I’m writing with a heavy heart. Earlier this week one of the individuals I love most in the entire world died. I know it’s more socially acceptable to use terms such as “passed away,” because death seems like such a dirty, painful world. However, death, the dirty word that connotes suffering, pain, and the finality of separation is appropriate to describe how I feel.
My great-grandmother, known by us great-grandkids as Jon-Jont, was a remarkable woman. She was incredibly kind and encapsulated a true servant’s heart. She wasn’t a super hero, and by the world’s standards she did not do anything remarkable. However, she was ALWAYS willing to help others, even in the smallest ways. This theme, her willing to help everyone every way she could, was evident at her funeral yesterday: friends shared of the small things she had done for them that left an eternal impact.
Most importantly, she loved her family. Four generations of our family (her, her children, her grandchildren, and great grandchildren) all lived on a hill in our small town in Southern Vermont on land she and her husband gave to their children. She babysat all of us, and, as a result, I am closer to my second cousins than many of my friends are to their siblings.
She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and various health problems for the past few years, and hadn’t remembered my name in well over a year. However, the night she died, a miracle happened! She remembered my name, told me she knew Jesus, recited the 23rd Psalm from memory and had me pray with her. I have no doubt she is with Jesus. I also have no doubt that being with God is so incredible that she would have no desire to be back on this broken Earth.
All of that said, throughout this week I have been observing the ways various individuals have attempted to comfort me and my family, and support us through this difficult time. I want to share my thoughts with you. All of us will walk with a friend of family member through the painful journey of loss and grief, and I hope this can be an encouragement to you.
*Please note, I’m just going to be as raw and honest as possible.
First, why are you attempting to comfort someone?
It can be easy to want to post and say “I’m sorry for your loss” in a comment on a status announcing the death of loved one to make ourselves feel better. I get it, we feel socially obligated, or see all of our friends posting their condolences and want to do the same. However, if you’re about to offer condolences solely to make yourself feel better or less guilty, shut your mouth or don’t hit enter. If we begin to make grief about ourselves, and about the grieving, we are TOTALLY missing the point.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
We are told to weep with those who weep. I get it, grief is uncomfortable. Death is uncomfortable. When someone dies we are reminded of our own mortality and that one day we, and everyone we love, will die. Reading that sentence may have made you uncomfortable. When we comfort those who mourn we enter into their pain. It’s important to remember that we are there to help carry them through this extremelly difficult time, not to fulfill some social obligation.
I didn’t post about Jon-Jont’s death until the day after she died. I didn’t want to deal with superficial condolences. I didn’t want to read individuals write, “Let me know if you need anything,” when I knew they would not be willing to answer the phone at 3 a.m. and be silent as I cried.
Instead, I reached out to my closest friends. Although, my four closest friends reached out to me before I even had time to try and contact them. My friend, Hannah, invited me to stay at her house the night Jon-Jont died. We shared a bed so she could be with me when I was crying at 3 a.m. and she went out of her way to make sure I was okay. My friend, Liv, called me from California and kept checking on me through texts and phone calls through the week. My friend, Abby, prayed with me on the phone and my best friend from high school, Sam, found a way to contact me from Central America where she was working for the week. I knew these girls would be willing to inconvenience themselves for me, and walk with me through the pain. I wanted to grieve with them.
Don’t Just Offer Words, Offer Actions
It’s easy to comment on a Facebook post. As I said above, it’s even trendy. Researchers have found that one of the most powerful things about Facebook is its ability to cause users to feel “left out.” Therefore, if you see a bunch of your friends posting on a status, you may feel obligated to.
Instead, go out of your way to contact the mourner directly. I am so thankful for the individual emails I received. Individuals taking the extra minute (literally, that’s it) to contact me privately and personally meant the world. Some of the kindest things my family and I received were cards in the mail from individuals out of town and phone calls. Some of these friends we had not spoken to in years. I bet they wondered if it would be weird for them to send a card or call. Please know, these phone calls and cards meant the most to us because they meant that you thought of us and put effort into contacting us. This meant so much. They did not type out a sentence because a status appeared on their news feed, but actually thought of us, filled out a card, and took it to the post office. The cost of the stamp and the card inside, even with just their name signed, meant the world to us, and it will mean the world to those you are comforting. Even better, bake a meal and bring it over. I guarantee you will feel more awkward than your friends. In the unlikely event that your presence is inconveniencing them they will let you know and accept the food (again, your comforting is about helping them, not you!) and the effort you put in will help them feel loved and supported.
Don’t Tip-Toe Around Death, But Do Be Sensitive
We know our love one died. We know they’re not coming back. Too many people tip-toe around the this fact because they’re afraid of upsetting the mourning individual. I have spoken with several individuals who said they didn’t want to”bring it up” and therefore didn’t want to mention it. You can be sensitive and still acknowledge the fact that your loved one is going through a deep loss.
Grief is Lonely and Lasting
Grief is lonely. We live in a society that teaches us to be superficial, always happy, and that grief is only a few days. After all, many employers only give a few days off after the death of a spouse or child. Grieving is a process, and it’s important to to keep checking in with your friend. You won’t annoy them, they will appreciate that you care. One week, two weeks, a month, a year after the death, just send your loved one a quick note or text that you’re thinking of them, and ask if there’s anything you can do if you sincerely mean it. They will often feel “strange” that they are still grieving, as they wrongly believe they must be “over” the death within a few days. Your quick note or conversation will validate their hurt and help them to feel loved.
Don’t Say “It Could Have Been Worse” Instead, Validate the Grief
Please, validate grief. Saying things like, “She lived a good life” or “It could have been worse” are honestly not comforting. Again, we live in a society where grief is feared. Say things like, “I know you must be hurting” or “I know you must miss her.” If the mourner mentions she had a good life, agree with her, but you bringing this up causes the mourner to feel like she should not be sad.
I believe Jon-Jont died well. Honestly, she died the best way an individual could. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and had no idea who I was for the past 2 years. However, right before she passed she remembered who I was. She told me she loved me, we recited the 23rd Psalm together, and we prayed together. As I left the room she told me she would see me soon.
I am thankful of the hope we share in Christ, and I know that one day I will be rejoicing with her in the presence of Jesus.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Cor. 1:3-4
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
I continue to covet your prayers. Let’s continue to comfort each other!
Lots of love,