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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Walking Wounded - A look inside.

With the holidays creeping up on us and decisions needing to be made not too long from as to where celebrations will be held, ect., the loss of family and the lack of closeness of remaining family has started hitting me.
(originally published 10/6/15)

An interim minister of ours--Van Williams--touched upon this subject a few weeks back.   He reminded our parishioners  about those of us who have faced losses in the past year of loved ones.  To not forget them, to keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well as in your circle.

After losing a friend and both parents since May 2014 and losing my brother just over four years ago, sometimes my head spins.  People talk about getting together with family and a certain emptiness hits.   A certain sense of 'what family?" hits me.  i.e., a sense of pointlessness about the holidays.

I've been on both sides of the equation.  I've had people around me lose their parents, some a sibling, some a friend and some a spouse.  My extended family wasn't close due to parental conflict/in-law resentment and the like.  So, I used to be able to 'brag' about never having felt a close loss.  I empathized for friends who'd lost parents, etc., but I never really got it.  I understood the general idea of loss, but emotionally, I didn't connect with it.

There are a few observations I've seen in others and I've introspected on about the close losses.  Some words from the distant past from a coach as well.



  • If you've never had a similar loss to someone, it is best to not say "I understand".    It can feel a little hollow.  It is usually meant well, but it can almost ring dimissive of the level of hurt.   My high school track coach gave some insightful words on it.  He said it was best not to say "I understand" when you couldn't possibly.  Instead he suggested, "I couldn't possibly understand what you are going through, but seeing your hurt makes me hurt for you."  In other words, empathy.  You are acknowledging your limitations and not inadvertently being dismissive.  But, at the same time, you are saying, I hurt for you.  Saying something like that means more than a cliche.

  • In our society, it seems like we spend a minute or two mourning the losses before we are required to "go back to work", "move on", "get back to it".  If the loss is sudden, it almost feels surreal.  It's like you've had your time to mourn, now we need you to get back to it.   I suppose in a way, it has to be that way, but in a way the needs of life/society almost feel like a cold slap in the face when you are saying, "wait, wait, I'm not finished weeping inside".

  • Dealing with death can be a touchy subject for those around the one who has had the loss.  They often don't know what to say.  There is often a discomfort for them.   They are usually nowhere near the place you are.  Their life's concerns/interests are about a million miles away from yours.  It may feel like for them that they are dealing with a baby monkey, whereas you are dealing with an 800lb gorilla.  When they don't seem to want to deal, try to be kind to them as a lot of times, they just don't know what to do or say.   While you are clearly dealing with the bigger loss, they are dealing with a loss of sorts--a loss of a lighter relationship with you.

  • To those who don't know how to deal with a loved one who has had a close loss a few pieces of advice.
    • Check in from time to time with the love one.  Just ask how they are doing.  Sometimes, the one in mourning won't need to lay down their heavy heart on you.  Sometimes they just need to know that someone cares.  
    • Don't feel guilty that you aren't comfortable dealing with the one with the heavy heart.  Sometimes, you just aren't there yet or have never been there.  A few moments of discomfort dealing with the heavy-hearted person may make all the difference in the world.  Just try to think past what discomfort you might have and think what is the Godly thing to do.  Maturity isn't always liking, but doing anyway.  In other words, if you do the comforting out of obedience, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  Also, it can give you a sense that of wellness doing the right thing.
    • Please don't just say, call me if you need anything or I am there for you.  It would be best to offer help up front if possible and/or to just make a point to check in. Often times the grieving person doesn't want to reach out.
      • The grieving person's sense of self might be off.  They don't want to feel like a burden on those around them--even when it completely understandable that they should be able to lean on others.
      • Sometimes, they have not processed their grief and/or are still in shock.  Sometimes, they don't feel like opening the door to their heart.  A natural extension of this is not wanting to reach out to others.  Reaching out to others may feel like to them exposing their hurt.   Their heart may be heavy and they may just feel like shutting down.   Knowing how difficult it can be for those who are not gifted/experienced at dealing with people with a heavy heart, it may seem to you that well the grieving person doesn't want anyone around or anyone to reach out.  But, sometimes that is just the time.  
        • When someone is sick as a dog and could use someone to watch the kids, a bowl of soup, or just someone to give them their meds and something to drink, we don't think twice about it, even when they ask us not to worry.
        • Depression related to grieving can be just as heavy.  They may not feel like doing anything or asking for help, but that doesn't mean they couldn't use a kind word, an offer of help, an ear to listen or just a break from the grind.

Life is a learning experience and until you've been in another's shoes, it is often difficult to know the road they are/have traveled.  Reasonable people shouldn't expect you to 'get it' when dealing with circumstances you haven't faced.  However, they might reasonably expect you to try.  I guess the best piece of advice is to think a little bit about how you'd like others to relate to you in that time and give of yourself that way.   Sometimes being a 'friend' to your loved one just means trying.

Thanks for reading my blog.

-- Rich