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3-part series: 2/3 How To Support A Grieving Or Hurting Person

When I planned this 3-part series, I have no idea it’d be such a challenge to write this article. I scolded myself, “You idiot, you could have chosen something else to write.”

To begin with, I don’t even wanna attempt to tell you that “I got this”. That because of my personal experience with grief and intense pain, I know what to do to support someone in anguish.

Secondly, to write about it, I had to relive my own pain which has never really gone away, yet. And this is how complex and multi-layered a person’s grief and pain can be.

So, I’m gonna write from this approach—what I wished I could have experienced from others when I was in my darkest pain.

Before we begin to offer support to a grieving or hurting person, firstly, please be mindful of what not to say to them.


If you haven’t read the previous article, you can dive into the 2 minutes read here: 3-part series 1/3: What not to say to a grieving or hurting person


Let’s begin by understanding a few things:

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…

your dreams

your hopes

your faith

your footing

your plans

your future

your memories

everything that has colour and life, forcefully extracted from you, leaving this cave of darkness and nothingness in you.

It’s excruciatingly 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.

In a room with 50 people, I was alone.

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

Be patient

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.

Be open

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.

Be yourself

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.

Be available

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 now.”

Be specific

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.

Read the other articles in this series:

3-part series 1/3: What not to say to a grieving or hurting person

3-part series 3/3: Don’t go through (and don’t let someone go through) pain alone.

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Life lessons

3-part series 1/3: What not to say to a grieving or hurting person

“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.

The pain and experience of a grieving or hurting person are not for anyone to attempt to understand—but rather to empathize.  Click To Tweet

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?

Why do our good intention of comforting a grieving or hurting person turned out bad?

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?

Perhaps it’s to do with our own discomfort with discomfort. We instinctively want order, control, comfort and thus, felt uneasy when things are out of whack. And we subconsciously want to help the grieving or hurting person to “feel better”…although prematurely.

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:

  1. You are a strong man/woman.
  2. Be strong.
  3. Be strong for your children.
  4. Chin up.
  5. He/she is in a better place.
  6. 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.

  1. God has better plans for you.
  2. God has a purpose for you.
  3. Maybe it’s God’s will.

We are not God.

  1. 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.

  1. I know how you feel.
  2. I know how you feel. When I (insert your own story)

No, we don’t.

  1. It’s not as bad as it seems.
  2. Look at it this way.
  3. Don’t be so sad.
  4. 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:

  1. 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?!”

  1. 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.  

Sometimes all a person need is an acknowledgement of their feelings. Click To Tweet
Read the other articles in this series:

3-part series 2/3: How To Support A Grieving Or Hurting Person?

3-part series 3/3: Don’t go through (and don’t let someone go through) pain alone. 

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I thought my mum would be healed from cancer

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.

I don’t understand why God didn’t let my mum live longer than her 57 years on earth.

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.

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Still missing my mummy after two years

Dear God,

You’ve answered some of my silliest littlest prayers like, “Dear God, help me enjoy the process of this dreaded grocery shopping and housekeeping.”

In my immature way, I wished and wished my prayer of letting my mum be with me for much longer, be traded with the rest and be answered instead.

I wished that she has the chance now to enjoy a better daughter. We would have such a wonderful relationship now that I’ve learnt how to love.

But Your ways are a mystery. And it’s beyond my comprehension.

The only comfort is that I’m assured that mummy is safe with You in heaven. Two years free of earthly pain, suffering and sorrow.

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Poems

Fade away, pain (poem)

Fade away, pain

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.

But to this, I am but a human,
Of flesh and blood, I’m made,
And till I return to dust and back to Him,
I guess this hurts and pain will never really fade away?

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Of heaven and my mum, the angel

Today is Christmas Day. It’s the day when Jesus is born.

It’s also the 1st anniversary of my mum’s baptism.

A month after my mum has gone home to the Lord.

I wonder how heaven is like?

I wonder if she can see us from heaven?

I wonder if God appoints her to be an angel in heaven now?

But she must be. I think she is an angel sent down to earth many years ago and now her job is done.

For how can anyone love so many people unconditionally?

How can she be so ever forgiving to her mother who abandoned five of them when they can barely fend for themselves at ages 6, 10, 16…??!!

How can she give so much love?

How can she sacrifice so much without asking for anything in return?

How can she do all these if not for love?

And Christ is love. And forgiveness. Therefore she must be an angel sent from God.

I wonder if I can still say sorry to her for all my wrongs.

Or is it unnecessary to do so in heaven?

I know I’m forgiven. Both by Jesus and by my mum. But I really just want to say, “I’m sorry”. That I repaid her sacrifices with ungrateful things I had done.

I wonder if she had a great party in heaven today since it’s Christmas?

Is she sleeping on soft, fluffy clouds?

I wonder if God’s voice is the only voice I can hear or I can, too, hear her voice?

I wonder and wonder, will she be my mummy forever and ever when we meet one day in heaven?

Abba Father, your answers?

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Poems

If I knew this would be the last (poem)

Wrote this poem of regrets while grieving the loss of my mum.

If I knew this would be the last

If I knew this would be…

The last time I can kiss you

The last time I can smell your hair

The last time I can hear you say, love, love you

The last time you can smile

The last time you can laugh

The last time we can walk hand-in-hand along the seaside

The last time you can call my phone

I would have said everything I need to say to you when you still can respond to me

“If I knew this would be the last”…

is a terrible thing to say;

a terrible feeling to have.

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Respirator (poem)

I wrote this during one difficult night, praying for sleep to come, as I need to drive a four hours journey back to my hometown to see my mum who’s suffering from cancer.

I felt like I’m on a respirator. And it’s keeping me alive with precious oxygen. I can hear my breathing.

Respirator, poem. I wrote this during one difficult night, praying for sleep to come

Respirator

As I lay on my bed trying to sleep,
watching the clock ticking by,
I realised that its getting harder and harder,
to quiet the cries I have inside.

Knowing that I can lose my mom at any time,
with many things that I’ve yet to do for her,
cuts me with despair.
As I lay defeated;
a fish gasping for air.

An image of myself down on the ground I see,
the only thing helping me to breathe,
is The Word of God,
the Holy Spirit,
my Father,
my Lord,
my Jesus—the Holy Trinity.

He is the respirator coursing through my veins
keeping my spirits alive
in a steady hum
and with assuring beats,
breathing life into me.

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Life lessons

A song of comfort—S’lalu Bersamaku

This song “S’lalu Bersamaku” (Always with me), by Indonesian worship singer, Sidney Mohede is on my playlist non-stop.

Amazingly beautiful song. You can feel the pain of the experience, yet with the assurance and comfort of God at the same time.

It was indeed aptly written when he was going through a difficult season in his life.

Only the Lord can comfort the deepest pain in our heart.

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What my mum’s cancer taught me about faith

It’s been 3 months plus since my world crashed upon learning of my mum’s advanced cancer.

Day by day, I learn to cope.

Day by day, I grow stronger.

Day by day, I learn to trust in Him.

Day by day, I pray.

Day by day, I learn to surrender.

Day by day, I learn to let go of guilt and despair.

Day by day, God is teaching me the meaning of life.

Day by day, He is guiding me to see what’s important.

To cherish each and every day.

To not sweat the small stuff.

Less complains. Complain… for what??
For what, when minutes are ticking by.

Day by day, I learn about perspective.
What is important.

Pride is not.
Ego is not.

Selfishness is not.

Who’s right, who’s wrong is not.

When our perspective changed, we find a lot of things are merely small stuff held tightly in our heart; hardening it, gripping our lives. Click To Tweet

At the back of my mind, I know that whatever happens next, I can’t really prepare for it. I don’t know the outcome. I can’t control the result. I just don’t know.

And that’s life.

Life is such that you can control the planning and do whatever you want, but you can’t control the outcome.

You can have the best counsellors and psychologist on earth, but when all is broken, faith is all you have. Faith is all you have to keep looking up, and walk one step, and the next.

The moment I realise this is the start of my journey in learning to let go of things I can’t control.

Update: After 14 months of battle with cancer, my mum who accepted Jesus as her God and Saviour, went home to be with Him. I still miss her so much. But I’m greatly comforted by the fact that I’ll see her again in Heaven.

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3 sms & a funeral

June 15th: My biological dad passed away early this morning. I’m going back to Penang this afternoon…kinda blur in my head now.

That was my SMS to three friends.

Now I’m back in KL. It was certainly a heavy trip to say the very least. But with huge meanings.

I re-learnt the meaning of family, love, forgiveness, friendship, support, sacrifice… and that my late father also listens to The Carpenters as I do.

I’m very glad that everyone got together after so many years. I’m happy to see my Ah Kong, Ah Ma, aunts, cousins & mummy sitting together… didn’t know my family is so big! For all my life, I’m the only ‘Yeoh’.

June 16th: My text message to a friend:

Appreciate your call. I’m ok. Kinda weird coz things r surreal, not logical, suddenly all families bk 2gether. So sudden. He is well-loved by all his siblings. My aunts r loving ppl. We look alike! I’m glad we had the chance2 meet last mth when we knew abt the illness. I hug him4 de 1st time, didn’t know it’s the last.

That’s life.

You won't know when it will be the last chance in life to do something. Click To Tweet

So for what’s its worth, I’m doing all I can to be a better person, and let go.

Let go of so many bondage that is weighing me down in other areas of my life. The ‘should’, the ‘must’, the quest to be right…

It ain’t gonna be easy, for Miss Control Freak to make like a jello and go with the flow, but I’m going to do what I can.

June 17th: Have u ever attended funeral with alcohol? I just had. 1st & last cheers of beer with my father. Finally started2 break me. But I held on. I hope 2mrw is not tough.

Now, I know where I got my beer genes from. (Sure, blame it on a dead person).

What nearly breaks me that night was the realization that we never sat down to clink our beer mugs together, and I’m doing it on the eve of his cremation.

On the actual funeral day, I had to lead the funeral procession as his only child. I wept silent tears as my head was bowed going through the prayers, drops after drops after drops.

Although kinda confused, there was a sense of peace through the sadness when I sat through the prayers for him, lead the procession, and watched as his coffin was wheeled into the cremation area and the metal door slides down.

Is that it?

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