There comes that moment when someone we know suffers a loss. A loved one dies, or there is a diagnosis of an awful disease … perhaps there is a loss of a career, or a loss of relationships (divorce, or estrangement in a family). When we find ourselves not knowing what to say, maybe that is just the thing. Maybe we should start with listening. Yes, we begin with an expression of empathy, but then we listen. We find our way to engage and we let the person who is grieving be the main voice. Behind those many things that a person really shouldn’t say, there are some errors, not the least of which is an error about the purpose of these moments.
I may want to tell this person many things, but I am not here to teach. They may need to learn some things, but I am not here to teach. Grief is the result of a loss. It is not a spiritual problem, nor is it a lapse of faith.
When I am experiencing my own grief, the person who helps me the most is the person who is trying to sit with me, and hear me, and encourage me. But the person who helps me the least, and may hurt me, is the person who believes they are the stronger brother or sister trying to “restore” the weaker brother or sister. To that, I have to say that grief is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of a loss… an experience that will become a part of who I am, but not a foreign object which must be cut away. No, don’t take my grief away, and don’t tell me I am a weaker brother. My sadness, when I feel it, is just as “Christian” as is my happiness.
But, while I am at it, let me recall that I am the person with whom I talk the most. I help myself the least when I treat my grief like it is something I am doing wrong, and have got to stop. I help myself the most when I can sit with myself, hear myself, and find encouragement in the truth I know. So, some of my grief is private, some of it can only be done by and for myself. That’s why we call it “sitting with our grief”.
That’s why we should listen with love to our own inner selves. That is also why we need to be mostly a listener when sitting with someone in grief, for while we are doing this, they are talking both with us and with themselves. How can I, or anyone else, fully process anything that I do not first fully experience.
For those who fear that my grief will take over and consume who I am, let me relieve your fear. When I grieve with the kind of grief I am discussing, grief does not consume me… rather, who I am, fully am, consumes the grief, and it becomes an enriching part of who I am.