In my last post, I shared some thoughts on the difficulty we have allowing ourselves to grieve. If you haven’t read it, might want to start HERE. As I’ve spent the last few days walking through a very close friend passing away, I’ve also noticed that at times we have (possibly even more) difficulty walking with others in grief.
I very purposefully did not call my wife on Monday to tell her that our lifelong friend Mike had died. She was traveling on business. I did not want her carrying that weight alone. I also didn’t want her driving down the road all by herself with that heartbreak and burden. So I came home as soon as I could to tell her in person. It was hard. We cried. And then we told our kids. My kids knew Mike, but they didn’t KNOW Mike. He wasn’t someone they saw frequently or had a relationship with like we did. As I told the both of them individually, it was apparently clear: I need to teach my kids how to walk with others in grief.
My daughter is overflowing with compassion. When my dad passed away, Libby wept. Yes, she was sad that Papa was gone, but she was most broken over the idea of her Nana being alone. There’s a HUGE heart in there! But she didn’t have a filter or context this week for Mom & Dad grieving over their friend.
My son wants everything and everyone to be right in the world. He wants no one’s feathers to be ruffled and wants peace on earth and in every relationship. When you’re hurt, he wants you to be healed and well. When someone’s upset - especially his momma - he wants things fixed. So when Morgan came in from the back porch, clearly upset and crying, and started trying to cook dinner, he insisted that she “just come sit down on the sofa and relax!” Witnessing all of this, I began to realize: I need to teach my kids how to walk with others in grief.
For a moment, travel back about 6 hours with me on that Monday.
Not long after I got the phone call about Mike, as I was trying to avoid my grief (which I admitted in my last post), I began trying to work on my sermon for this Sunday. I tried to study. I tried to outline. I tried to focus. Honestly, I was just trying to remember what I was doing. I quickly became aware of the fact that I was in shock and there would be no focusing today. Or probably tomorrow. Not long after this I found myself in Chad’s office. I shared with him what had happened. As I did, there were 2 very specific things he said to me:
- I am so sorry to hear this.
- Is there anything I can do?
These statements may seem very trivial to us. It may feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things to utter these words to someone. But the truth is, if you mean them - if you’re truly burdened for your friend, family member, neighbor, or coworker’s grief AND you truly would physically, tangibly do something if you could to alleviate their burden - then those words mean something. When Chad asked me, “Is there anything I can do?”, without a moment’s hesitation I asked him, “Can you preach for me on Sunday?” He said absolutely. Then he prayed with me. He lifted my burden.
Now, back to the dinner table that night.
As we sat down to eat the meal that my son didn’t want his mother to cook while she was upset, I shared this with my kids: "I need to share something with you guys. You’re not in trouble and I’m not rebuking you or anything like that. But I realized earlier that it’s my job as your Dad to teach you how to respond to other people’s grief. When someone you love is hurting or grieving - when you hear that someone you love has lost someone close to them - there are really only 2 things you need to say to that person: I am so sorry to hear this (&) Is there anything I can do? This doesn’t mean you can bring someone back from the dead or make the hurt go away. But it lets them know that you’re there, you care, and you will carry the burden with them.” I went on to share with them how Chad had responded to me earlier in the day. It was such a beautiful and powerful example. I believe they understood.
Friends, we don’t have all the answers. We can’t bring people back or make the hurt go away. But we can carry the burden with our brothers and sisters. There is an old Jewish practice called Sitting Shiva. I won’t go into it in great detail, but over the seven days of observing grief and mourning in Judaism, there is great value placed on simply being there with the grieving. Just being present. Possibly even just sitting. No talking. No thinking you need to have all the answers. Just being present. Sitting Shiva.
This is very, very hard for us.
Just being there.
We want to fix things. We want to make it OK. We want to have all the answers.
We can’t. And most often, we don’t.
That’s not what the grieving need. We don’t need answers or fixing or everything to be OK. What we need is to know that someone else is walking with us through the confusion and the brokenness and the pain. Maybe not talking. Just walking. Just being present.
Lord, help us to have the wisdom to know how to walk alongside one another through the valley of the shadow of death. Help us to be OK with only being able to offer you and offer ourselves. Let that be enough. Walk with us as we walk with one another in grief. Amen.