Sunday, August 21, 2011

Comforting the Grieving

As God's judgment continues to be poured out upon this nation it is going to get worse and worse - many will be killed in the catastrophes that are going to hit our land. Many families are going to lose loved ones - husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends. The Lord will call many of us to reach out to those who have lost a family member and we need to know how to help them. But this message is also for the present time, for those who are going through grieving now or know someone who is. I am not a psychologist, and what I share with you is from my own personal experiences, how I learned to help those who are grieving.

When I lived in Tyler, TX I was a remodeling contractor and did much of my work through realtors. Many of them I grew close to as dear friends, some of them I loved as sisters that I never had growing up. One of those was Pam who I kind of adopted as my little sister. The Lord bonded our hearts together and I loved Pam very, very dearly - she was my little sis. I knew her for about a year when she was suddenly diagnosed with stomach cancer. Pam fought the cancer bravely and with every ounce of her strength for a year, but it killed her in October, 1998.

I have never known such pain, I was devastated. I cried several times a day for many, many months afterwards. I didn't know that such a darkness and emptiness existed. It was the darkest period of my life. What made it even worse was that God forced me to go through it all by myself, He would not allow ANYONE to reach out to me, to comfort me, to be there for me. Instead, I had to be there to help others who were also devastated by Pam's death. God made me go through the depth and darkness of grieving all alone, there was no one there to comfort me, no one. And I grieved to depths that I didn't know were possible, I didn't know such pain existed. But what I learned from this was how to give to others who are grieving what I needed but was not allowed to have. I knew how badly I needed someone to be there for me and with me, I felt the pain so deeply in my heart. What I didn't get I now give to others because I know how desperately they need it.

About eight months after Pam's death I volunteered at the Hospice of East Texas Homeplace, an inpatient facility for the terminally ill. I was there almost every Saturday and Sunday for almost a year helping the nurses, the patients and their families. I saw much pain, much grief while I was there, the same kind of pain that I had been through, and I was able to offer some little bits of comfort to a few of the people.

The things that help people who are grieving are simple things like hugs, a shoulder to cry on, someone to just be there with them and let them know you hurt for them. Never tell them you know how they feel, because you don't. I could tell them that I understand the pain, and when they looked in my eyes they knew that I did because they saw in my eyes that I had been through intense grief myself and that I could empathize with them.

There are other things you can do such as bringing them flowers, having them over for dinner (inviting then into your home is much better than inviting them out to a restaurant for dinner because most of them do not want to go into public places soon after the death of a loved one, they want privacy as opposed to being in public), going to visit them at their home, calling them to let them know you care and sending them sympathy cards and letters. Don't try to cheer them up because they cannot be cheered up at this time - just be there for them. But don't expect anything from them because they are emotionally incapable of giving it. Just let them grieve, let them cry, let them be angry at God (He's a big God and can handle their feelings and their anger. He's not going to be angry at them for it).

Telling them trite little phrases like "God needed them more than you do", or "they are with the Lord now", or "God called them home because......" are usually not comforting. Never tell them that grieving lasts for such and such a time and then you get better, because that is a lie. It also puts pressure on them to "get through" the grieving process in a specified period of time. Each and every person grieves in their own way for their own period of time, there are no rules for this, no set times. It has been thirteen years since Pam died and there are still times that I cry for her. Yes, the memories of her are precious to me and most of them are happy because she was such a joy to be around, but I would be lying if I said that the grief is gone, because it has never completely left me. So don't expect people to grieve for a specific period of time (like some books say) and then "get over it". Don't expect anything at all from them.

Yes, ministering to the grief-stricken is a very difficult thing, it hurts to see someone in so much pain, it brings back pain from your own losses. But being vulnerable and letting those who are grieving see that we ourselves have suffered loss and that we still hurt from it lets them know that what they are feeling is okay, that it is normal for what they have been through. It lets them know that they are not alone and that they are not going crazy, that others have been through similar pain and have survived through it. The pain that I still feel from losing Pam is obvious in this message. But in order to help others we have to be transparent, we have to leave ourselves open and vulnerable. That's the way Jesus was, open and vulnerable. Two of the most important words in the Bible are "Jesus wept".

As I write this I realize that this message will offer some degree of comfort to some of those who are reading it because they have lost loved ones and have had difficulty "living up" to how they were supposed to "heal" after a few months and "get on with their lives". If this has helped you then I feel that I have done something worthwhile in sharing what I have been through.

If there are any hospice professionals who read this and have more insight into this than I do, I would welcome your comments because this is to help others in their time of need.