It’s a happy time of year. A time to be joyous. A time to be together with family. But I’m listening to a sad story. A young woman died in an instant. A bone got stuck in her throat. A stupid, senseless, useless death.
A mom is in shock. She can’t believe what has happened. People come to pay respects. They bring food. They shed tears. They embrace. They offer their deepest sympathies. They ask if there’s anything they can do. But they all know that the one thing they wish they could do, they can’t.
And then one visitor utters the words that makes Mom cringe. He holds her hand tight as he reassures her that “Everything happens for a reason.”
“What reason could there possibly be?” she retorts, as she pulls away from him. He responds in a gentle voice, “You will grow from this. You will find God’s meaning. You’ll see.” This man thinks he is being helpful. He knows not that his words cut rather than cure, hurt rather than heal. He is not a mean man; he is an ignorant one.
When loved ones are in pain, we don’t know what to do. We feel obliged to say something. Hence, platitudes spill out of our mouths, masquerading as precious wisdom. We offer advice. We tell them that it will be all right. We tell them what God wants.
So, what should we do if platitudes don’t work? What do we say to hide our discomfort in these helpless situations? Avoid the situation altogether? No.
Allow your loved one to grieve in her way, on her timetable. Let her talk, or not talk. Let her cry, or not cry. Let her howl in despair, or not howl. Let her hate God. Or love God. Or not believe in God.
When a life has been shattered, do not try to make things better. Many losses cannot be made better. They cannot be understood. They cannot even be accepted, especially if it is a loss of a child. Your child is your future. This should never have happened.
So, how can you be helpful? Simply be there. Be fully present when she needs to rant, or cry, or be silent. Be there when she’s in despair, or feeling better. And when she wants to be alone, let her be alone. But let her know that, even in her aloneness, you are holding her in your heart.
Grieving is a necessary process. It must happen before one can heal or move on. Sounds simple enough. But we are an impatient society. We want people to get over even their deepest losses way too soon. We don’t appreciate that cutting the grieving process short can curtail the healing process. And grieving may never be completely over. Certainly, every holiday season will be a stark reminder for this woman of her loss.
So, if you want to be helpful to a person devastated by grief, avoid giving advice. Instead, simply be there in the moment. And if you feel uncomfortable not doing anything, remind yourself this is not about doing. It’s about being there at a time when your loved one needs you.
Sad woman photo available from Shutterstock