I’ve been thinking about who showed up on the day Jesus died.
Who showed up on the day someone you loved dearly died? Was there violence involved? Injustice? Corruption? Ignorance, or mob mentality? Who showed up the day your loved one died? Were they medical personnel? Emergency first responders? A friend, or neighbor . . . maybe family? Who showed up the day your heart was crushed beyond human repair?
The day Jesus died came suddenly for those who loved him. Just the night before an upper room filled with optimism of a future kingdom, celebration of the annual Passover rituals, stories, songs and rich traditions. Now less than 24 hours, Jesus appeared to be the victim of a massive religious conspiracy.
The Women Show UP
The ones catching my attention for showing up are the women. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” 1 Four women wouldn’t leave. They followed the path of Jesus all the way to the place of His execution.
Imagine supporting the mother of Jesus. Imagine her body going limp as it collapses with grief, exhausted with the trauma and overwhelmed by what she sees happening to her son. Imagine holding Mary, gently lowering her to the ground to get the blood flowing again into her head. Think about what you would say or do. Could you say or do anything that would take her pain away? No! Just supporting her and each other through this nightmare is everyone’s focus. But the waves are nauseating. The body can’t hold itself upright. The need to cry out, “Why?” pushes up and through the sobbing tears.
The Gift of Showing Up
In addition to the women, John the beloved disciple is nearby. 2 He too is holding the women and supporting all of them as the drama unfolds and the unthinkable takes place with each pounding spike. Vulgar language wrapping itself around them like filthy old blankets. They will stay no matter what. They will not abandon this death watch.
Jesus, true to His selfless character turns over the care of His mother into the capable respect and love of John. Just think of the privilege John receives in being commissioned to care for Mary! Because he showed up where all the hurting people where, he is invited to embrace Mary as his own mother.
Who Showed Up for You?
I wonder who showed up for you on the day someone you loved died. We were blessed to have our friends Jim and Pam Libby show up for us. Our doctor showed up, and good pastoral care showed up. These are people we can never thank enough. They stepped close into our pain. They walked the distance with us. So many also came to the funeral and followed up later with invitations for meals, cards sent in the mail, and phone calls of encouragement.
But not everyone gets that kind of support. At Comfort for the Day, we are doing all we can to change that possible scenario.
Are You the One Who Showed Up for Another?
The women never left.
I wonder if you were one who showed up for another, walking the halls of the hospital, supplying support for the long haul for a friend caring for a family member on hospice, going to the graveside, being available for the new griever in whatever ways they need most. Supporting friend, you might also have your own grief because you also loved and cared about the one who died.
Maybe the story of the 4 women who stayed with Jesus, supporting each other and especially Mary, is a good example to consider. These women were in the crowd, horrified to hear the shouts, “Crucify Him!” In shock and weeping, they traveled with him along the road to Golgotha. None would leave the foot of the cross until Jesus’ body was removed by Joseph and Nicodemus. Even then they followed the men to the grave and saw the where Jesus was placed. Then early Sunday morning these four friends journeyed in the cover of darkness to get to the tomb safely, only to discover the BEST NEWS EVER! More on that on Sunday.
My grieving friend, a new widow, recently wrote this to me;
“I am not able to interact in a group setting with friends chatting and laughing. I went to a couple of gatherings and had to leave. Feeling angry that they all move ahead with their normal lives and I am devastated. My world has completely changed and I am not sure what to do at all.”
If you had been part of the group, what would you be thinking and feeling if you could have known what was going on in this new widow’s head and heart? It caused me to pause and reflect on the newly bereaved in social gatherings. Here are a few of my thoughts.
A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way
We have all found ourselves unaware of how our conversations and socializing affects a grieving person. Probably the most vulnerable grievers in groups are parents who have newly buried a child and spouses who are painfully trying to figure out how life goes on without their partner.
I teach over and over again that when we are in the presence of a grieving person, our shift needs to focus on them and what makes them comfortable. They have limited capacities to offer much to us directly. However, indirectly they give us the opportunity to get out of ourselves and learn better how to support them. And in a way, that is a great take-away for us.
Possibly you have mastered one-on-one grief comfort skills, but what happens when you find yourself in a group? Social, light chit chat is somewhat the norm, but to a brokenhearted person, it feels meaningless, trivial, and absolutely irrelevant. Suddenly they may feel overwhelmed with a deep sense of isolation even in the middle of a crowd.
4 Ways to Include a Grieving Friend
When you find yourself in a social, group setting and newly bereaved friends are among the mix, here are a couple of steps you can take:
Seek that person out and spend some one-on-one time with that individual. It is possible you will be the only one who spends time with them, so be willing to spend the entire time with them if you feel they need that.
Bring a couple of other friends with you and surround the grieving one in a friendly, caring circle. Be intentional to mention the recent loss and extend your support and your desire to understand what he or she is experiencing. Then let them do the talking.
Sharing your personal stories and memories of the deceased loved one, is one of the most thoughtful and often entertaining conversations a grieving friend would welcome and later cherish.
Look for clues to your grieving friend’s comfort level. Do they seem nervous, or distracted, or not interested in carrying on conversation? Check with them to discover how they might need you to be helpful at the moment. They may need you to cover for them as they quietly leave the gathering, or possibly even escort them home, if they are feeling too emotional to drive.
The point of all of this is to keep your grieving friend’s needs your priority. Encourage others to join you in this focus and support. Being in public gatherings after the death of someone important and dear to us, is very difficult. (This includes church!) Being aware and taking steps to support them as they learn their new role in social, public, or religious gatherings will be an invaluable kindness. It really takes just a little paradigm shift to enlarge our levels of sensitivity and compassion for those who bring their grief with them. Let’s keep their perspective in our minds so we can be friends who help instead of harm.
When we grieve, we can feel so isolated. Since few people speak of what grief feels like and there is a void of roll models for healthy grieving, our own private world of suffering can feel very frightening. With fear comes misunderstanding and anger. . . . and then a cycle of bad grief begins before we know it. Pain, isolation, fear, depression, substance abuse followed by pain, and the cycle continues. I am writing today because I want you to know you are not alone. There is an end of the bad grief cycle if you want it.
Metaphors for Bereavement
Take a look at what other grievers are saying their grief feels like. See if some of these metaphors for grief match your experience.
Dark room with no exit
Unseen broken heart
Waves and raging ocean
Falling off a cliff
A terrifying roller coaster
Colorless/music-less world/all seems bleak or gray
A shut door to heaven
Missing cogs in a gear
Bad wheel on a shopping cart
Deep dark woods
Deep pit or well with no ropes
There is a healthy way of grieving and it changes everything. This is an active process that moves us from being a victim of our circumstances to being a strong and courageous presence in the world. See if any of these ways of grieving could become a part of your thinking, choosing and acting.
Healthy Grief looks like . . . .
Accepting, even welcoming the varied components of grief
Understanding that all feelings and experiences of grief are the process of healing
Asking for help/receiving help
Gaining self awareness
Practicing self care
Giving myself permission to laugh
Noticing positive aspects of the metaphors
Patience to wait for and find the answers
Knowing I will love again
Increasing trust towards others and God
Sometimes I find that what others write about grief is extremely spot on. Here are just a couple of quotes that seem to speak to these post ideas.
“We can endure much more than we think we can;
all human experience testifies to that.
All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain.
Grit your teeth and let it hurt.
So don’t deny it, don’t be overwhelmed by it.
It will not last forever.
One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there.”
“Mourning is one of the most profound human experiences
that it is possible to have . . .
The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one and to continue
to treasure the memory of that loss is one of our
noblest human traits.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted . . .
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted . . . to comfort those who mourn . . .
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you . . .
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
–Jesus– as found in: Matt. 5:4, Isaiah 61;1,2, Is. 66:13, Joshua 1:9
My friend’s father died a little over a year ago. With tears she frequently exclaimed, “He left such a huge hole in my heart.”
I wondered the how I might feel when my dad would die. Would his death leave a hole in my heart?
Yesterday, my biological dad died. And my grief is so different than my friend’s grief who had an adoring daddy/daughter relationship. Mine is an empty grief. Maybe the best way for me to describe it is I am experiencing the death of a hole.
Holes –empty spaces where there once was something.
The Beginning of My Hole
My hole began when my parents separated and eventually divorced. At the tender developmental age of 4, I can’t remember specific harm this brought into my earliest years, yet I do know enough now to be quite certain I was affected by their dissolving marriage.
The hole that began with the divorce only grew as promises of my father’s letters or phone calls evaporated. The mirage of an absentee dad was the best I could get as weeks turned into months without seeing or hearing from him.
I could share the details of many specific disappointments and awkward events that involved this man I called “dad.” The best way of understanding the relationship is this: It would be absurd to expect, wish or hope for a paralyzed person to lift themselves from their chair, walk over and welcome me into their room. Likewise it was just as impossible for this emotionally paralyzed man to know how to be the dad I needed.
And so I lived nearly all my life with an unusual father who only grew more self-absorbed as he aged. I am coming to know that our grief reflects the relationship. The relationship was odd, and in the truest sense, weird. Isn’t it strange that a father could not “see” his daughter, could not engage with me as I needed, and never showed interest in my life or my heart’s desires? My guess is that I am not alone in this life experience.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that even though he could not love me as I needed, I could give him kindness as he needed. It wasn’t always easy. Maybe I am a good actress. He remained happy with the relationship. All the while I began a wonderful relationship with God, my forever-never-abandoning-adoring-perfect Heavenly Father. And my heart began to fill as I came to realize I was completely understood and loved unconditionally by the Best of Dads.
But this I do know, When a hole dies, it’s a weird grief. I have no sorrow except for the deep sadness of the tragedy of his life and those nearest to him. He died alone after a 2 month intense struggle, in medicated agitation and anger. His anger in his later years pushed us back when we wanted to step in with guidance or loving concern as he aged. But he was completely uncooperative to accept any assistance in his decline. This is tragic! It could have been so different. But it wasn’t. He lived out his script to the bitter end.
And so it is the “the hole” of everything-that-was-not that I grieve. How do I grieve this loss well? I am not sure. Much of my grief was already processed by accepting him for what he was; living his life in his unique ways, forgiving him for the hole he left in my life. I believe he didn’t know any differently. He was emotionally paralyzed, blinded and handicapped.
The Edges of My Hole
Yet with any hole, no matter how large or small, it has its edges. It’s along these edges that remnants of the genuine contributions of my father’s life clings.
I see a wonderfully creative, problem solving engineer, builder and artist. When my brother and I would spend our annual week visit with him and his family, I recall with a smile going to the beach, pier fishing and body surfing. For these memories I am grateful. I know he had a dream of taking all his adult children to the Micronesian islands so we could all experience the ecstasy of his love for that part of the ocean. And at his best moments, he could write or speak of spiritual realities with beauty. These memories cling to the edges of the hole. And I am grateful.
The Lesson of Grieving a Hole
And so my take away is a deeper desire to live healthy and whole, authentic and honest relationships with my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. I want to love others, listen to their hearts and stories. I want them to know they have been seen and heard. They are loved just because they are, not because of any accomplishment. I want the death of this hole to be the seed that germinates connection, warmth, emotional and spiritual safety with all who live in my sphere of influence.
I want us to be assured that no matter what, even in our twisted, emotionally handicapped ways, we are more important to each other than we are to one’s self. And when any of us should die, I long for our absence to leave a hole instead of being the death of a hole.
Work! Who likes it? Possibly, just the word, W-O-R-K, conjures up negative memories of pulling weeds in the ivy bed as a kid. At least it does for me. But for the sake of honesty, there is some work I love to do. Possibly you enjoy certain types of work as well. For instance, I really enjoy ironing. The transformation of wrinkled shirts to crisp, pressed ones ready to wear is very satisfying. In addition to a quality iron and ironing board, I always toss in a favorite movie and I’m set to iron while revisiting old classic stories. How about you, do you enjoy yard work? Maybe it’s doing the dishes . . . or cleaning your boat. Just now, think of the one or two types of work that you like doing and identify what it is that makes it enjoyable for you. What tools make your work more satisfying and productive?
What is Grief Work?
As I continue to coach others through their grieving journey, we often explore that to grieve well means doing grief work. What do I mean by “grief work?” It is quite simple; grief work is paying attention to the grief journey and responding in healthy, appropriate, and at times, painful ways. It means facing the emotions and dealing with them in the moment. This can be awkward. When we are in the middle of a busy day and a wave of grief over takes our thoughts and feelings, it is awkward to excuse ourselves and interact with the grief. However, when we do, we are always better for it.
Grief Work Tools: Journaling
What are the tools in grief work? My favorite tools are a paper, pen or pencil. Keeping a small notebook handy helps us capture our response to the wave of emotions in the moment. Sometimes a good night’s rest changes the perspective of the monumental pain and we awake ready to journal about what is in our hearts. As confusing as it might feel, journaling about it somehow brings clarity. Journaling, random writing rants, poetry, letters addressed to God or the deceased are all good places to start. As you experiment pouring your heart out on paper you will discover which forms of pen to paper are most effective for you. And then do it regularly, like brushing your teach or doing the dishes. Comfort for the Day is filled with Scripture guided writing prompts that are specific to the grief experience. Check out this link to order your copy.
Another tool includes exercise. Often the buildup of grieving emotions is released during exercising. When we exercise, our body is fueled with fresh oxygen and that is just what is needed to put us back on the healthy grieving path. In addition, positive hormones, such as endorphins, are released that give us a better frame of mind. Exercise also helps us rest better and we need all the assistance we can find to improve rest during grief.
A huge and often painful part of grief work includes forgiveness. When we find ourselves in the vortex of blame, regrets, and guilt, it is time to get serious about grief work. It is time to be honest, take responsibility for what is real and true. It is time to be forgiven and forgive others. It is hard work and for many they need some assistance to navigate this section of the journey. It takes courage and hope. One little step at a time can lead you the whole way until you are out from under the shadow of remorse and suffering. Forgiveness is the best way to begin healing the pain.
Other tools for grieving well include gardening, taking up a hobby, fishing, hiking, sketching, painting or listening to soothing music. Choosing any of these types of activities connects you to a brief respite. It is a way to experience self-care. For a time, the intensity of grief can rest while we engage in activities that comfort.
Tapping into educational and support resources are additional grief work tools. Some of those might include:
Check out books that can be supportive and useful for your grief.
Arrange for a few visits with your pastor or spiritual mentor to discuss issues of faith and God as it relates to suffering.
Reaching out to resources puts you back into the driver’s seat of your grief life. You educate yourself and move from fear, uncertainty, and ignorance to peacefulness and application of new knowledge. These are important grief tools.
Why Do Grief Work?
In short, grief work is simply paying attention to your grief and responding intentionally in ways that you know will help you heal and discover restoration. As a follower of this blog, you are already well along the way to understanding and practicing your grief work. Keep it up, even when you don’t feel like it. Just like ironing shirts is satisfying to me, your grief work can bring you hope, encouragement, understanding and satisfaction. Considering the option of disengaging with your grief and allowing it to rule you, trapping you in suffering; grief work is such a better choice. Putting into practice some or all of these grief tools can transform your grief work into something you look forward to doing, because you know it will help you feel better.