What to Do When People Don't Sympathize with Your Suffering
- Nancy Guthrie
- 2018 9 Jan
When Things Get Quiet
Oftentimes when we lose someone we love, people come around us, and it is so great in the lowest days of our lives to be surrounded by people who really care. And people are generally really good to show up in those early days—those days in between the death and the funeral or the memorial service, and for a few weeks after.
And then we sense that everybody's moved on, and maybe there will begin to be only a few people who seem to remember. And people seem to expect that after losing a loved one, we should be on some kind of steady trek to getting better.
What people who haven't been through grief don't understand is, so often in the midst of that loss, we feel so supported by others, and that can provide a burst of strength to get through early days. But, then things get really quiet, and everybody seems to disappear, slowly one by one. Maybe only a few people remember.
People go on with life and they stop asking about it. That can really hurt because for a while, for the grieving person, it gets worse because the reality is just sinking in. There are all of these firsts that we don't get to experience with the person we've lost, and all of the reminders seem so relentless. For many people, it gets worse before it gets better, and just before we're at our lowest, that's when people really start to forget.
Give Some Grace
We have some options when that happens. One option is that we get really bitter and resentful toward people who aren't bringing it up anymore. We have a sense of entitlement to everyone's attention and sympathy and we keep a score on people. Maybe we don't write it down, but we know.
It's just so easy to grow resentful in the midst of grief as we feel that people are forgetting us. Going down the path of choosing to take offense and become bitter leads to disrupted relationships and alienation from people. Here we are lonely in the midst of grief and that loneliness just grows.
The other pathway is to be realistic about people and their ability to enter into your suffering, to stay, and to remember. I hope if you're a grieving person that God has given you at least a few people who still remember and still have the courage to ask you about your grief. But, perhaps it's unrealistic to expect that everybody should continue to focus on it.
You can't help thinking about your loss because it's like a computer program running in the back of your mind. It's always happening—a veil through which you see everything. But, many people are going on with life and they do forget, and if they haven't been there, they don't understand that it might be getting harder for you, instead of easier.
I encourage you to recognize that perhaps it's not appropriate to expect someone who hasn't been there to get it. We think they should know, they should understand, they should know what to do. Well, if they haven't been there, then they really don't know.
Help Others Help You
The other thing I would say is don't expect people to read your mind. Maybe they really think you don't want them to bring it up. So, it can be really helpful to people to just tell them. Maybe you write a letter six or twelve months down the road and send it to all the people close to you, and tell them, I just want to tell you guys where I am in my grief. I'm still feeling this tremendously, and honestly, it's really hard for me that nobody's talking to me about it anymore. This can be really awkward and I recognize that, but I want you to know that I want to talk about this person who died, and I want to talk about how this is impacting me, and I still really need you to draw in close.
So, don't expect people to read your mind. Tell them that you want to talk about it. Don't be afraid to bring it up yourself. But, probably most importantly, don't hold onto the resentments towards the people who have forgotten. Instead, ask God to do a work of grace in your heart, to give you the strength to begin to reach out to other hurting people. Ask God to open your eyes to the hurting people around you, that you could begin to extend to other people the kind of care, concern, and compassion that you so wish other people would show to you.
Article originally published on Crossway.com. Used with permission.
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.
Practical and down-to-earth, this short guide will equip you to come alongside a loved one who is hurting and offer comfort in ways that really help.
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