by Jennie Smith
I’ll admit it…I’ve lived a pretty charmed life. My parents stayed together. We weren’t rich, but had everything we needed. I went to Christian school, and I experienced very little tragedy in my youth. I was in my 30’s before I even experienced the death of a grandparent. While I have felt the loss of friends, coworkers and extended family, I have not had to face the deep grief of losing someone close to me until my recent past.
This year has been especially painful with the loss of my uncle, my husband’s aunt, and my grandma all within a span of 9 months. In these past few weeks, my thoughts have been swirling on the topic of grief. I’m missing my grandma desperately. I’ve never started a school year without her. She was a great prayer warrior and she would always fervently pray for me as I started the school year. She would pray earnestly as we took the high school kids on retreat – calling me and wanting to know which kids to pray for specifically, what messages to uphold. She was my rock at the start of every school year and she’s not here. And my heart hurts.
I want to talk about it with the people who surround me. But I find myself falling into the pit that so many in our culture are trapped by: is it okay to mention your pain? Can you talk to others about their grief? I long to know how my family members are holding up, but I fear that just my asking may set them back or that my question may somehow increase their pain. That seems so ridiculous, but it is the way my generation seems to approach grief.
It dawned on me that as a society we tend to treat someone who grieves in the same way we treat someone who has surgery. When the surgery first happens, their wound is fresh in our mind. We visit them in the hospital, we bring them food, and minister to them in a significant way. Once their wound heals, we move on and don’t think to ask how that particular area is anymore. Once the funeral is over, it seems that we are expected to get back to work, move on, move past. People are even afraid to ask how another is doing for fear of bringing tears or unwanted emotions.
Jen Pollock Michel in her article “Hashtags Won’t Heal Us” sums it up well: “As a culture, we tend to think of grief as healthiest when abbreviated and restrained, as seemingly quick and efficient as other aspects of our fast-forward, high-tech lives.” However, it wasn’t that long ago that it was culturally dictated to wear mourning clothes for a specified length of time. Everyone could visually see that a wound existed in the heart of a person.
So in our culture, how does one “mourn with those who mourn” as the Scriptures ask us to do (Romans 12:15)? First, know that it is okay to ask a friend how he or she is doing. We may have to overcome a nervous spirit, but it does mean so much that someone is thinking of your pain and cares enough to ask. If that is too difficult, write a note – in a card or even a Facebook message – that simply says “I’m thinking of you. I know your pain doesn’t just disappear after the funeral is over. You are on my mind and I’m here for you.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person lost. It is good to know their life is not forgotten. If there is some special memory you have or you appreciate something they did or said, share it with your friend. I love it when someone shares about my grandma – it reminds me that her life was meaningful and that she touched many people.
Recently a friend and I were in a deep conversation and she asked me “What would your grandma have told you?” It made me cry – but it meant so much to have my friend bring my grandma’s wisdom into our conversation.
Even though a grieving person doesn’t wear mourning clothes, they still feel the pain of their loss and could use our understanding and sympathy – long after the funeral is over. Is there someone you could reach out to today?
Michel, Jen Pollock. “Hashtags Won’t Heal Us.” Christianity Today. April 29, 2013.