My long involvement with grief started in a single statement from a broken hearted mother. Her daughter’s condition was not considered serious at all, and she was in the hospital under oxygen so no one was overly concerned. Within thirty minutes the child was dead. The mother was hysterical and of course the doctor and her husband were in panic trying to get her to calm down. She stopped, looked at them, and said “Don’t take my grief away from me, I deserve it and I am going to have it.” Those are the most profound words I have ever heard spoken under pressure, but I am glad I was not there to hear them. I was the pastor of their church but I was out of town on vacation at the time. If I had been there, I would have been doing exactly what the doctor and the husband were trying to do. I thought that was my job. My job was to cheer everyone up. So I did every thing in my power to take grief away from people instead of trying to learn how to walk with them through the dark journey,
That statement haunted me until I started some of the first grief groups and began trying to learn what people need in their pain. Over time, grief became my life’s work. My first major book even had that statement as its title. In 1982 I stopped being a pastor in order to devote all of my time to writing and speaking. My one aim in life has been to learn how to walk with people through their grief instead of trying to take it away from them.
Most of the help we receive in our grief comes from our friends. Unfortunately a great deal of the hurt we receive will also come from our friends. In most cases they will hurt while meaning well. The problem is, they see help as taking away our grief instead of accompanying us as we walk through it. They want to give us a new way to think about our loss as if some new thought would replace a love whose loss ripped out our hearts. They want to keep us busy so we won’t think about it, as if there was a single moment in any day when we could stop thinking about it busy or not. They want to tell us how to feel, as if just telling it will make us better. Too often, If none of that works, they want us to take medications designed to take it all away.
Grief is a journey that must be walked through. There is no way around it. There is no way to really avoid it. It can be internalized so it does not show, but it doesn’t go away. It exemplifies itself in other more devastating ways.
Grief is a process that must be worked. It is nature’s way of healing us. That process needs to be allowed, not taken away.
The question then is how do we find people who will not try to take it away? That is not easy. It may demand that we just tell a few friends that we do not want or appreciate all of their efforts to cheer us up. All we need is someone to companion us as we work our way through. Ask them for quiet acceptance of where we are at any given time, no matter if we seem to be doing good or bad. No matter how crazy we may seem to be. Just stay with us and let us be where we are at that moment. Some friends will hear and understand, the others must be either tolerated or avoided until the storm has passed.
Why not ask the friends you really think could learn how to walk with you and not try to take your grief away to tune in to this web site on occasion and learn where people are and what they want. I think the most important thing I can do for people in grief would be to train their friends to quit trying to cure the problem, and to just hush and listen.
Copyright Doug Manning of In-Sight Books, Inc. Doug’s books, CDs and DVDs are available at www.insightbooks.com. Post originally published on Doug’s Blog at The Care Community www.thecarecommunity.com.
Updated: October 5, 2015