Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Community of Compassion

When someone we love dies, we are left with great structures that are now hollow of life. Memories avalanche down around us, and our dreams for what might have been lie scattered on the floor.

In our struggle to survive a death, we need a community to help us through grief. If left on our own, we would curl up in the corner until our hearts desiccated into a walnut. We need people to help us crack grief’s nuts open.

We need the compassion of people. Yet many people do not know what to say to help those who are grieving, so you see the problem. People will send cards, flowers and well wishes in the first month. They will bring food, and then go back to their busy lives. We need some people to hang around.

The On-Call People
Always available, day or night

A friend of my wife’s parents lost his wife a year ahead of me. He let me know what I could expect in the months after my wife’s death. He calmed my panic when grief went on for longer than I expected and I was worried that I wasn’t grieving right.

A couple, who were both friends, told me that I could call them at any time. What made this touching was that they were dealing with brain cancer, yet they kept offering to do things with me until I finally accepted. We found strength in sharing our struggles.

Some of my friends had lost a husband, a brother, or both parents. They kept encouraging me to talk about what grief was doing today.

Although my faith community didn’t know what to say for an out-of-sequence death, its members provided a foundation of acceptance, encouragement and support.

Nature had long been a place of renewal for me. Now it became a sanctuary whenever grief at home became too much. The wilderness also reminded me that I was part of something far greater than my individual life.

The Occasional People
Those who check in on us now and then

There were most of my friends, as well as friends of Evelyn, some that I barely knew, who brought food and sat down and listened to me share. They collectively kept the river of grief flowing and slowly replaced grief with their compassion. That being said, some friends couldn't deal with it and kept their distance.

The Long Range People
After you’ve started piecing together your new life, figuring out how grief is going to be part of it

Online grief communities, like Refuge in Grief, encouraged me to explore grief with unflinching honesty, especially the raw experiences of the first year. Writers among them inspired me with ideas of how to explore the dimensions of my grief through writing.

I discovered rites that expressed what words could not, especially Jewish ones for the first week and the first month. Now I’m meeting people of other faiths who share what their traditions do to help them grieve, especially Buddhism.

Not to be left out are those who respond to something I’ve written about grief, and share their own insights.

As I thought about the people who helped me, I realized that most of them had suffered some serious loss of their own. They had learned that words would not take away the pain or dull the sharp blades of loss. They knew to listen and share insights from what had worked for them. The rest were simply people of great compassion, and knew that their presence would help me bear the weight of grief.

When we have been broken by grief, we need to be with people who accept us in our brokenness.

It’s amazing to me that there are people who are willing to care for those who are grieving, and are waiting for us to give them the chance.

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