Friday, June 3, 2011

Encountering God Through Grieving with Another

I visited with an old friend recently. We reminisced, caught up on our children’s doings and each other. Like most of us, her life has been checkered with sorrow, including the untimely death of her father of her two daughters.

We were silent for a long moment, thinking of our shared past. She said finally in a resigned voice, “You just don’t know what life’s going to throw at you; you just do what you have to do.”

I replied, “You’ve certainly had your share of suffering, and losing Pat was probably the worst.” Even though he died nearly 20 years ago, and she has been happily remarried for awhile, her blue eyes glistened as big tears welled up and overflowed. In a shaky voice she whispered, “And I still cry over that one.”

The death of one’s mate is not easily “gotten over.” I have not experienced that loss, but I’ve known many women who have. “My husband died” is a phrase stuffed so full of multiple emotions it’s a wonder it doesn’t burst wide open. Which is similar to how some widows feel in the days, months, even years after laying a husband to rest.

We who are on the outside looking in on this life struggle try to comfort and console: we deliver casseroles, pound cake and iced tea; we offer sympathies and clichĂ©s. Then after the “proper” amount of time has passed, we’re concerned if the bereaved woman is still grieving. We wonder about her if she wants only to talk of her loss when we visit. We try to involve her in activities and events (potlucks at church, a movie, a trip, a part-time job, etc.) to blot out the pain. If prematurely presented, these things are only a bandage covering the wound for a time. She still sorrows. At this point, after we’ve suffered long with her; after we’ve given all the comfort we can call up; after we’ve offered wise advice, even quoted Scripture, do we now, in a crevice of our minds, think: Okay, it’s time to get on with your life! Enough! I confess I did when I first confronted this type of pain. No more.

Mourning is a complicated process that cannot be shortened by a few well-meaning/chosen words and actions. It cannot be compressed into a Reader’s Digest version. In the days of the movie, "Gone with the Wind," a widow was given a full year to mourn a life turned upside down. Not such a bad idea – no expectations put on her, or early deadlines issued – the widow’s black clothing prescribed how others should treat her as she recovered.

Maybe we want so badly for the veil of sorrow to lift because we are terrifically uncomfortable and nervous when faced with the grief of another. True, it’s soggy, sad, and frankly, not much fun. Perhaps a popular statement is in order here: It’s not about me - it's not about us. It’s about the woman who's suffered the loss of her mate. It's the supreme act of love to grieve with that widow, offering no platitudes and not attempting to cut short the tears. To listen heartfully every time as she remembers, agonizes, and/or worries about the future. It’s part of the healing process. Include her in your life, invite her to accompany you to whatever, but if she declines, accept it graciously. And continue to include and invite (not badgering) until she’s ready to accept.

It’s not about me, or us; it’s about her.

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