For a few very hard years this word was my mantra.
The word means
-undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort
-undiminished in courage or valor; not giving way to fear
But the truth is, I was often dismayed by everything that had taken place, and I did battle discouragement. I battled fear and doubts. I hurt and was angry, and sometimes "undaunted" sounded more like a mockery than a mantra, and I was determined to be real about all of it in these posts, thus the name, Undaunted Reality. More than that, though, I was determined to live undaunted, not because I'm so great or strong, but because my God is, and no matter what this world looks like, He is the only reality that matters.
I pray I live the reality of Him beautifully undaunted.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Better Answer--Part 6, The Power of Understanding

When people ask me how to help others, they are asking what to do or say, especially what to say, that will give comfort to someone who is hurting. They sincerely want to extend a tender touch and envelop the person with kindness and love.

This is beautiful, and taking time to learn to do it better shows me deep wisdom and honest love.

As I've said before, we would all love exact words to say. A script would be so nice, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, there isn't one, so I'm trying to give you some things to consider, and I hope if you understand the reality of someone going through trauma or deep loss, it will help you speak wisely.

Sometimes, helping isn't about what you say, though. It is about what you don't say.

I don't often give hard and fast rules, but in this case, I'm going to do just that.

If you really, honestly want to express empathy and concern for someone...
If you really, honestly want that person to feel like you are truly trying to understand so you can support and love them...

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER say you understand.

Because the fact is, you don't understand.

I don't care if your husband has died or your dad has died or your whomever has died. You do not understand MY experience with this loss. Perhaps you can relate, but you do not understand.

Let me try to explain this so it doesn't just sound like a rash blanket statement.

My husband died. He was 42. Massive heart attack. His last words to me were, "Jerri, you're a great mom. See you tomorrow."

I almost let the words slip out, "Rob, I love you," but I didn't. How pathetic would that be? We were a month from the divorce being final. He had made it clear he no longer loved me but wanted to move into his new life. I said nothing.

Three hours later, he was dead.

I don't know anyone who has experienced those  circumstances. Can you really tell me you understand the guilt of not saying those words, the shock of his being dead at 42, the anger at burying someone who didn't want me, the absolutely absurd accusations by his parents, and the children's reactions? Oh, and by the way, this happend 4 1/2 months after my mom died, my stepdad quit speaking to us, close friends took sides, and....

Really. You want to tell me you understand that?

I didn't think so.

I have known or met several women whose husbands have died.

In one instance, a wife watched for nearly a year as cancer stole her husband's mind. I cannot imagine. I cannot imagine knowing it will be the last anniversary or the last birthday or the

In another instance, her husband died on Christmas. He took a nap and didn't wake up. I cannot imagine trying to celebrate Christmas. I cannot imagine seeing the world celebrate when the heart aches so badly.

Another friend lost her husband to a drunk driver. For the one you love to die from causes no one can control is one thing. To lose your loved one because someone is selfish and irresponsible...I cannot wrap my mind around that.

And then there are the men I know who have lost wives. It is a whole different thing. I've met men raising children alone, men who are single after losing the love of over 50 years, and a few in between. I have no clue what their experience is. I don't understand what it is like for a man to suddenly have to figure out girl's hair, menstrual cycles, and house keeping. I cannot imagine a lifetime of being and becoming one...only to have the one who made you whole ripped away.

Sure. We all lost our spouses, and I can relate to their loss, but I don't understand.

There are simply too many factors. I don't understand my friend who is now raising three stepchildren in their teens and a son under five all by herself. I don't understand the young man with the baby only a few months old trying to figure out life without his wife who died of an aneurysm in his arms.

No. I don't understand that at all.

I don't understand the stress of finances or family relations or social relations or emotional demands. I don't understand trying to balance jobs or helping children who had to walk right back into public school. I don't understand having the opportunity to end with closure. I don't understand the peace of knowing everything that needed to be said was.

I just don't understand.

Honestly, I think when people say they understand, really, they want to feel like someone understands them, like someone gets it. I think they want validation for their experience and reality.

However, the truth is no one can fully understand because every experience, every reality of loss is personal. It is customized to that person and that situation. It is impossible to truly understand someone else's pain.

Knowing that can feel very defeating. How can I help if I don't understand what I'm helping with?

Believe it or not, one of the best ways you can help is to fess up and tell the truth. Look the person in the eye and say, "I don't understand what you are going through, but I understand pain. I understand feeling lonely. I understand how life changes in ways I don't expect or want, and I understand the confusion and pain. How can I help you with yours?"

Your willingness to tell me you don't remotely understand tells me you at least understand the magnitude of the effect on me. It tells me you know this is heart crushing. Your telling me you can't imagine the pain, confusion, and shock validates my looking around at the remains of what used to be trying to get a grasp on what happened...and trying to figure out where life goes from here.

Your telling me you don't undestand, tells me you really do.

And that is powerful.


  1. I remember when my grandfather passed away and I was so devastated. My husband thought he understood because he lost him, too, but he didn't understand the depth of my loss. It wasn't just my grandpa, it was my heart. It was his love for me. It was the depth of that love. It was being someone's favorite. It was all the memories that were mine that wouldn't have another one to add to my heart.
    Thank you for being able to put that piece into words. Wanting someone to understand where you are, but knowing that no one ever can understand the impact or depth to YOU!

  2. Mizzbrizz,
    "It wasn't just my grandpa, it was my heart."
    Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. It isn't just a person. It is a heart.
    ...indeed, it is a heart.