Grief comes to almost everyone at some point in their life. It seems as if we also cannot escape the pain of others who are experiencing grief. The news, social media and air waves inundate us with countless tragedies such as, unexpected deaths, suicides, miscarriages, cancers, accidents and other heartbreaking tragedies.
The palpable pain of others is so intense that it can be overwhelming and confusing to know how we should behave in such extreme situations. Some people when confronted by the grief of others turn away and without meaning to shun those in need of comfort. While others unintentionally distress those grieving a loss with statements like, “You shouldn’t be sad because they are with God.” or “It’s time to move on, you are making everyone sad.” or “God will not give you more than you can handle.” Some go as far to say, “It’s over with and we can’t keep dealing with it.”
Others use misguided, popular theology by saying, “Now they are angels in Heaven.” It sounds sweet, but Catholic theology teaches us that angels are pure, disembodied spirits, while humans are comprised of both body and soul. Thus, humans do not become angels and angels do not become humans.
A cancer patient was once told, “Maybe God is teaching you a lesson.” Couples who have miscarried have been told, “Be thankful you have other children.” or “You can always have other children.” and even, “It is just Mother Nature’s way of dealing with a problem.” Such comments are usually said because the individual believes they are being helpful; however their words are like salt being poured into a deep wound.
So, what might we say during such a difficult time when we feel awkward and at a loss for words?
From my experience as a counselor for Grief Support Groups, I have learned some helpful comments that show true caring to someone who is suffering deeply. Something as simple as, “I am so sorry for your loss.” Many people think this simple statement is too redundant but those who are grieving never tire of hearing it because it lets the grieving know that they are not alone in their journey. Another gesture of kindness is saying, “I don’t know what to say, but I am glad to listen if you want to share what happened.” It is counterintuitive, but telling the story of their grief is actually part of the healing process.
Another way to show support and caring is to be physically present with the person who is grieving. Simply sitting quietly with them can be comforting. They need your presence more than profound commentaries on grief and loss. Again, it lets them know they are not alone. Your presence is the best present.
The usual, “What can I do to help?” is made better when you offer specific tasks that you are able to help with. Such as, “What can I do to help? I would be happy to run any errands that you may not be able to get to at this time.” or “I can mow your lawn or walk your dog, if that would help.”
Be patient with their grief timetable as healing is unique to each individual. Also, do not expect them to be like they were before their loss and understand instead that they will have a “new normal”. It can be difficult to live or work with someone experiencing profound grief, but we must keep in mind that it is easier than what they are enduring.
Welcome their tears and consider it an honor if they feel safe enough with you to cry. When we cry tears of loss we are in good company because Our Savior, Jesus Christ, wept upon learning that his friend Lazarus had died (John 15:35). Jesus wept in spite of his preaching of the final resurrection of the deceased.
True compassion means we suffer alongside someone who is grieving. Their suffering is not easy to witness, because it forces us to think of our own broken nature.
As Catholics, we can gently remind those who are grieving the words of St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians – “That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Our profound hope and consolation is in seeking Jesus Christ and having faith in the resurrection of those who have left this earth.
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