WHEN GRIEF RETURNS
By DANNY MINTON
My wife and I drove slowly home in silence as the snow steadily fell in the early morning hours of February 6. The streets were covered with the white dusting of the snow, and the roads had already become slippery. I look out the windows this morning and see the snow covering the ground and my mind slips back to those early morning hours when it snowed on February 6, 2014. We had taken our oldest son to the hospital during the night and he unexpectedly passed away due to a pulmonary embolism in the early morning hours of February 6 as the snow began to fall outside. Today, February 6, 2020, with snow on the ground, a moment of grief returned.
As I sit here this morning, there’s a little sadness as I think back on that time and the loss my wife and I endured that morning. There are still times that pictures or songs or little things bring back a memory and a tear. We’ve lost our parents, relatives, and close friends over the years, but I can say losing a child has been the hardest pain to carry.
Grief is an emotion that we all face in our lives. Memories of those who have been close to us will remain over the years. The tears may gradually fade, depression will give way to “life goes on,” and we’ll move on with our lives. However, when it’s someone you love that passes, there is still a place in our hearts that are scarred and ache a little, sometimes when we least expect it.
I sat in worship one morning and scanned those who sat in front of me. As my eyes slowly moved from one side to the other, my mind would tell me they’ve lost a child, he lost his wife, she lost her husband, or they lost a mother or father. There were dozens of people in that room who had and were still going through the loss of someone they loved. There are times when I will see people cry when a certain song reminds them of their loved one or when something is said that brings back a memory. Grief never really goes away, it lingers within our hearts, making itself known every once in a while, reminding us of our love for someone who is no longer around.
One of the most difficult things, however, is for those who want to respond to their friends and loved ones who are grieving. What do you say? What do you do? How can you be there for them?
One of the best things we can do is just be there for someone. I had a friend who lost a child and had gone outside grieving alone, leaning on his fence, staring out across the field. As he stood there, a friend came up and stood beside him, not saying a word. He remained for several minutes in silence, then turned patted him on the back and walked away. That silence and that touch meant more to him than most words that had been spoken.
As we grasp for things to say, often our words do not bring peace and comfort, but just the opposite. Some of the things that we say, we may mean well, but are not helpful or comforting. Sometimes the best thing is just to say, “I’m so sorry for you,” and give them a hug. Sitting in silence, bringing a meal, or doing little things are often the most comforting. A hug, an “I love you,” or a quiet moment, can mean the world to those who are hurting.
Here are a few things that we say, in my opinion, that we should steer away from even though we mean well.
“It was God’s will.” Maybe God did have a hand in it or maybe not. Saying this can, at times, lead people to be angry at God for taking their loved ones. It opens up the question of “Why?” “Why did He choose my child?” “Why did he choose my husband or wife?” “Why did He cause this to happen?”
“They are in a better place now.” Sure, but I want them here with me! People understand this. They know Heaven is better than anything here, but we still want them with us. We sometimes feel like, “Sure, they’re okay, but what about my emptiness?”
“I know how you feel.” I think that sometimes when we lose a loved one, we feel we understand exactly the pain others are going through. Although we understand the pain, each person feels differently depending on the situation. I felt differently when our son died than when my father or mother passed away. Each one touched me differently. Yes, we know they are feeling pain, but we don’t know exactly how they feel.
“It’s time to move on.” “It’s time to get over it.” This often comes months after a death. Some people have a hard time letting go of certain items that belonged to the one they lost. You know what? That’s okay. Who cares if they want to keep things around. It’s their way of handling their loss. Time usually helps people move on, but there is no time frame. We still have reminders of our son who died six years ago. He was part of our lives for forty years, but he’s still part of our hearts.
“Is there anything you need?” “Let me know if I can help in any way.” “I’m praying for you.” Okay, these three are great, but only if you mean them. Don’t tell someone you are praying for them if you’re not. Don’t tell someone you are there for them unless you are willing to carry it through. Empty promises may make us feel better, but if we don’t carry them through, they don’t help the grieving person one iota.
Psychologists say that there are certain steps of grieving; shock or denial, pain, anger or bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This sounds logical, but from experience, they don’t come in that order, and they do not necessarily happen over time. In the case of our son, they all happened to me at the same time! Now, every so often, the pain will pop its head into my life or a moment of depression, and tears will pass by my way.
Just remember, grief over the loss of someone you love lingers and may never fully go away. As I tell people, the wounds heal, but the scars remain. Every now and then, something happens that irritates the scar, and the pain returns momentarily. The best thing we can do for people who are grieving is to encourage them by just being there for them. It’s not as much your words, but your presence that helps those you care for make it through those rough days.
The snow will melt just as it did six years ago. Life will go on. The scars that were hurting today will heal back over. I am thankful that I have had friends over the years that understand without even saying a word. I’m always reminded of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together, they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NASB) With my God and my friends, my three strands are both complete and strong.
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ.