Grief School Lesson #1: They Said What?

Grief isn’t taught in schools. Most of us learn about grief and how to grieve in the “school of hard knocks.” Baptism by fire, if there ever was. Because we are running around not knowing what to do or what to say, it often falls upon those who are grieving to “teach” those around them what to do and say. With that in mind, every now and then, we’ll open up the doors of “Grief School” here at Dances With a Limp. 

Ready for Lesson #1?

We take so much for granted in our daily lives. A trip to the grocery. Swing by the bank. Make a carpool run to school, the dance studio, ball park, or horse barn. Whip up dinner. We make our way through the day not questioning whether all the players – our spouses, children, friends, and so on – will show up for their parts. We just assume that everyone will take their places on cue.

It’s here in the theater of the ordinary that we are most taken aback when a principal actor is missing from our daily productions. 

I used to take shopping for a greeting card for granted. I can’t count the number of times over the last two years that I fled the greeting card scene before choosing even one card when often I was shopping for several. It is not uncommon these days to break this task into multiple trips because I can only take the greeting card aisle in small doses.

This week was different. I had to muscle through. My sister-in-law lost her oldest daughter, Britnee, this week. I needed cards for her and Brit’s siblings, my niece and nephews. There was no time for multiple trips over the course of weeks. Hearts are broken. Souls need soothing – now.

Reading through the options, I was reminded how inadequate words are for the loss of a child – or a sister or a brother or a parent or a spouse or . . . . Yet, we are wired to say something. Understandably, when the time comes, we can’t form a sentence. We struggle to reduce the unimaginable to a few poignant words. When our minds flail, those nuggets that we’ve heard repeated along the way just pop out. People have been saying this stuff for centuries, right? It must be good?Everything happens for a reason. God never gives you more than you can handle. She is in a better place. I know how you feel. It’ll get better.

They all sound true and kind. In fact, I’ve said these very words at one time or another. The reality is that these “tried and true” sentiments can sometimes sting more than soothe. Let’s take a look.

What does the griever think? What possible reason could justify this suffering?

Everything happens for a reason.

Let me tell you – there is no satisfactory answer to that question. There is no reason lofty enough to justify inconceivable loss. If pressed on the issue, none of us are likely to come up with a reason so worthy that we’d be willing to trade places with someone reeling over the death of a loved one. 

Though well-intentioned, this one stings.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

What does the griever think? What did I do to deserve this?

The not-so-subtle assumption is that God caused whatever loss your friend or family member is enduring. This is an extremely painful thought and can lead one down a dark road of misplaced guilt over what if I had been a better mom, spouse, sibling, . . .

Satan and the sin he introduced into world is the causeof our suffering. God doesn’t need suffering to achieve His ends. Fortunately, God is bigger than Satan or sin. He can work good from anything. That subtle difference causingsuffering and usingsuffering is crucial to someone who’s faith may be rocked by the unimaginable or for someone who is questioning faith all together.

Even when heart-felt, this one pricks.

He/She is in a better place

What does the griever think? No, he/she’s not.

Most of us tend to define “better” as “with us.” Even for those of us who are moved to tears contemplating the joy that awaits in heaven – this is just hard to swallow, especially when someone else speaks it. On my good days, I can acknowledge that heaven need not be an nth of what is promised in order to be better than this broken world and I can imagine what a day in heaven might be like for my loved ones. Even so, it doesn’t make anything better here and now.

This one can leave a mark.

I know how you feel.

What does the griever think? No, you don’t.

No two losses are alike. Two parents who lose the same child or two siblings who lose the same parent or another sibling – may lose the same person, but they do not suffer the same loss. When we try too hard to put ourselves in another griever’s shoes, we minimize everyone’s loss (our own included) by reducing it to “the same.” When death takes a loved one, we mourn the loss of how that person fit into our lives. We are missing that one-of-a-kind space that only the one we lost can fill. Even two parents or two siblings cannot share the same shoes; they can only walk alongside.

It’ll get better.

What does the griever think? No, it won’t. Or perhaps – when?

Even if this is ultimately the truth, saying this to someone who is suffering a death is presumptuous. Sometimes this idea of “getting better” can leave someone feeling as if they have failed (again) if they aren’t measuring up to the notion that they should be moving along and putting this whole nasty affair behind them. Most people don’t intend to impose a timeline or other qualitative measure on improvement but hidden within that statement is the suggestion that there is a time limit on grief or that improvement can be defined and measured. There is already so much guilt felt by survivors (usually for no good reason) that they don’t need anything else to make them feel shame during the grieving process.

Bonus: Anything that starts with “at least, . . .” If you find yourself starting a sentence with “at least,” just stop. There is precious little that will follow that will be heard as intended.

So, what can we say to make someone feel better? The honest answer is “nothing.” I meet many bereaved parents and hear their stories. My heart breaks. My words fail. Sometimes, there simply are no words.

Class, don’t fret. I won’t leave you completely empty handed. If you just have to say something, keep it simple and genuine.

I am so sorry for your loss.

I am so sorry that you are having to endure this pain.

I can see how much you loved [fill in the blank].

I don’t have any words to take away your pain. Just know how much I care about you.I

What words have provided comfort for you? Leave a comment so that we can all learn.

Dear Father, help us to help one another in our suffering. When we speak, let your Holy Spirit speak through us to comfort, console, and support one another. When there are no words, let your Holy Spirit open our hearts but not our lips. Pour grace onto the grievers’ ears so that when ill-chosen words may be spoken, we only hear the love that was intended.

Father, we pray that Britnee is in the tender arms of your Son, Jesus. We look forward to the day when we are reunited with her and so many others in your glorious presence. Until that day, cover us all, but especially Shala, Chase, Haley, and Trey, with your comfort and unfailing love as we await the day when there will be no more tears.

Through your Son, Jesus. Amen!

SDG

Holiday Hangover

“Happy New Year!” How many woke up on January 1stwith a touch of “rockin’ pneumonia” from ringing in the New Year? When you’ve been through (or are still dealing with) a tough time, the holidays bring a different kind of “hangover.”

“They” expect us to be happy during the holidays. Thanksgiving is a time focused on gratitude. Christmas is an expectant time to celebrate the gift of the birth of Christ. New Year’s ushers in fresh starts and excitement for what the new year will unfold.

“They” underestimate the amount of energy required to get from November to January. Mustering the drive needed to make that holiday haul can zap us – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we do arrive at January still intact, we are kinda left wondering, “what next?”

Read more

Chaotic Musings

As I pen this post, chaos is all around me – literally. Movers are delivering furniture. Tile workers are destroying the kitchen backsplash. A painter is ripping sheets of old wallpaper from the hallway. A woodworker is staining the stairs. The dogs are barking. The noise-cancelling headphones only block out so much.

In the midst of this chaos, it occurs to me – I can handle it. This is no big deal. I’m not even rattled. Why? Because I know the plan. I can envision how the mess will come together in the end. I know that the upheaval is both temporary and necessary. I can buy into the vision because it’s my vision. I created it (with help of course).

Life’s chaos shouldn’t be any different. But it is. Why? Simple answer – it’s not our plan. Granted, we are too frequently participants of our own pandemonium, but so often our lives are thrown into disarray by outside forces. The boss is breathing down our necks and our inboxes are piling up. The teacher schedules yet another conference to discuss Little Johnnie (or Jeannie’s) “leadership skills” in the classroom. The dogs chew your new sofa. Phone calls come in rapid succession sharing unbearable news.

In the throes of turmoil, we lose sight of the game plan. We forget that the mess is going to come together in the end. The final outcome is so simple and so satisfying –  no more tears. That’s great and it’s easy to get on board with that plan. I love that plan, but what about today?

Even though God has shared his vision with us, I still struggle in these in-between days. God has shared the beginning, and He’s laid out the end. God even warns that the in-between days will be frenzied and disordered, but I still want more. I want to know. On my worse days, I want to fix it.  I desire to impose my vision when I’ve only been invited to partake of God’s vision. God has not appointed me to a heavenly Board of Directors for purposes of devising a strategy for moving forward.

God’s smart like that. I may (with the right help) be capable of choosing some fresh paint colors and a new countertop, but God knows that running the universe is outside my skill set.

God is the master Artist. In the beginning, He created the universe in the way a painter looks at a blank canvas and begins to apply color. God created out of nothing. The first strokes on canvas can appear haphazard to the bystander. Yet as layer after layer of paint is added, a scene comes into focus.

These middle days are the days of haphazard color and missing layers. God sees the finished work that is still outside our realm of comprehension. The day is coming. The final stroke will be applied to the canvas. We will see the final masterpiece in all of its Glory. We’ll be able to see how the brushstrokes of our own lives fit into the whole and how the finished piece wouldn’t be whole otherwise.Warhol Quote

So, as I soak in the frenzied creativity taking place all around me – I am reminded to step back. I’m reminded that when life feels out of control, He is always in control. I’m reminded to trust God’s ultimate vision. I’m reminded that when our tears our wiped away, we’ll see clearly.

SDG

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?

Good Friday 2017 was a fairly typical day – except that my youngest daughter had been taken from us just about four weeks prior. I stood in my kitchen chopping vegetables and let my mind wander with the warm breeze that was traipsing through the open doors. And, it hit me.

Let me back up for just a second. Faith, at least for me, has always come with nagging questions. Certain questions have bugged me for as long as I can remember – like – Why did God send his son, Jesus, not merely to die on our behalf but to endure untold suffering in doing so? Why didn’t the Father come and sacrifice Himself? And other questions have been renewed over the last year – like – what kind of God causes me so much suffering? What kind of God abandons me in my darkest hour? Where is this God when I’ve been kicked in the gut – again? Read more