It is difficult and highly uncomfortable to bear the anguish of others.
As mentioned in last week’s article, we are wired to want order, control, comfort, and when things are out of whack, we want to fix it.
We want the person who’s in anguish to feel better. But offering opinions, advice, cliched phrases will make the person feel even worse.
The flipside to this—because we don’t know what to say or what to do, we might end up ignoring the grieving person, pretending that nothing happened, or we stay silent.
Can I offer us some relief through this fact? —Nothing we can do will take the pain away from a grieving or hurting person.
We can’t put the broken pieces together. We can’t fix it. The pain must be borne by the person. But he or she doesn’t have to be bear it alone.
The question to ask ourselves: Are we willing to do it? Are we willing to be brave in love? Do we dare to be vulnerable? To stand beside our friend or family, knowing that while we can’t help to fix the pain, we can offer empathy and step into their suffering.
If we are willing to be brave, here’s the key to supporting a grieving or hurting person:
We must learn to bear the uneasiness of our inability and helplessness to fix the situation.
The most important thing we can do to support a grieving or hurting person:
Offer presence and patience. No one should have to go through pain alone.
Pain is like a mega vacuum, sucking everything you’ve got from deep within…
everything that has colour and life, forcefully extracted from you, leaving this cave of darkness and nothingness in you.
isolating as the world and people around you became aliens.
I still can see the memory of myself in the room where my colleagues gathered on Tuesdays for church staff devotion.
I can see the back of myself, all dressed in black, (don’t ask me why; I just couldn’t bear any colours then) standing within a circle of people who were singing worship songs to the Lord.
I tried to break from the circle by standing a few steps behind; the proximity with others made my pain more challenging because I had to fight harder to not be overcome by my emotions. My head hung low as the singing continued, though I can control myself from sobbing, I can’t control the tears and snots that were dripping down too fast to be wiped away.
The same with my church’s new small group. Week after week, as we sang worship songs, my head
hung low in nothingness, tears dripped onto my shirt, alone in my pain among a
new group of people I have yet to build trust in.
Through the dark times, I had a handful of people who knew what happened, and who had exchanged text messages of comfort and support. For that, I’m so thankful.
But I wonder if physical presence or even phone calls would offer more solace?
Ways to be present
If we wanna support someone who’s grieving, we must be consciously patient, with ourselves, our good intentions and the other person. Bear with the uneasiness of listening to their anguish without offering advice.
We may have to be with the person, as long as it takes, through tears, through when they express their anger, disappointment, hopelessness and confusion. The process is not linear. There’s no fixed timeline for when anyone should get out of grieving.
It changes sometimes from day-to-day. We must be patient to the friend who seemed ok yesterday but has slumped to a low today. Sometimes, we have to offer a listening ear or even just being present in silence.
If a person can be raw and grief without shame or trying to hold themselves together for the sake of being a comfort to you (see how ironic this is?), he or she might have higher chances of healing better and faster. It’s those who suppressed their pain who had to wear the chain for a much longer time.
Sometimes, our friend wants some
normalcy in his or her’s mayhem and we have to be the same, usual person who
your friend hangs out with over a meal or drink.
Give the person space yet let them know you will be around. It’s normal for us to not know what to do and in what measure; when should we ask, when we should we not?
We can be open and say, “I’m here if you wanna
talk about it. And I’m ok if you don’t and wanna talk about something else for
Offer help but be specific. “Let me know if you need help” is not making it easier for the person.
Offer specific help like, “I can bring dinner over on weekdays, but I don’t want to interfere. Please let me know whether you want me to do this or you want to do this yourself. I’m happy to help.”
I hope these guidelines will give us the courage to be present in love with someone going through grief and pain.
Oh ya. Presence and present are sometimes a beautiful match. Bringing a gift of chocolate, a bottle of wine (exercise some discernment though), or the griever’s favourite food can help to increase the physical comfort for him or her.
“You know, you shouldn’t be so sad. Your mum is with Jesus now.” said someone with a righteous tone, when I shared about grieving over my mum.
My brain felt like shouting angrily at her. I told her sternly with matching, burning eye contact, “Don’t you dare tell me how to feel or not to feel.” I think the saving grace was she didn’t quote Bible verses to make her points valid.
My mum went from a robust frame to a shrivelled skin and bones shell due to a 14-month of cancer and chemo hell. I lost her when she was 57 years old. Said my last goodbye with a gentle kiss on her eyelid as I saw her breathed her last breath. We’ll meet again in Heaven, I told her.
I must say through the years of grieving, there’s yet anyone who had been able to offer much comfort or help to me. Yes, I could have sought help from a grief counsellor, if I can find one.
So, I wrote this series on supporting those who are grieving.
The intention of this three-part series is to hopefully help us to better walk alongside those who are hurting.
I’m certainly still on a learning process as there are no one-size-fits-all set of rules. But I hope this series can help us to be more aware and careful when dealing with these delicate situations.
One golden reminder, at different points in our own lives, the situation will reverse to us being the grieving or hurting person.
So, please have this in mind and really, just asking ourselves, how would we like to be at the receiving end of someone’s good intentions?
It’s safe to say most people have good intentions when faced with a grieving or hurting friend. But, why do some of us ended up alienating the person we wanted to offer comfort and help?
We also don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t really put ourselves in the other person’s shoes simply because we are not them. Yes, we can’t imagine what they are going through, not 100% anyway. So, stop trying to.
We try to logically understand why a grieving or hurting person is saying certain things: “I hate so and so!” “I’m so angry at God!” and we tried to correct them (again, with good intentions).
Or they might be asking questions like “What does God want?! Why is He doing this?!”. Please discern whether are they expressing their raw emotions or are they seeking an answer?
From my personal experiences both with grieve and hurts, here’s a guide of what not to say to a grieving or hurting person:
You are a strong man/woman.
Be strong for your children.
He/she is in a better place.
There’s no more suffering
What does this mean? They don’t need to have to be strong at this moment. By saying that, we have closed the door for them to heal by forcing them to suppress their feelings. I think these statements should be made illegal.
God has better plans for you.
God has a purpose for you.
Maybe it’s God’s will.
We are not God.
Bible verses, motivational quotes at the wrong time.
Unless we are so intimately guided by the Holy Spirit to release these words to the hurting, let the person have the space to come to terms with the situation.
I know how you feel.
I know how you feel. When I (insert your own story)
No, we don’t.
It’s not as bad as it seems.
Look at it this way.
Don’t be so sad.
Why are you so affected by it?
Don’t belittle their feelings and don’t compare the levels of pain.
The grey areas of what not to say to a grieving or hurting person:
How are you?
At the right time, this gives permission for the person to express their feelings. At the wrong time, it’ll feel intrusive. The person might be so down that he or she has no energy to even talk about it. At the worst time, it’ll feel offensive. “My mum died, and you are asking me, how am I?!”
Bible verses, comforting quotes.
At the right time, especially if guided by the Holy Spirit, it’ll lend blankets of comfort to the person. At the wrong time, well.
Sigh. I know it’s not easy. We really just want to express our love for the person. However, saying the wrong things with the right intention may risk making a person feel isolated in their pain.
Three months after I joyfully accepted Christ into my life, I received the shocking news that my mum was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.
But I was confident that she would somehow be miraculously healed by God. On top of that, just three days after her cancer diagnosis, my mum accepted Christ in her hospital bed. So I thought that God has a plan to use my mum’s life powerfully once He has healed her!
That didn’t happen.
After a draining 14 months of fighting the disease, my mum left me, just a month before Christmas. What used to be a robust, chubby and full-of-life body became a frail, underweight and lifeless shell.
Four years after she is gone, I still wish that my mum & I would have the chance for a great mother-daughter relationship, now that, through Christ’s love, I know how to love her better.
But, in my pain, I seek comfort from knowing that with her salvation through Christ, she now has eternity with God. No more tears and suffering. Thank you, Lord.
Every sickness, every weakness, every fear, and doubt and shame; every burden, every hurt is overcome in Jesus name.
Being a subscriber is the best way to read my latest posts
Success! You're on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn't process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.
It’s Chinese New Year, A first without mum, Didn’t know that it’ll be that weird, To celebrate and laugh while my heart still hurts.
I’ve been thinking of her, Her roaring laughter still ringing in my ears, I can see her pottering in the kitchen, Dishing out my favourite dishes that she knows I love. These I have no more, And it’s the heartache that’s left to endure. Oh, how we boast about our future, When nothing on earth is secure.
I keep my eyes on Jesus, When all is too much to bear, Lay my weary head on Him, To Him, I try to cast my cares.
I know mum is in heaven, A place she can call home for eternity, No more awful earthly suffering, For this, I’m thankful for His mercy.