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Shut Up and Let Me Grieve

Image by Timothy Faust

Image by Timothy Faust

“Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall”—Longfellow

Tragedy’s coming. And chances are:

  • You don’t know when.
  • You don’t know what form it will take.
  • You won’t be able to prevent it.
  • You won’t be prepared for it.

When the storm comes, it’s going to take all of your resources to weather it. One of the bigger questions is whether you will have the right friends for the job—and will you be the right friend when they need you?

Words will fail you

Whether it is a death, a lost job, a divorce, or any number of other calamities, it’s amazing some of the “comforting” things people will say . I recently asked this question on Twitter:

You probably won’t find many of the responses surprising.

Why words don’t work

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that dealing with someone else’s trauma is difficult and awkward. We’re confronted with our desire to help ease their pain—and our complete inability to do so. In dealing with that deficit, we resort to trying to find the right words to massage the pain away. It almost always fails.

Even if what you say is completely right, it likely won’t help. There’s nothing rational about grief. It’s an overwhelming, and all-encompassing emptiness, anxiety, and panic that comes over you in waves. Sometimes those waves last for days, and sometimes they last for moments. But when you’re in their grasp, those waves of grief are all that exist and it’s impossible to imagine life without them.

Those waves don’t relent when confronted with truth. Occasionally, the words you use will hurt more than help. In fact, I know a lots of people who, years later, can’t remember the grief, but still carry the scars of words spoken to them when they were in the thick of it.

Presence is your true gift

Part of our problem is that we’re pretty isolated from even our closest relationships. We don’t have the time it takes to really help someone through their pain. There isn’t any magic bullet to get people to pull out of their grief. The only thing you can do is be there with them.

Being present is the easiest thing in the world—and the hardest.

In the book of Job, we see a man stricken with the loss of his children, property, and health. His friends come and sit quietly and mourn with him for seven days. It isn’t until they start talking and offering their own personal opinions and theodocies that things start unraveling.

There comes a time when the most well-intentioned person is going to want to hurry the grieving process along. But that’s just not how it works. Being there for someone means listening to irrational, sometimes caustic, diatribes. It means patiently enduring their anger and hurt at God and anyone they feel has failed them. It means weeping with them and providing a safe place for them to get the poison out.

After a while, it’s going to be tiring, inconvenient, and difficult—do it anyway. After all, 98% of crises care is just showing up.

Image by Timothy Faust

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jayson – what a powerful post. This is a gift and a reminder that we all need to read and file away for a needed time down the line. Thanks for posting!

    January 30, 2014
  2. Marsha #

    Over the past 12 years, I have had a great deal of loss, and it seems that I can barely get over one when the next hits. My son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and my mother was hospitalized four times with life threatening illnesses in 2002. Then in 2008, my mother again had life threatening illness and as a result of malpratice, died a slow death over the next 11 months. My son had to have extensive back surgery, so I had to close my law practice to take care of my mother and him. Within a month of my son’s surgery, my mother passed away. I barely recovered when my Dad started getting ill and over the next 2 years I had to nurse him until he died of cancer. Just recently my nephew’s wife and her friend verbally attacked me over Facebook and called me bitter and angry. I am not bitter and angry, I am sad and resigned. There is a difference. Sorry, I can’t just “be happy” at your child’s birthday party when he is showered with more gifts than any child needs and indulged in all material desires. My point is, that although you have gotten over your loss, don’t judge me and the way I am handling my series of losses. When you have to deal daily with your only child’s declining health and eventual death, then come to me and tell me how you deal with it. People are too quick to judge other’s by their own experience, even if it does not compare. My experience does not diminish your experience, your experience does not diminish my experience.

    January 31, 2014
    • I am desperately sorry for your this road you’ve traveled, Marsha. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

      January 31, 2014
  3. Great job, Jayson.

    January 31, 2014
  4. Nan Deal #

    This blog was spot on. My 12 year old son Connor died 5 years ago. healthy one day and 10 days later MRSA took his life. We did not see it coming. I was shocked at how friends,family and our church just dropped us, loss upon loss. And I could write a book on stupid things said to us. Presence is everything and we have a few who are in it for the marathon. I think about Connor everyday,I miss him and I will never stop loving my son.

    March 31, 2014

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