would there be? How would you want someone to love you? What would you want someone to say?
If your child died, would you really want someone to tell you God needed that child more than you did?
People said those things to parents whose son had drowned.
Are you shocked and mortified? You should be. Who tells a parent that?
Who tells a 13-year old, "God set your grandma free from cancer, and she is not in pain anymore. You should rejoice instead of being selfish and thinking only of yourself"?
A youth worker at our church told my daughter that.
You know what my daughter wanted to hear? She wanted to hear someone say, "That hurts so much. I'm sorry your heart hurts."
She wanted someone to sit on the floor and cry with her.
SHE WANTED SOMEONE TO REALIZE THERE WAS A HOLE!
The summer after my mom and husband died we attended a family reunion, and it was HARD. I almost didn't go, and really, after the hurtful things people said, I wish I hadn't gone.
One thing someone said to me that hit me the hardest was, "Well, it's not like Rob would have been here anyway."
I'm not sure what this person meant to accomplish with that statement, but what was communicated to me, loud and clear, was, "I don't think you should be this upset. I don't see why you are so sad. I don't see the issue. I don't see the hole you seem to think is here."
You don't see the hole?
My mom is gone. My stepdad isn't speaking to us. My brother and I don't have a close relationship. My husband I've been with my entire adult life is gone. A year ago all of those people were part of our lives, and now they are gone. My family has been reduced to my kids and me. My family as I knew it and dreamed it would be is eradicated. And you don't see a hole?
It would have been nice to hear:
"You okay? Want me to get you some more sweet tea?"
"This must be so hard. I think you are courageous."
"I miss your mom," in that voice that gets lost between the tears they are trying to keep in check and the hug they are giving you at that moment.
It would have been nice for someone to hurt with me instead of telling me why I shouldn't hurt
or how it isn't that bad.
There. I said it.
It would have been nice for someone to hurt with me.
How hard is that?
The day Mom died, I came home, and two of my neighbors came over to be with me. I had been up...36 or so hours. I don't remember. I went back to my bedroom, lay on the floor, and cried. Deena came in my room and sat on the floor beside me. I put my head in her lap and sobbed.
She sobbed, too.
"Deena, my mom died."
"I know, honey. I know."
"I just want to hear her voice again."
I could feel her body shake. "I am so, so sorry."
"I know she is out of pain, and I really am glad she is in a better place."
"But she's your momma."
Yes. She's my momma.
Folks, that person who died is a husband, a wife, a sister, a brother, a child, a parent, a friend. There is a person-size hole left where that life adventure used to be.
If you want to help that person heal,
you have to embrace the pain.
Too many people want to stand in the afterward where it is easy and comfortable and tell the person how to get back to normal and then wonder why the person doesn't respond. The only way through the pain is through. If you want to help them on the journey through loss, you have to be willing to embrace the reality that this person could be you. You have to allow your mind to go to dark, scary places to think of what you would need to get out. You have to let yourself hurt with the idea that loss could be yours.
You want an idea of how to help someone who has buried a spouse? Lie in your bed and imagine knowing the person who fills the other side is never coming back. Reach your hand out to the emptiness and let it soak into you. Feel that? Feel your heart catch in your chest as you let emotions wander into what most married people consider one of their worst nightmares?
Stand over the bed of your child as he or she sleeps and imagine that bed empty. Imagine dust gathering where toys or clothes or CDs gathered. Let yourself go into the nightmare.
People live those nightmares.
If you want to help--truly help--you can't be afraid of them. You have to be willing to walk right into them knowing it is scary, knowing it may shake you, knowing...it could be you.
You cannot help the person through the grief unless you start in the pain.
People who are willing to embrace that kind of pain choose words wisely, act purposefully, focus on rendering aid to the hurting person, not protecting their comfort zones.
I am convinced people who toss out those seemingly thoughtless statements are not really that thoughtless. They are protecting themselves. If they can make the pain not so bad for you, then it somehow protects them. It allows them to keep their comfort zones.
People who are willing to embrace pain have already let go of their comfort zones. They've already said this isn't about them, and they have already determined their focus on the hurting person. They can tend the wounds. They can see what is really there and respond to it instead of tossing a Snoopy band aid at an amputation.
The only way to help a hurting person is to get where that person is, and that means stepping right into the pain with them.
The next question is: What do you do once you are there?