Guilt can complicate the grieving process and even extend it.
At the end of the concert I noticed the gentleman sitting beside me had a sweatshirt on indicating he was from the same state I grew up in. So I asked him what part he was from. As it turned out he was living not more than 30 minutes from where I grew up.
Early in the conversation he made it known that his daughter had died. He and his wife had consequently moved to their present home to be near her grave. I later learned that this all had happened over 5 years earlier. As I listened he unfolded his pain. A week before the daughter’s fatal car wreck she had been raped and the dad felt he could have done something to prevent it. Now his guilt was keeping the grieving process very much alive. I encouraged him to find someone he could talk it through with. He assured me a local pastor was available.
Listening well to the grieving can often aid in your ability to help them heal by watching for other issues that could be enhancing their grief.
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Sometimes the best way a person is helped when going through a loss is to look to a higher Power. This means that NOTHING you or I say can help the same way.
Harold S. Kushner, upon revising messages from the 23rd Psalm in his book, The Lord is My Shepherd expresses it in practical terms. ‘When something bad happened to me, I turned to my friends for support, for the reassurance that I did not deserve this fate? Some were wonderful, caring, supportive friends. But some people on whom I counted turned out to be false friends. They were not, or maybe could not be, there for me. They could not nourish me emotionally as I needed to be…I needed them to bring light into my darkness, to banish the gloom that enveloped me, but they did not know how to do that. Some were so intimidated by what had happened to me that they couldn’t look at me without worrying that something similar might happen to them. Some stayed away because they felt inadequate. They didn’t know what to say. It bothered them to see me suffer…They all had their reasons for what they did, but I felt alone and rejected in the valley of the shadow. The only thing that kept me going, the only thing…was my faith in God, my faith that when I cried out, God heard me…When I felt alone and abandoned, I prayed and I had this astonishing feeling that I was no longer alone…The Psalmist concluded, ‘God, thank You for being there…Thank You for nourishing me with Your presence when so many others could not help me.”
It is possible that our feeble attempts to help those who have lost something or someone dear to them can never really reach the deepest part of their need.
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Helping someone who has experienced a loss may take commitment that goes beyond a “word” or single act.
Following the loss of her first husband, Judith struggled with keeping life decisions on course. She not only had lost her husband but still had the duties of the home and the care of 4 young boys. Three couples in her circle of friends responded by forming a committee to help her with life decisions relating to her family and finances. This practical help became the stabilizer her life needed most. She was able to get help from her advisory council for several years.
Not all aids for the bereaved need continue for years. However, we do need to think beyond just offering one time helps. Again, relief for grief is not a quick fix but acknowledgement of the pain and support for the process whether emotional or physical in nature.
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Any loss due to death is a difficult experience. Often, one good way to help people process this type of grief is to assist them in validating the life of the one gone.
I saw a great idea to aid this at a memorial service I attended recently. As an insert in the memorial service bulletin, a separate half sheet of paper was provided. It was blank except for the title “The Gift of Memories”. During the service an announcement was given and a few minutes of silence provided for attenders to write something about the deceased for the family to have and read later. I observed many people filling it out.
Another very helpful suggestion would for you to offer to assisted the bereaved put together a photo slide show, photo album or scrapbook about the one they have lost. This suggestion can help even people who may not have been only the “immediate” relationship (ie. Spouse), but also others who loved them.
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The pain of grieving a loss never really goes away. It simply becomes a part of you.
I experienced this truth yesterday at the memorial service of a friend who died in his 30s. Of course, I was saddened for the families’ loss at the outset of the service but wasn’t totally prepared for how the events of that time would affect me. Twice during that celebration my tears flowed freely. It was the times Luke, his 10-11 year old son, cried openly. As I watched and heard him miss his dad I felt his pain from deep inside.
I reflected as to why this response came from me. Two possibilities came to mind. First, one of my sons was 10-11 years old when I told him his mom had died and held him on my lap for a time of sobbing. However, my second option is what really took place. I was that 10-11 year old boy 53 years ago. My dad had died suddenly in his 30’s and it was ME that truly had experienced what Luke showed yesterday. Watching him brought back that part of me that had hurt similarly so long ago. It was a part of me…down deep. And it was OK.
So, it behooves us to realize the reality of grief, deal with it properly and help those we know to do the same.
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