HOW do we engage with people whose loss has imminence?
Sometimes it can feel as if we want to talk with them, to let them know of our love and prayers, but just as much as we’re drawn to them we’re pulled away by not knowing what to say or how to say it. Then we’re down on ourselves because we missed the opportunity to share our love in a meaningful way. Having played safe we’re also aware we missed God meeting us in our faith to love through the interest of compassion.
So just how are we to interact with someone experiencing grief?
1. Don’t run. Manage the awkwardness of being in the same space without saying anything. Nobody expects us to say anything, so where’s the pressure coming from? Yes, it’s an internal thing.
2. Be yourself. Just being there, open in the moment, taking in what comes, is easy if we haven’t preloaded the moment with unnecessary pressure and anxiety. Authenticity is vital. It makes you feel more comfortable and it allows them to relax so they might trust some of their burden to you.
3. Simply ask, “How are you?” Sometimes we can think an answer to such a question is so obvious; of course they’re awful! No. Grief is not always a painful experience. There are joys, flats pots, and times when we want to talk. There are times when we just want to be ‘normal’ again. “How are you” is unlikely to get a terse response if it’s asked with sincerity.
4. Listen, simply listen. Listening is easy, but listening doesn’t occur without focus, attention and interest. Ensure you’re interested enough to actively listen. Occasionally, make short comments of encouragement and empathy. This is not only encouraging; it proves you’ve been attentive to what’s been said.
5. Be careful with clichés. None of us realise just how quickly clichés roll of the tongue. Clichés strip care from the interaction. It’s best to stay silent if all we have is a comment like, “God has a purpose in this for you.” (There might be a purpose in the loss, but it’s only something the person grieving, themselves, can say.)
6. Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Sure there’s a great deal of sadness in the more palpable moments, but sometimes those grieving need humour. If they laugh, laugh with them. Try to match their mood a little, and in doing so you’ll love them appropriately for the moment they’re in.
7. Blend in. The fact is we notice ourselves much more than others do. We’re self-conscious creatures. God will not ask us what’s above and beyond by simply being there in a grieving person’s presence. Keep it simple.
8. Seek opportunities to talk more — if they might like that. Most people who’ve been listened to find it a very cathartic experience. Don’t be surprised if, when you listen to someone, that they’re incredibly complimentary. There may be few who can or will do what you’ve just done.
9. Offer to pray for them. For Christians this is easy, but for non-Christians it’s an opportunity to say that you’re a person of faith who believes God can help. Offer to pray — either on the spot or in your own time, or both. Again, it needs to be stressed that it’s an offer that can easily be declined without any offence taken. Most people who are grieving are thankful for the experience of prayer.
It’s a loving thing to do to simply engage in conversation with someone undergoing grief because of loss; to listen, to affirm, to care.
Loss teaches us that others move on quicker than the one who suffered the loss. Today, it’s our opportunity to remember someone’s loss and honour them.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.