Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Loss

This morning, when we were on our way out the door for church, the phone rang.
"Don't get it. It's probably just my parents and I'll call them later," said dh.
"No, we'd better get it. It might be someone who needs us to cover a job at church." I went over to the phone and when I saw that it was Dh's best friend, who definitely does not go to church, I said that we'd leave it.
Dh came running for the phone. I didn't know that dh's best friend's mother-in-law had reached the palliative care stage of cancer. She died this morning. Needless to say, we were pretty subdued as we drove to church.

Whenever I hear of a death in our circle, I always feel at a bit of a loss. I so desperately want to help, to be there for whoever has suffered the loss. On the other hand, I always feel so useless... it's so hard to know just how to be there. I am so afraid of saying something stupid, trying to put a positive spin on the loss or trying to be reassuring, making the person feel alone.

It's funny how something like this seems to hit all at once. Yesterday, we had to take our car into to my brother-in-law to have some work done. When we talked to him afterwards, he was railing on about people in their circle. They had suffered a real tragedy. Last week, the father of my niece's good friend committed suicide (in the hospital emergency ward). He left behind three teenaged daughters and a wife. My b.i.l. and s.i.l. are trying to be there for the family while also trying to help their own daughters, aged 8 and 11, to deal with the knowledge of a daddy killing himself. My b.i.l. was vicious about people being insensitive and not listening to the family, talking too much with platitudes. He isn't someone who thinks much about how other people are feeling and I think he was missing the point. The people saying those stupid things don't mean to be insensitive - there's just something about death that either makes us tongue-tied or a bit stupid.

I wish I felt more confident about how to be there. When my good friend lost her husband to cancer last winter, I tried desperately to be there and my strategy was simple - listen, let her cry, shut up and give food. I don't know whether I was there the way she wanted me to be but we had a lot of conversations where she cried and I told her that she needed to allow herself to be sad and to grieve. The food part made me feel like I was DOING something and doing is my comfort zone. Now, I am finding that she is feeling abandoned and being there and letting her talk and cry seems to mean a great deal to her.

So, we will try and listen and, of course, I am cooking (they are getting a delivery of pasta and lemon bread tomorrow). We will be praying, too, but we won't tell dh's friend, who is not someone of a religious belief system. I just hope it will be enough.


  1. I have been through times of grief a lot this past year, and the biggest thing you can do is do not dump the need back on them. By this I mean dont call and leave it for them to call you back. Sometimes that takes too much energy. Don't tell them to call if they need you, rather see a need and meet it without asking. And don't try to fix it! You don't have to fix it, just support them, let them cry, and tell them it's ok to be sad for a bit. And cooking a meal, oh what a blessing that is :) But don't let the meal stop that week, keep bringing it. Grief is a long process, and often everyone is there at first, it's when the crowd dies down they may need you the most. So sorry to hear of these losses. You have a tender heart, I am sure God will lead you! No I am reading back on this thinking I sound awful bossy! But really, it is a subject dear to my heart :) Blessings to you!

  2. That's really good advice, Stephanie! I don't think you sound bossy at all - it's nice to get the perspective from the other side. I know that my friend who lost her husband has had a really hard time this year and I have seen that each time someone goes out of their way to be there for her, it means more than an outsider could ever know. She can be a bit prickly and during Christmas, she was so unhappy and afterwards, she confessed that she worried that without her husband, she was worried that she would be forgotten. Thankfully, the family and her close friends rallied around her and it has reminded me how important it is not to forget people.
    blessings back to you, too!

  3. You can't make it better, but you can make it easier for them to do their grieving by bringing food so they don't have to deal with those everydays, by shoveling a walk, picking up a child, or simply making a pot of tea and spending time so they can talk if they want. Knowing people care is having a few small things taken off your usual plate of chores are really key, and I know you will do those things beautifully as much as you can.