This message came from my uncle today in response to my husband’s grandmother’s death last evening.
He went on to say “It is a great gift but really hard to do as we transition those we love from the here to the there and then to the hope of seeing them again. I am sorry for the loss, glad you all have hope and peace but sad for the sick feeling in your gut as you all walk through it.“
People never know what to say in a situation involving death or great loss. "Grieve well" seems to be one of the most fitting I've heard in a while. It makes space for grief: the normal yet complex, individual, unique response we each have to loss.
My other go-to responses are:
”This sucks.” (sometimes I continue with) “and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. I’m here for you in whatever way you need me to be.”
“Here’s a bottle of wine.”
The second one is kind of a joke. Food is my love language, though, so baskets of food and wine have been known to show up on a doorstep when a friend is grieving.
Two go-to responses, with a third one today, thanks to my uncle. That is a pretty short list, and it’s quite appropriate. There aren’t words for most situations involving grief. It’s uncomfortable and confusing, and we grasp for a way to make it logical and digestible.
That’s when the platitudes enter:
”She’s in a better place.”
”His suffering has ended.”
”This is all part of God‘s plan.”
These statements are NEVER helpful in the immediate period following a loss. Period. As true as they may be, they are not helpful to the grieving person. The person experiencing the loss might say these things, especially as they struggle with the logical and emotional sides of loss. Even if/when they say one of the above statements, a good rule of thumb is to just listen, acknowledge what they are saying, and give them space to talk through it.
A survivor who has watched a loved one endure prolonged suffering will simultaneously hold relief and guilt and sadness and peace and pain. It’s messy and illogical. And there’s no way around it. You have to go through it. (If you were curious, Levi’s class WAS singing “Going on a Bear Hunt” today. Wisdom can be found in the most bizarre places.)
It’s often not a conscious decision to minimize a loss. We sense another’s pain and want to make them feel better. There is no malicious intent at all! And no one is immune to the foot-in-mouth moments. I consider my mom to be an expert at loss. Not an enviable title, as she has lost both parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, the father of two of her children, her own son, a grandchild, and dear friends, children of friends, and beloved patients.
She taught me how to say “this totally sucks” to a grieving friend. She showed me how a really good friend brings you a basket of toiletries when your kid is dying in the ICU and lovingly says “You look like hell. Go take a shower. I’ll sit here with him.” Her friends brought over things we never considered when my brother died: toilet paper for the extra guests inevitably descending upon our house, and paper plates and cutlery so we could avoid dishes on top of everything else.
And yet, as I held Jude this morning in the basement, I heard her say to Roger as he left for work “I’m so sorry about your grandma. But she’s at peace now.”
A cliché platitude. From the woman who keeps it real when it comes to death. It happens to the best of ‘em. Most of us will never be comfortable stepping in to the place of grief with another person. In that discomfort, though, there is also beauty from experiencing the depths of the human person. Embrace the opportunity, if it ever arises. It will change you.
Entering the trenches of grief with every person we know is not feasible or even healthy. However, we can and should give them space to grieve. That is the beauty in the two words “grieve well.” An acknowledgment that grief is expected with loss, and no one needs to ask permission or explain themselves. The freedom in those two words is a gift. Probably better than a bottle of wine (although that is a CLOSE second).
Thank you for the thoughts, prayers, love, and support. Please continue to pray that Roger and his family are able to give themselves the space to grieve well.
✨Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.✨