Another guest post by my amazing wife Christi :
We all know that certain things people say are intended to help with the grief of losing someone, but they really don’t. It’s why people have a hard time knowing what to say, or what to do with people who are bereaved. It’s why some people avoid the grieving family all together. It’s why others say exactly what they shouldn’t. It’s what causes the awkward silence that nobody wants.
Now that I have had the completely unwelcome experience of having been and now being on both sides of this fence, I want to point some things out, that I hope will help guide those who are supporting the grieving and also will give a little more voice to the bereaved:
1) Telling someone who just lost a child, that they are now in a better place, while true, is not comforting in the beginning of grieving. I know Judah is in a better place. But hearing that cuts me up, because it’s not like he was in a bad place here. He was a vivacious, happy, healthy, lively, deeply loved and cherished boy. I’m not saying this is wrong to say to other bereaved parents, in other circumstances, but with me, it just doesn’t help and in some ways, it stings.
2) Filling the silence. If I break down and cry, please don’t try to fill that gap. Just wait with me. Maybe pray silently or even out loud for me. Hug me. Really just be with me in that moment. Let me cry and don’t try to stop it. The silence doesn’t have to be filled, and if we both know that, it’s less awkward for everyone.
3) Please, please, please don’t quote Job or tell the bereaved they need to be more like him. It doesn’t help and adds guilt on top of grief.
4) Let the bereaved be mad at God. Let them ask him their questions, even if you don’t think He will answer them. God is big enough to handle our questions and our anger and walk us through it all. He really is. Just listen to the questions and let it be ok to ask, and please remember that anger is a natural part of grieving and it’s normal.
5) Let the bereaved talk about their child as much as they need to. They are very afraid that their child will be forgotten. Let them speak their child’s name and please, talk to them about their child. They may cry, but that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you have said something wrong. Chances are their crying is a mixture of the pain of grief and thankfulness that you care about their child.
Speak their child’s name. Don’t avoid that. Count that child in with their other children, when talking about how many children they have. The child is not erased from their hearts or from having existed, just because they died. For me, it deeply hurts to have someone say I have six kids. No. I have 7. I am their mom and I always will be. Death doesn’t change that…period.
6) Please don’t tell the bereaved how to grieve or how long to grieve. Each person needs to do it in whatever way they feel is best. And as for timing, there is a bad misbelief that grief is a process that has an end. It just doesn’t. It lasts for the rest of that person’s life. It’s an ongoing process.
If someone stops talking about it and seems like they are “over it”, that’s most probably because they have been shushed in their grief, or people have left them because of their grief, and they have learned to hide it. But it’s still there.
Look, we were made to love. And therefore, we were made to grieve. And we weren’t meant to grieve in a specific, standard way. Some may choose to be silent in their grief and some need to let it out. It is society that has deemed it impolite and improper to discuss. But that’s not how we are made and we are doing much more damage than good, by not allowing people to move through the natural feelings they have with such a loss.
7) Keep checking on the grieving. Keep asking what you can do. Don’t stop, once the funeral is over. It’s actually when that is over that the worst of the grief begins to creep in. It’s then that it hits you over and over, every single day, like a battering ram, that your child is not there and will not be coming back.
It’s then, in those first weeks, months and years when we must go on to a find a new normal. But it’s then that we can’t bear even the thought of living life without our child, and it’s then that we need the most support.
Don’t stop asking. Even when we tell you we don’t need anything just then. We say that because we don’t want to burden anyone or because we have grief brain and can’t think clearly enough at that moment, to know what we need. But keep asking, because one day, when the house is quiet and we are on our knees in pain and heartache, we will need you.
The post isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad for what might have been said. Just to help people understand what is really needed. I know when people say things that hurt, that they really are wanting to help. I don’t take it personally. But if I can convey what people like me need, it will help a lot of grieving people and supportive people too. That’s my hope.