When Your Family's Lost a Loved One
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
Grief reduces us to—or reveals to us—our neediness and weakness. Some of us have to learn how to receive help from others when we’ve always been self-sufficient. Others of us discover through the process of grief our own physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness that can no longer be covered up.
While this discovery can be unsettling, it’s when we are weak that we are prepared to enter into God’s strength. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” (Matthew 5:3). In other words, our weakness positions us as nothing else does to experience joy in God and connectedness with Him.
It’s Okay to Be Strong
Some of us also discover in the midst of grief a strength we didn’t know was there—in character, in mind and will, in commitment, in endurance, in faith. We have the opportunity to put God’s strength on display through our weakness as He provides what we need in the midst of heartache and difficulty.
There are surely no simple answers to the question, “How are you?” when you’re grieving. We can be sad but not devoid of joy and laughter, wanting to hide but willing to engage, weak in body and mind but strong in spirit.
Getting your family through the loss of your loved one requires making room for all these things in yourself and those around you. It requires allowing for completely conflicting emotions and inclinations. It requires a great deal of grace.
“But How Are You Really Doing?”
Following close on the heels of “How are you?” is its requisite follow-up query:
“No . . . how are you . . . really?”
For many of us men, this is the dreaded, nails-on-the-chalkboard question. To us it implies one of the following:
(a) Your first response is never actually truthful, so now we’ll press for the honest answer.
(b) You are clearly oblivious to your own feelings, and it will require somebody removing your blinders to let you see how you actually feel (and I’ve been appointed to that job).
(c) Your description of how you are is pathetic; here, we’ll give you a second chance to come up with something better.
(d) All of the above.
What is it about this line of questioning from concerned friends that can make us so uncomfortable?
I think I know what it is for me. In the midst of my own pain and confusion, I suddenly also feel responsible to others to give an account for my progress. As the words of my reply come measured through my lips, I’m wondering if my report will be acceptable.
In a sense, I wouldn’t be surprised if the questioner came back with, “Sorry, wrong answer. More hopeful confidence, please. Less feeling sorry for yourself. Less anger (or more).”
Most of us guys are “doers,” and in the uncharted territory of grief we wonder if we’re “doing it right.” In general, we have no idea if we are or not; the seemingly suspicious questions hit us more as interrogation aimed at exposing us than as loving concern.
Interestingly, many of us find it much easier to answer the question, “How is your wife?” or “How are your kids?”
Our perspective on how family members are doing seems much clearer. We’re observing them, we’ve talked things through with them. Though we’re walking through deep and turbulent waters that are probably new to all of us, our senses may be more attuned to family members’ daily condition than to our own. And generally we’re more comfortable talking about them than about ourselves.
Another reason it’s difficult to respond to this question is that most of the potential answers seem somehow off the mark.
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