As I gently quizzed a friend who had lost her 26-year-old son, some four years ago, regarding the journey of her grief process, I asked the specific question: ‘What were some of the bigger challenges in adjusting to life without him?’ Her response surprised me somewhat.
She said that the questions and assertions of some people had hurt and frustrated her. My friend cited two examples:
Early in her grief, soon after the funeral, one person asked her how her husband was handling it all (he was the stepfather). Whilst my friend conceded that, for herself, grief was a self-absorbing situation-of-spirit, she could hardly believe the insensitivity of the person suggesting that she wasn’t looking after her husband well enough.
Another person said that it must have been a real blessing to her that her son was now released from his pain (he had suffered all his life from a debilitating degenerative disease). Later in the same conversation this person mentioned that she should “celebrate” such a fact. It might be needless to say, this caused the catatonically grieving mother further burden, not less.
How Do We Approach Others’ Suffering?
Sometimes we just don’t know how to approach situations. This is particularly the case when we don’t share the critical bond of intimacy—the acuteness of knowledge converted to tender loving rapport—with persons or people affected.
There’s a reason why we feel uncomfortable.
When we don’t know what to say perhaps that’s the perfect cue; we can still empathise through the concern of our body language. But words fail. And sometimes we still try too hard.
Even at other times we go out of our way to keep quiet when all the troubled person really wants is us to be just ourselves; unencumbered, free to talk, and break the ice to relieve the tension of the situation. Some light relief, in a caring context, can be such a reprieve from the harshness of grief.
There is no set answer to make our approach correct for every situation.
Simply Prepared To Love
As we comply with the needs of the moment, trying to not try too hard, our ears and eyes piqued to discerning the needs of the other, we may simply be prepared to love.
Love is a language all its own. Almost without thought, but strong in care, at its most definitive need, it transcends language, culture, and interpersonal history. It doesn’t try, but just sits prepared to give of itself.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.