Grief Etiquette (Guest Post)
Hello, blog readers. “Tenant” here. You may remember me from this post. This may be a little long, so bear with me.
First, thank you for prayers, love, and support toward Simon’s family. From your simple, “Lord, be with Kristy,” to your intense, tearful intercession- Jesus hears it all and continues to give enough grace for each day.
Second, read this article before continuing with this post. It addresses appropriate ways to interact with those touched by crisis (it even gives a diagram for you visual learners). It is also a good introduction to where the rest of this post will take us. For those of you who continue reading without clicking the link, here is a BRIEF summary: There are boundaries to how and who you complain/vent to in a crisis. Unless you are the person at the center, you do not get a wildcard to say whatever you like. The Ring Theory creates a kvetching order. Your place in these rings (determined by relationship to the aggrieved), will dictate whether you should “comfort” or “dump.” Your (and my) job, based on what we have just learned, is to comfort Kristy–>closest relatives–>closest friends (let’s call all these people the inner-circle, or “IC”). We take our grief to others not as closely affected by the situation. This keeps us from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person.
Third, this post is written out of love, and in good taste, so please hear me well. Sharing Simon and Kristy’s home allowed me to be part of some very intimate moments. I have seen Kristy sit at the computer, overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from people all over the world. I have seen Simon take in tender moments with his three babies. I have heard the innocent and heartfelt prayers of the children, praying for their dad to get better. I have seen Kristy “ugly cry” when thinking about a life without Simon. I have heard her very real fears, hurts, and hopes. I have also watched her entrust all these things into the hands of Jesus, and I stand amazed. I love this family like they are my own. And that is why this post is being written.
Over the last few weeks, Kristy has shared some stories of insensitive, untimely remarks and “condolences.” In comparison to the beautiful, sincere comments she’s received, those were few and far between, so they were pretty easy to let go of. However, over the last few days, this has happened not only with her, but the children as well. So now, as we’re going into a difficult, emotion-filled weekend, it is time to address these things… Remembering what we just learned from the Ring Theory, we’re going to put everything into three categories: Good Ideas, Bad Ideas, and Not-Right-Now Ideas.
Processing your grief WITH someone in the IC- BAD IDEA. Whatever you are feeling is only fraction of what the close family members are feeling. So walking through your emotions and thoughts with them is highly inappropriate. You are important, and your feelings definitely matter, but you have to use some wisdom here. Navigate through your grief with someone who is on a distant ring. If you cannot figure out who the right person may be, I plead with you to remember this- do not “dump” inward.
Sending links, songs, and books for the bereaved to read or listen to- NOT-RIGHT-NOW IDEA. While you may have the most appropriate resource for someone in the IC, the loss is too recent for many of these things to make an impact. There is not a set timetable for grieving– each person and situation demands a unique approach– but the last thing we need to do is put pressure on a grief-stricken individual. In time, it may be helpful to ask permission before sharing a resource. For example: “Kristy, four years ago, I lost my daughter in a tragic car accident. I spoke to my therapist and she suggested . Reading it did not take away my pain, but it helped me navigate through my grief and find meaningful ways to remember my daughter. Would it be okay if I sent you a copy?” Or, “Kristy, I cannot relate to exactly what you’re going through, but these songs helped me through some of my darkest days. May I send this playlist to you?” I promise, your sensitivity and consideration will go a long way.
Saying something because you feel obligated to- BAD IDEA. Almost everything that can be said has been said. Sometimes the most meaningful gesture is saying, “I’m so sorry” accompanied with a hug. Or saying nothing, but giving soft eyes or a hand-squeeze. The IC will have enough going on in their minds and hearts over the next few weeks. Surround them with love, and let your actions speak louder than your words.
Looking at the children and bursting into uncontrollable sobs- REALLY, REALLY BAD IDEA. None of these sweet children have been to a funeral before. So this is going to be a lot for them to process. They know their daddy is with Jesus, but their grief hits them in waves. If they come to you in tears or wanting to talk, just listen. If they come to you overflowing with excitement about a new toy they got, or a funny YouTube video, do not write them off or shame them for not being “somber enough.” We all process grief a little differently, and as innocent children, their process will look different than yours and mine. Remember, their position in the rings allows them to “dump.” Your position demands nothing but comfort and continuity. It is not appropriate to talk in detail about cancer or death, or tell them how sad you are that their dad is gone– anything other than a loving heart and listening ear is unnecessary. Keep loving them. Keep hugging them. Keep it consistent.
Misquoting the Bible (as mentioned in a previous post)- BAD IDEA. Just don’t do it.
Cliche quotes- BAD IDEA. These, in fact, are the very opposite of helpful- they are frustrating, impersonal, and annoying.
Being a domino of depression- BAD IDEA. No need to remind anyone how sad this situation is… There is a general consensus on the unfairness of life and absolute hatred of cancer. Let your presence provide a respite from sadness, not multiply it.
Remembering the bereaved after the next few weeks- GOOD IDEA. Many of you will go back to work on Monday, pick up your kids from soccer practice, eat dinner, watch the evening news, kiss your spouse goodnight, and resume life as normal. You will remember to pray for Kristy and the kids and sort through your feelings of sadness as they come. But they will be doing the opposite. They will be living through their pain and looking for those light-hearted moments where they can forget how much it hurts, or how they wish their dad could be there to tuck them in, or how they would give anything for misplaced shoes on the floor. Think in advance- are they going out of town? Offer to watch their dogs. Are they going to school? Bring them in your carpool. Is the school year beginning? Help with school supplies and packing lunches. Can you finger-write your name on Kristy’s van? Take it for a nice wash. Three, six, twelve, twenty-four, thirty-six, and one hundred months from now, remember them. Help carry their burdens, love on them, and meet their needs. Lord knows it is in the quiet moments when everything has calmed down that the sting of loss is most deeply felt. Just as we rally them now, let us rally them then.
Finally, as you go into this weekend, remember that Simon was a beloved husband, father, son, brother, nephew, grandson, and best friend. The void his earthly absence leaves in the lives of those closest to him is real and it is painful. Be sensitive. This weekend will hold many precious moments for close family and friends. Let them have those moments. Slow down. They are just trying to figure out a way to pick themselves up. Let them adjust at their pace. Love the children. They are so innocent and their hearts are so pure. Let them have fun. Comfort in. Simon’s inner-circle will face some tough days ahead. Selflessly support. Dump out. Self-care and emotional processing should not be neglected. Seek outside friends or counsel.
Know Jesus. He redeems and restores. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow.