Thursday, December 31, 2009

When Someone Grieves

What do you say to someone who is grieving? ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" probably tops the list of the kinds of conversation starters that should be avoided.) And actually, there are a lot of ways we can go wrong here -- saying something that isn't appreciated by one who hurts. Even when we are trying to comfort.

But chances are, we have been, or will be, put in the position of trying to comfort someone who is experiencing a painful loss. That is an important role we all play from time to time. So, what do you say to someone who is grieving?

I often remember a story told by Joseph Bayly when I struggle to say the “right thing” to someone who is hurting. Mr. Bayly lost three children to death over the course of several years. He wrote a book called VIEW FROM A HEARSE, in which he talks about his grief. He says this about comforting those who grieve:

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he would go away. He finally did. Someone else came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat with me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

I have found Joseph Bayly’s experience to be excruciatingly typical. Both men wanted to help. Both men cared. But only one truly comforted. The difference was that one tried to make him feel better, while the other just let him feel. One tried to say the right things. The other listened. One told him it would be all right. The other shared his pain.

When put in the difficult position of comforting someone in emotional pain, sometimes what needs to be said can be said best with a soft touch or a listening ear. No words. And though at times the quieter approach has felt inadequate to me, I have come to realize that it can make a bigger difference than I may ever know.

-- Steve Goodier

Image: Lucia


Unknown said...

How true it is - often you just need a touch and NO words. That is especially true with platitudes from someone who has never experienced what you are going through - whether that is death or anything else.

suzanne said...

hopefully this helps both the person grieving and the timid sympathizer, great advise

Loren M. Gelberg-Goff said...

How hard it is for each of us to "just be". We are so used to "doing" that we feel inadequate when we are simply "being present" and allow those we are with to "just be" as well. No truer words were said or written that clearly embody the very important message "Who you are is enough". Thank you for bringing this home. All the best, Loren

Betty said...

Steve, your piece about grieving could not have been more timely. The day I read this we had just received news that the wife of a manager in our small business had succumbed to cancer. The family is very private and over the many years of her battle with the illness, our co-worker always had his game face on and had been able to successfully conceal his anguish, at least up until recent weeks when it was apparent the battle was nearly over and sadly she was slipping away.

As president, I needed to craft a brief email message to inform the staff of Tammy's passing and wanted to give them something more to help them deal with their grief and suggest how to help Tony when he returns to work. How grateful I was for your message which I included for them to consider as they pondered how to comfort their friend and colleague.

I have really appreciated Life Support over the years. And this message was such a gift. Thank you and keep up the good work.