Have you ever been at
church and, with painted smile on, greeted someone and the joy exuded been utterly
inappropriate? Almost the moment I opened my mouth I realised I’d completely missed
the gravity of the situation.
Ever been there? Where that
very moment you pray you can listen with all you have in you so as to
comprehend the other person’s pain — to meet them there. Of course, we cannot
feel what they feel, but the desire to go there is a godly one.
Tears flowed, and they
continued, the dam breached. The face puffed, the chin uncontrollably
quivering. A person broken by the news of a tragedy that has changed the
direction of their life — in an instant. As the story broke forth from her lips,
there were nuances of pain freshly experienced — a mother and a brother who had
also been blindsided with the shock of this loss.
There are many layers of
pain to loss.
Grief is often overwhelmingly complicated.
Of course, I felt inept.
But I quickly realised (for the umpteenth time) that it wasn’t about me. Thank
God pastoral care in grieving situations accommodates the faux pas; that it’s
such an imperfect science.
I realised, again, that
my simply being there,
that my simple interest in her welfare, was enough.
I comprehended that care
is always enough,
even if it doesn’t feel enough.
At one point she said, ‘I
just cannot stop crying… it’s so silly.’ I have heard that so much in people
like her, in a state of disbelief for the grief that smothers all normality
like an avalanche, just one of sorrow.
It is another thing that
I had no answer for, except, ‘You loved him so much and he’s gone; there’s a
lifetime of sadness in that.’ As the words teemed out of my mouth I felt fear
for harming her, but I shouldn’t have been worried. She seemed understood, most
of my words, the depth of their meaning, washing over her; the bodily care
superintending, even overpowering, the words. Good!
The conversation then
centred on how inconvenient tears were. I wanted to say that tears were welcome
here, but I sensed the lack of practicability in my words even as I was about
to usher them into existence. Something important was agreed between us that
moment that didn’t need to be communicated in words.
I had to recognise that
nobody wants to melt all over the floor,
especially in a public place, even if it is in a church.
Later I discovered that
she had been encountered by two others who listened to her at depth — we, the
church, had done as much as we could, and probably exactly what we could and should.
We’re forgiven for wanting
to rescue people from the sorrow of their grief, to make it okay, to aid in
their healing. But grief is far too big to do that; it is an experiential
reality nobody can be saved from.
For the most part, those
who are grieving understand we cannot ‘fix’ them. They may want fixing, but
they also know, and many times accept, that is beyond one human being in one
The realities of grief
cannot be avoided as if there was a way to do that which would address the
problem. Of all people who I sense know this it’s those who are on their own
grief journey, even very early on.
The grieving person doesn’t
need or want
to be told what to do. Doing that is jarring.
We should see that in their response,
for which we ought to be truly sensitive to.
They simply need to know
that we’re willing to spend time with them doing whatever they think might
help. They’re not generally overly needy at these times, and in fact are usually
enamoured of our needs.
It leaves us in the
question we started with: just where would that avalanche of tears be welcome?
In many ways, that is the moment’s answer, for none of us knows when that
moment will sneak up and insist on being
felt. We would pray for a safe and secluded place, with a dear friend or
confidant attending. But life is so often not that convenient.
Certainly, the church
should endeavour to be safe enough to be that place. And so often it is.