Like most afflictions in life, the loss of a loved one is never easy to deal with. Although coming to terms with the absence is the eventual goal, the journey there may be even more important, a trek that is paved with gut-wrenching, heartbreaking feelings that most identify as grief. Although difficult to experience, grief is part of a healthy diet, nourishing us back to our former well-being. Avoiding it or shortening it before its time deprives us of the nutritional healing it brings. The grieving process, the steps needed to come to terms with the death of another, cannot be rushed or skipped, or we run the risk of further complications.
I recently learned that a local middle school, after the unexpected suicide of one of their classmates, encouraged students to attend services, counseling, and bereavement meetings, only to be rushed back to class in two days’ time. The students, of course, deeply missed their friend, and the school didn’t acknowledge the loss beyond what they already had done in those couple of days. They felt they had done their job. So, the students hadn’t really grieved it fully and processed the death of their classmate, a process that takes time. Thus, feelings of abandonment set in, and as they are now graduating high school five years later, they still hurt deeply about their loss. What the school hadn’t considered was that they had shut down the students’ grieving process, a necessary part of their lives, when what they should have been doing was serving up a healthy amount of empathy and understanding.
The grief process is a natural reflex to an unnatural act. As humans, we were never created with the intent to die, so most likely, we were also not created with the ability to cope with death, hence it takes time to heal. Grief affects almost everyone at some point, but when it happens to other people, as Christians we can help people through the process. Although grief manifests itself physically (weakness, aches, headaches), emotionally (anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt), socially (isolation and uncharacteristic behaviors), and spiritually (questioning one’s beliefs and faith), and can last anywhere from 6 to 18 months after the loss, the easily determined countermeasure that meets the needs of all of these symptoms comes down to one simple serving task: being there.
Nothing works better in helping others through the grieving process than spending lots of time with them. Christ sets forth His example with the model in Psalm 34.18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” God’s response in our time of grief is to be closer to us, as closeness brings comfort. Knowing that God is walking with us through our time of loss helps us in overcoming the abandonment issues we feel during grief. In addition to the amount of comfort that God provides, we should follow His example and serve up our support to those who grieve through our close proximity to them.
Surrounding loved ones with our presence is the best approach to helping them through grief. Comfort is found in having other people around, as we feel that we are not alone when people are with us, going through the process alongside us. Like the Jewish tradition of Shiva, which is practiced by having family members stay for a week in the home of the deceased and just sit with the immediate family, our constantly being with those who mourn brings ease and healing.
This ancient practice hearkens back to earlier years, even to the time of the death of Lazarus. “Many of the Jewish people of the region had come to Martha and Mary to console them” (John 11.19) when their brother Lazarus died, and Jesus came soon after, as well. They all knew that great comfort is found in others, as during the grieving process, we feel alone, abandoned, and hopeless. Sometimes, comfort can come in the form of a stranger, if that stranger has been through a similar situation, hence the presence of bereavement groups. When a Delaware pastor lost his teenage son to a car accident years ago, his wife received comfort from a call in the middle of the night from a Midwest stranger who previously had similar circumstances. Surrounding the bereaved with hopeful people doesn’t cure the issue, but it brings much needed healing that takes root. Our presence and our reaching out shows that we care.
In times of loss, knowing that we are not alone allows the process to move towards a time of healing. When we see others grieving, it is important to surrounded them with others. Had the school system spent more time working with the students in helping them through the process, many today might not necessarily be at ease with what happened, but would most definitely be at peace. It is this peace that we can introduce to those who grieve by simply being there. Whether sharing a meal, a night out, or just sitting quietly together, the therapeutic result of basic human connection and interaction nurtures grief and helps the person process the loss. By answering the call to reach out to the grieving, we are doing His work by serving others and allowing a much-needed process to thrive so that a time of healing can grow forth from it, bringing peace to a place where there was none. Amen.