Friday, February 27, 2015

on grief ... it's ok to eat a box of donuts

I've gotten lots of feedback on yesterday's post, and I am humbled by how many of you took the time to read it.

Many people have said that they don't know what to do what to say how to be around people who are grieving deeply.

I've learned a few things along the way, taught by the grievers. About what's helpful and what's not. Maybe it will help you too.


* I'm [bringing you dinner, taking your kids to practice, coming to clean your bathroom] on Tuesday. What time is best?

Not helpful:

* Call me if there's anything I can do to help.

Why? While this is a sincere offer, we must realize that our friend will not do this. She cannot. She doesn't even know what she needs. You might. If you do, offer them a specific thing. They might say no, and if they do, respect that. But in my experience they usually say yes.


* "It's nice to see you."

Not helpful:

* "How are you?"

Why? They're terrible. Wretched. Lost, Broken. This question invites the lies of "Oh I'm fine" or "God is good." Because they assume you don't really want to know how they are, or that you can't handle it.


* Can I [take you to lunch, bring you your favorite coffee]?

Not helpful:

* You really need to get out of the house - it's not good that you're isolating.

Why? With that kind of statement we are telling them how WE think they should be grieving, and we are pushing them away with our words. But be ok, don't get offended or your feelings hurt if they say no.


* Talk about their loved one. Say their name. Recount a memory you have or remind them of a story they told you once about their loved one. Funny stories are good.

Not helpful:

* Don't mention their name. Avoid "the subject."

Why? There will be no new memories so they need to be reminded. And they might learn something new. Tears will turn to laughter and back to tears. And it's healing.


* Cry with them.  Listen to whatever they have to say. Just listen.

Not helpful:

* Detach from their pain, don't interrupt or even respond to what they are telling you unless they ask you to.

Why? By being willing to enter into their pain, they feel safe and loved. When we avoid the reality of how they are feeling, or try to "fix" whatever they're telling you, THEY detach from you. This one is hard. It is expensive to you, emotionally. But they need it. Be ragged with them.


* I am so sorry. I love you." Be willing to sit with them in silence. Awkwardly.

Not helpful:

* Avoiding them or using a whole bunch of words.

Why? They need you, just you. Not your words. When we avoid them because we don't know what to say, they feel rejected and alone.


* It's ok! I bet those donuts tasted great! Or, Hey it's ok that you spent the day in bed! You must be so tired.

Not helpful:

* GASP. Frown. Tell them that overeating or hiding or whatever is unhealthy and making them avoid their grieving process.

Why? That kind of reaction heaps more guilt on top of the guilt they're already feeling because of the thing they did or didn't do. You know what? Eating donuts or sleeping all day is no big deal. [Side note: If they start doing [that thing] all day every day, that is different, and a gentle and loving conversation could be helpful. But don't be harsh, and don't judge. Because everyone grieves differently and who are we to say donuts are a bad thing anyway? I love them. And I've been known to eat a whole box myself.]


* Remember how Jesus was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief? You are too. He knows and is grieving with you. [Period. Don't expect a response.]

Not helpful:

* "God works all thing together for good." or "Don't be anxious for anything." Etc.

Why? While they know that what you're saying is true, because God said it after all, it just sounds like platitudes and more telling them how they should feel. That they should be feeling thankful. And they can't. Yes. Eventually they might know this truth deeply and fully, but there is nothing good right now. Worst ever? "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." My turn to gasp - really? Never say that. Never.


* Be available but wise and discerning when you visit.

Not helpful:

* Clinging, smothering, staying and staying and staying. 

Why? They are tired. They feel like they have to "entertain" you, to be "hospitable." Most likely their mind is wandering and they are uncomfortable after a short time. If they ask you to stay, by all means do it. But if not, keep it short.


* Hang around. Don't smother, but continue to reach out, whether they can respond or not. Remember the anniversary of their loved one's death and reach out on that day. Bonus points if you remember their birthday!

Not helpful:

* Disappearing after the funeral.

Why? That's when the real grieving begins. The shock wears off, the crazy of getting things in place for the events is over, and suddenly they're alone. The texts the cards the calls the visits stop coming just when they might need them most. 


* Be yourself with them. What was the nature of your relationship before? Do that. Be wise and thoughtful, but be brave enough to be yourself.

Not helpful:

* Acting weird. 

Why? You think they need you to be different, they think you are acting weird. They need you to be normal, because the normal you is the one they love.


* Forgive them for the crazy things they do or say when they are in the depths of grief.

Not helpful:

* Being offended or disappearing because of the crazy.

Why? Easy. They can't help it. They don't know what they're doing or saying and probably won't even remember it. They don't mean to hurt you. Let it go

PLEASE HEAR ME ON THIS: I am not judging you. I am not telling you you're doing it wrong. You may know exactly what your friend needs. If you do, DO THAT. My only intent is to help anyone who doesn't know what to do, what to say, how to be.

Love them. They need you.

Until next time,

Thursday, February 26, 2015

on grief ... what planet are you living on?

I see that I last posted on December 19th. About the difficult painful dark season I had been in, and about how I was beginning to see the light again.

But since then.

I've landed on Planet Grief. Since the first of the year there have been losses upon losses, grief upon grief. A cousin, a friend of my daughter's, a best friend of my husband's. All lives lived short.

But this. This wrecked me. 

My dear friend Elaine lost her beautiful daughter Emilie on January 6th. To suicide. 22 years old.

I didn't know Emilie well, but I know my friend well, and I know enough about Emilie and her brave fight. Enough to be wrecked.

It's not right. It's not fair.

The week before Emilie died, Elaine and I had breakfast together. We talked about being "broken open" - being willing to be authentic and vulnerable with our pain and brokenness. About how we think grief and pain paralyzes other people, so that we've been taught to hide it. Behind "oh I'm fine" and "God is good." We say that when we are asked "How are you?" because mostly they don't really want to hear the truth - that I'm wrecked. They mean something more like "Hey good to see you!" so we don't tell the truth.

We've been conditioned, taught even, to hide our pain.

And we, Elaine and I, think this: That we need to be reconditioned, to be retaught, so that we are real with our hurt places.

It's dangerous, that. Because some won't understand it, some will be uncomfortable with it, and some will be paralyzed by our pain to the point that they walk away from us.

But those of us that remain can help each other through the hurt the grief the pain the healing the inevitable changing.

That's what we talked about.

And five days later, Emilie died.

And this happened to Elaine:

"A catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity. It is not like the literal amputation of a limb; rather, it is more like the amputation of the self from the self."
 ("A Grace Disguised" - Jerry L. Sittser)

A part of her self has been amputated. Not a reversible loss like a broken arm, from which she would heal. Amputation cannot be healed - it is permanent.

"The results are permanent, the impact incalculable, the consequences cumulative. Each new day forces one to face some new and devastating dimension of the loss." ("A Grace Disguised")

She is living on Planet My Baby Died.

And I'm living on Planet My Friend's Baby Died.

Is it the same planet? No. Her grief is unique - like her thumbprint. But so is mine, and somewhere we must be related because parts of our thumbprint look a little bit alike. Our planets are in close proximity, and we can visit each other.

But both are far away from Planet Earth.

On Planet Earth, other people's grief can be detached from, or talked at, or a fix can be attempted from afar.

Grief is diluted and sterilized on Planet Earth.

When we are suffering, grieving the impossible, our vision is narrowed to a painfully bright slice of reality. We are ragged, not detached. We cry and yell and our noses run and there are probably lots of germs around us because of it.

And we are exquisitely, painfully aware of the Human Condition. The reality slice we live in makes it clear that this world is truly not our home, that it is dirty and wrecked and WE WERE NEVER MEANT FOR THIS. God never meant for this.

Enter sin.

And look at the mess.

I have a choice, you know. I can detach and return to Planet Earth and push it all away and pretend like I'm fine and deny and just keep moving, keep moving, don't think or feel or go to any of those messy ragged places. Because, frankly, it's costly to live on a planet that's in rotation with Planet My Baby Died.

But I choose to enter in. And stay.

Because she needs me and I need her. Because we're being real and vulnerable and authentic and ragged. We're crying and cussing and laughing and shaking our heads. Together.

And we remember Jesus. That He was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. There was so much MORE to Him than just sorrow and grief, but it IS part of Him. Elaine is a woman of sorrows, and right now the sorrow is all she can see, but I can see the "more" of her. The beautiful parts of her that remain, despite the amputation. And I will remind her that they are there until she can see them again.

She is hanging on a cross, next to Jesus. He sees her. He loves her. He grieves for her and with her. And I will keep reminding her of that as well, when she can't see.

Incredibly, in the midst of the unimaginable, she is teaching me. And others. Ministering to me from her pain, showing me what it looks like to live broken open.

Ashes are being exchanged for beauty.

Emilie was brave, and broken.

Elaine is broken, and brave.

Where are you living? Are you on Planet Alone in My Pain? Be brave and find someone who will hold your brokenness gently in her hands. Be broken open.

Are you on Planet Earth? Consider attaching, rather than detaching, to a sufferer you love. Consider inviting them to be broken open with you.

I leave you with this, from Emilie's funeral:

Until next time,