Monday, December 17, 2012

Responding to those who experience grief

Walnut United Methodist Church and Preschool 12-17-2012
Dear Parents and Friends,
The recent tragedy in New Town Connecticut can evoke powerful emotions in us, especially grief and empathy for the families whose children and adults were victims of the shooting. As Christians, we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond in some way, and sometimes it is confusing to know exactly what to do or say in these very emotional laden situations. Grief is a powerful emotion we all experience and sometimes an event like this can spark memories of our own losses and we relive the emotions of grief and longing we experienced. I want to offer to you some steps dos and don’ts when it comes to responding to those in grief, I serve as Hospice chaplain and the advice I found from Ashley Davis Bush, the author of “Transcending Loss” is helpful to understand how we can respond. I remain as always available to you if you would like to talk about your feelings, and questions. –Pastor Steve
1. Don't Ignore Their Situation
Don't avoid someone or not acknowledge their loss because you don't know what to say or because you don't want to upset them. By ignoring their experience, you make them feel as if their loss doesn't matter.
Do Say Instead:
"I can't imagine what you're going through but I am so sorry for your loss."
"I am heartbroken for you."
Acknowledge their loss. If you knew the person who died, share a story about them. Grievers love to share memories and hear stories about their dear ones. If they happen to cry in your presence, that is perfectly okay! Tears are a natural way to move emotion through the body.
2. Don't Minimize or Deny Their Pain
Don't Say:
"At least you had ____ years together," or "At least they're not suffering anymore."
Either of these comments may be true, but they minimize the loss and implicitly suggest that the griever shouldn't be grieving.
"It was God's will"
(Pastor Steve: God brings resurrection to death, and grief, so we can be confident that God is there to help. However, God intends for us to have long and healthy lives, to fully embrace the gift of life, I believe God mourns with us and provides relief to the grief)
This is not the time for a theological discussion. In general, this comment does not help grievers feel better.
"He/She is in a better place now."
Perhaps... But this doesn't address the griever's loss.
"You can have other children... get remarried... You have other siblings."
These comments imply that people are replaceable, which they are not.
"Time heals all wounds."
Actually, time alone does not heal. Time plus active grief work does lead to a kind of "healing," but the loss will still be a lifelong aspect to their lives now.
Do Say Instead:
"You must miss him so much."
"It is devastating to lose a loved one."
"I can't imagine how painful it must be to lose someone you love so much."
You don't want to try to minimize their loss. You can't take away their pain. Instead, use words that validate and empathize with their pain.
3. Don't Offer Vague Attempts to Help
Don't Say:
"Let me know if I can help."
While polite, this response puts the burden of action on the griever.
"Call me if you'd like to talk."
Grievers rarely have the energy to reach out. Don't put the burden on them to call you.
(Pastor Steve: I also respect the person’s boundaries, to allow them the time and space to grief and process the loss)
Do or Say Something Concrete Instead:
"I'll call you tomorrow and we can talk if you feel up to it."
"Here is a frozen casserole to take the pressure off of dinner tomorrow night."
Just show up with a basket of cookies, a homemade dinner or a bouquet of flowers. Or show up and wash their car, mow their lawn or take care of their kids for an evening. Also call and just check in, letting them know that you're thinking about them. If they don't return your calls, don't take it personally. Some people will want a friend to listen and others would prefer to retreat. Still others may prefer the anonymity of an online support group. Either way, reach out and then respect their wishes.
4. Don't Expect Them to "Get Over It" or "Be Their Old Selves"
Don't Say:
"Isn't it time that you move on, get over this, quit wallowing?"
Grief has no time line. It's not a two-week, two-month, or even two-year process. Closure is a myth. In fact, grief is a lifelong process and is not something that you get over. Grievers must learn to live with loss and integrate it into their new experience of the world.
"When will you be your old self again?"
The answer is "never." After a major loss, an individual is irrevocably changed. Understand that they are going through a process of intense growth and change. Be patient as they discover who they are.
(Pastor Steve: Sometimes the person has a hard time on the anniversary of the death, or on a holiday that reminds us of the loss, it is important to honor a person’s decision to spend the day reflecting and honoring the loved one)
Do Say Instead:
"I know that you move forward with your dear one's love ever present in your heart."
Just because the physical form of the person has died, does not mean that the relationship has died. A new relationship is emerging, based on love and memory and spirit. Honor the fact that they will have a continuing bond with their loved one.
"I know that you're becoming a new person and I'm here for you as you grow." How they interact with the world is different now. They are growing and you want to support that process.
Know that if your heart is open, you will find words and deeds of compassion. And when words are simply inadequate, the healing power of a heartfelt HUG cannot be underestimated.
(Pastor Steve: It is okay to feel uncomfortable and at a loss, it is important to take time to ask God for wisdom and direction to how you can respond. Also, the focus is primarily on the others feelings, so it is good to have someone to bounce ideas off and feelings you have because you want to be open to the other person, and taking care of yourself allows you to be available to them. Too many times people who are good intentioned will unload their problems on the other person because they are not aware of their own grief. Talking to a pastor or counselor about your loss is important to the healing process.
God does give us the gift of feeling compassion for others in crisis. So it is only a matter of using that gift in a way that helps the other heal. This sometimes means we have to put our own emotions on hold as we listen and support the other person. But putting on hold does not mean we ignore or deny our emotions, rather finding an appropriate place and time to process what is going on in us is important work we are all called to do. Blessings, Pastor Steve)

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