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. To follow, please leave your email address.

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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, an avalanche of dear memories, and tatters of dreams for what might have been.

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

We need compassionate people. Yet most people do not know what to say to help those who are grieving, so you see the problem. People will send cards and well wishes in the first month, then go back to their busy lives. We need several groups of people to stay around after this.

The On-Call People
People who are always available, day or night

A friend of my wife’s parents lost his wife 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 expected and I was worried that I wasn’t grieving right.

A couple I knew were dealing with brain cancer, yet they kept offering to do things with me until I finally accepted, and we began to share our parallel journeys. They told me I could call them at any time.

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

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

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

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

There were my friends, as well as friends of Evelyn, some that I barely knew, who brought food, sat down, and listened to me share. They collectively kept the river of grief flowing and slowly replaced grief with their compassion.

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 write about grief in creative ways.

Rituals express what words cannot. I learned about Jewish rites for grief in the early days when I was searching for guidance. Now I’m meeting people of other faiths who share what their traditions do to help those who are grieving, especially Buddhism.

Not to be left out are those who contact me in response to something I’ve written about grief, to thank me, ask questions, and share their own insights and struggles.

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 make it easier to 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 is amazing that there are so many people who are willing to care for those who are grieving, and who are waiting for us to give them the chance.

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