Refill with Randy – Don’t set a time limit for grieving loss of loved ones

By Orleans Hub Posted 30 July 2023 at 8:00 am

By Randy LeBaron

Good morning! Grab your favorite cup. Fill it up. And let’s start this week right… TOGETHER!!!

Hello friends, today’s article is going to be a little different but hopefully beneficial. I would like to share some insights with you, from both my personal experience as someone who has experienced much loss and my professional experience of comforting and counseling many who have suffered loss themselves, as to how you can be a better friend to someone who is grieving.

Going back to the oldest recorded book in The Bible we get a brief of glimpse of both the good and bad ways to go about helping someone who is hurting. Job, who the book was titled after, had a series of tragedies that left him mourning the loss of his children, his servants, and even his flocks and cattle. After suffering such a great loss his three closest friends came to comfort and console him. Recognizing that his grief was too great for words it says that these friends sat silently with him for seven days. So far so good… but then they began to speak.

Once they opened their mouths things started to go downhill fast because their focus shifted from bearing their friend’s burdens to trying to figure out what he had done to deserve such great distress. It’s human nature, right? We want to know WHY something bad happened or WHO we should blame. It is also human nature to add pain to a situation even when the opposite is intended.

In the Grief Support Group that my colleague Heather and I facilitate through Hospice of Orleans it is not uncommon to have someone share about something a friend or family member had said or did that was hurtful. At the very least it was something that evidenced the fact that the other person did not understand what they were going through. And the reality is that, in most cases, they don’t.

I will be the first to admit that there were things that, as a pastor, I used to say to someone after their loved one had passed that I vowed I would never say again after going through the experience myself and realizing how absurd my words were. For example, I used to say that all of the decisions and busyness leading up to the funeral service was a blessing in disguise because they had something else to think about. The reality is that having to make big decisions in the moment when you are tired, stressed, and in shock doesn’t take away from the sting of what you are going through but simply adds to it and amplifies it.

Until you have gone through it yourself though it really is hard to comprehend. I remember going through the most physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining time of my life when my father passed away suddenly and then my mother, who was unexpectedly diagnosed the next day with terminal brain cancer, came to live with us as she received chemo and radiation daily.

Right after her passing, as a result of physically collapsing during the Strawberry Fest Race due to stress and exhaustion, my church placed me on a six-week sabbatical. On the one hand it was very gracious of them to do so, and much needed on my end, but on the other hand I realized once returning to work that many of the members, though certainly not all, were under the assumption that by not doing daily ministry tasks for six weeks I had had plenty of time to get my grieving over with and move on.

Others who I have counseled since have also shared the expectations placed on them by even their closest friends and family members to get over their grief and get back to normal. The problem of course is that you don’t get over loss as much as you learn to move forward with it and, for the person who just lost a parent, a child, or a spouse, they cannot get back to normal because their normal has been forever changed.

It is understandable that you would want your friend to go back to being who they were before their loss but it’s just not possible. They can learn to accept and grow into their new reality but it won’t be exactly the same and it will take time. The best way I have found to describe this dynamic is to imagine having your dominant arm cut off. Eventually you will be able to function and do most things with your other arm, though it won’t be easy or come naturally, but you will learn to live with it. Some things though, like jumping rope on your own, will be a thing of the past.

There is much more that could be said but I will end with this… if you find yourself in a position to offer comfort to a friend who is grieving simply sit with them until they are ready to talk and then ask them what you could do. Don’t feel the need to fill in the silent gaps with well worn cliches.

Don’t push for them to grieve the same way or at the same pace as someone else who experienced something similar. And don’t make them feel guilty for getting emotional just because it makes you uncomfortable. Instead, just show up and show them the same kind of love and grace that you would want them to one day show you when the roles are reversed.

Also, for anyone reading this who is struggling with grief please know that you do not have to go through it alone. Our Grief Support Group is open to all and we meet every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 4 p.m. in the First Baptist Church of Albion (30 W. Park St.)

See you in 2 weeks… Pastor Randy