I think we would all agree: as followers of Jesus, we are called to “love one another,” just as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Unfortunately, we don’t always know how to carry out this command. Too often, it is the very seasons of struggle that we are called to love others through, that we unintentionally isolate and hurt our sisters in Christ. Help Wanted is a series designed to shed light into just a few of those specific struggles and how we can help, not hurt, the ones experiencing them.
By Kathy Johnston
Let’s face it, no one enjoys grief. It’s a strange and uncomfortable part of life that many don’t understand and frankly don’t want to think about. When you are grieving, people avoid you. It’s not because they don’t care but simply because they don’t know what to say or do.
Grief comes to all of us in many different ways: divorce, death, loss of a job, finances, relationships. It’s a natural part of life and all of us will experience at some point.
On March 21, 1992 at 6:50 pm, my husband and the father of my three sons died following a bone marrow transplant for the treatment of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Russ had been in the hospital for almost 2 months, and that evening I had left his bedside to go to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I heard the Code Blue on the speakers and something inside me knew. My mom was with me, we rushed back up to ICU.
When I entered his room and saw his body lying there it was a surreal moment. I knew that Russ was no longer with me, no longer in that body. I also knew that he was experiencing things at that very moment that words could not describe, and that even if he could, he wouldn’t want to come back. The tearing away was real, like a huge gaping wound.
I was incredibly blessed to have close family members and church family that surrounded and supported me. Throughout the process of his illness, hospitalization and death, they literally helped bear our burden of grief and loss.
The simple and practical things they did were incredibly helpful and healing for us. After Russ’ death, the women cooked meals and the men cut wood, mowed the lawn and more. My mom fielded phone calls of condolences including ones from the funeral director regarding details that ranged from getting Russ’ body transferred back to our home town to what clothes to have ready for his burial. Galatians 6:2 says to “bear one another’s burdens”, and that’s exactly what they did.
Below are a few practical and important things to consider when you know someone is going through a painful loss:
- Don’t avoid them because you don’t know what to say! A hug and “I’m so sorry” is enough. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything! Just be there. Russ’ transplant took place 3 1/2 hours from our home. The number of people that drove to spend a few hours with him was incredible. It meant so much.
- Listen. Let them talk about the experience they’ve just been through. It’s ok to cry with them! Don’t try to change the subject or avoid the conversation. I WANTED to talk about Russ. It made me feel as though he was still a part of our lives and it was very healing.
- Be available. During the first few weeks there are LOTS of people around and many offers of help. Three or four months later, not so much. This is the time when you feel very alone. So call them, let them know you are available, take them out for coffee or lunch.
- Don’t just say, “Let me know if I can do anything”. It puts the burden on them to call you, and most likely they won’t. Offer specific help like bringing a meal, cleaning their house, or picking up groceries. There are also various legal matters they may need assistance in such as preparing taxes, social security, trusts, or life insurance. All these things would’ve been overwhelming for me to do on my own. Russ’ parents and sister were so incredibly helpful to me in many of these ways.
- Write them a note. Send them a text or email. Call them! All of these seem like such simple things, but it’s extremely encouraging and healing to know that someone else is still thinking about the one they are missing. I recently was chatting with a friend who had gone through the sudden death of her husband. She shared about one friend who sent her a note of encouragement every month for the first year. It meant so much- she has never forgotten.
- Give them as much time as they need to go through the normal stages of grief. Every person’s time of grieving is different. Don’t put your expectations on them of when you think it’s been long enough, or if it “hasn’t been long enough”. Allow them to mourn on their own time frame. Ecclesiastes 3 says “There is a season and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Remember grief has its purpose, but it also has its limit.
- Invite them to do things with you! Take them out for dinner, go on a hike, or to a concert…whatever it is they enjoy doing. It may bring up some painful memories because they used to do those things with their loved one, so be sensitive about that, but still ask!
- It’s OK to talk about the one who is gone. Share your memories of the one they miss. I LOVED that so much and it brought comfort to us. In fact, it still does even 23 1/2 years later, and I love seeing glimpses of him in my sons and in my grandchildren.
We all look forward to the day when there will be no more grief! Until then, let’s bear one another’s burdens as we wait!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying , nor pain any more, for the former things have all passed away.” Revelations 21:3-4