People should never have to suffer loss alone. Yet, how do you comfort those who hurt? I think that offering genuine comfort to another is one of the most important things we can do for others. And sometimes one of the most difficult.
Experts tell us, among other things, to simply say, "I'm sorry" or "I love you." They warn us against trying explain away the death or loss; against theologizing or philosophizing about it. Often, the less said, the better, so long as you are present, you care and you listen.
American poet Edgar Guest told of a neighbor by the name of Jim Potter. Mr. Potter ran the drug store in the neighborhood where Edgar Guest lived. Their relationship was cordial, if not deep. Mostly they smiled and exchanged greetings when they happened to see one another.
One tragic night the poet's first-born child died. He felt crushed and overcome with grief. Several days after the death, Guest had reason to go to the drug store run by his neighbor. When he entered, Jim Potter motioned for him to come behind the counter.
"Eddie," he said, "I really can't express to you the great sympathy that I have for you at this time. All I can say is that I am terribly sorry, and if you need for me to do anything, you can count on me."
Many years later Edgar Guest reflected on that encounter. He said, "Just a person across the way -- a passing acquaintance. Jim Potter may have long since forgotten that moment when he extended his hand to me in sympathy, but I shall never forget it -- never in all my life. To me it stands out like the silhouette of a lonely tree against a crimson sunset."
As the poet thought back to that unhappy time, one vivid memory of a brief and genuine moment of comfort still lingered years later. It was a moment that meant everything to a grieving father.
Those who comfort others bring no less than a piece of heaven to earth.
-- Steve Goodier