When Your Family's Lost a Loved One
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
“I’ve been better.”
“I’m 32.7 percent better than I was last time you asked.”
The responses poised on the ends of our tongues seem trite, glib, depressing, unbelievable, or insulting. Or they expose a lack of self-understanding to which we’d rather not admit.
I’ve found it helpful to tune my ear to hear a different question—or actually, not a question at all. As I slogged through the insecurity of grief with my family during our loss experiences, when someone asked, “How are you . . . really?” I began to translate it to mean, “I care about you.”
It’s that simple: “I am bold enough to ask this question because I know you must be hurting. I know it must be very difficult. When I try to put myself in your shoes I can hardly imagine what it must be like. So I ask how you are. I really want to know, because I care about you.”
Sure, I suspected that a few inquisitors were motivated more by an all-knowing superiority than by compassion: “I’ll get you to dig down and tell me the dirty truth whether you want to or not!” Or, “I know grief, and I can tell by your superficial response that you’re not really dealing with it yet.”
But I chose to receive even those probings as gifts of concern. At least the interrogator cared enough to ask!
Eventually, I worked out simple, honest answers like these:
“It’s very hard, but I’m doing well. Thank you so much for asking.”
“This week was difficult because _______. Thanks so much for asking.”
“Believe it or not, I’m great. Thanks for your prayers, and thanks so much for asking.”
As I tried to respond graciously to probing questions, I saw that even though the process made me somewhat uncomfortable, it proved to be a blessing to the one who asked. This is a great arrangement, because it pays dividends for everybody. As Proverbs 11:25 (ESV) says, “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”
Can you receive those sometimes-too-earnest inquiries that make you squirm or snarl as genuine gifts of love and concern? Can you see them as coming from friends who struggle to understand your situation and to know how they should respond?
Chances are that many people want to try to walk with you. Some want to help if they can; others just want to empathize. Receive them all as a gift from God, knowing that they care—really!
“And How Are You Doing As a Family?”
Nancy and David
When we think back to those early days of grief in our family, we realize that the process took a dramatically different shape for each of us.
Much of Nancy’s emotion was wrapped up in disappointment that she wouldn’t have a daughter who would look like her, talk like her, and grow up to be her friend in her old age.
David, on the other hand, felt the helplessness of a father who was unable to protect his daughter from the foreign invader—and a husband who couldn’t make everything better for his sad wife.
While our son, Matt, couldn’t articulate many of his thoughts and feelings at the time, we have to wonder: How does a sibling compete with the memory of a child who was never old enough or healthy enough to disobey or disappoint? How does he adjust to having parents who cry at the most inopportune times?
Perhaps the starting place for figuring out how your family is doing is to identify how the loss has affected each of you—to get outside your own thoughts and feelings to consider those of each family member.
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