Sorrow & Support
By Chaplain Lt. Col. David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing Chaplain
/ Published May 05, 2014
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- We have had a lot of sorrow, grief, and loss in our Wing Family lately. When this happens people ask about the best way to be supportive. Here are some lessons I've learned about helping those who grieve. They previously appeared in, "Ministry in the Valley of the Shadow," Minister Magazine, Volume XXXVI, No. 2, Summer 2013, published by the American Baptist Ministers Council, pg. 2-3.
Lesson One: Grief is universal, yet everyone's grief is unique. Make sure your support "fits."
We all grieve. Yet, each of us walks through grief personally. This is why the "Stages of Grief" aren't a start-to-finish checklist - some of us experience more anger or denial, some do not experience either to a large degree. When we support a grieving friend, we need to understand their grief as much as possible. Before we say too much we need to listen, letting them tell us (by words, feelings, or actions) what they need. This way we can truly provide the support our friends need rather than trying to force what we think they should need.
Lesson 2: Words are sometimes overrated, especially when walking with people through heavy grief and crisis
I think we all ask the same question when a friend is grieving - What should I say? The answer, especially early on, may be nothing (or very little). It is more important to be present and offer support, even though that's sometimes uncomfortable for us. We want to say something to end their pain. The reality is pain only eases with time. There are no magic words to speed the process. In the Bible story, while Job is in heavy grief his friends keep trying to explain why he's suffering. He finally tells them they'd be more helpful if they would just be quiet.
Lesson 3: People don't really expect us to fix their grief or make their trauma disappear, but they do appreciate our presence on their journey. This is especially true when the trauma is fresh, messy, and chaotic.
A counselor once told me to always remember these words: "You can't fix it." He explained that we want to end the pain of those we care for quickly, but we can't. Again, healing grief takes time and it has to be experienced. Those we comfort know that, so they won't be mad at us for not fixing their pain, but they will appreciate having trusted, close friends nearby.
Lesson 4: Teamwork is essential
Walking in someone else's grief is messy. It may even be messier than walking in our own grief. We need the partnership of others as we support those who grieve. Exercising compassion is hard work. Those of us caring for grieving friends need each other's support and care.
Father Brian Cavanaugh, in, The Sower's Seeds, retells a Chinese story of a woman whose only son died. A holy man told her to get a mustard seed from a house that had never known grief and it would ease her pain. She went to shacks and mansions and found that grief had come to each. She stayed at each place a while to offer comfort. In the end, the woman's own grief was eased because she cared for others.
My hope is we will all find and offer comfort for the grief that is part of our journey together. As we do, it will make us stronger.