She pulled herself from under the covers. She couldn’t sleep anyway. Between the physical storm that presently ripped through the sky, and the storm that had crashed in on their world just a few hours earlier, there was no peace in slumber. There was no peace anywhere.
She stumbled to her computer and that’s when she saw my message. Emotion bubbled up inside, and she replied, “There is no chapter in a book that prepared me for this…”
My mind went back to many years ago when I got a phone call. I just returned from a weekend away and was on cloud nine. But then I heard the words, “Cammie was in a plane crash… and died…”
My body was thrown to the floor like I’d been punched in the stomach. Pain gripped me from the inside out and hurled itself through my veins, and then out of my mouth in an incomprehensible scream.
Cammie was my best friend.
The next few days were a blur. I somehow showed up on the family’s doorstep one dark night. We watched the news together after barely talking. The story blared from the set, and they showed footage of the plane. Her sister started screaming, the reality of horror setting in. We consoled her, and cried with her. It was all too much for me.
I then went to a friend’s home who did not know Cammie. I stayed there for hours, crying, reminiscing, talking, and being silent. The guys in the house did nothing but listen. They didn’t know what to say, but that was fine. Their silence was sacred to me. And my healing began.
I learned this past year in chaplaincy training that there is a name for this: ministry of presence. We can provide comfort just by being present.
When the shock and grief hits head on like a Mack truck, there are no words. The body is reeling from shock and numb with pain, the mind is a jumbled mess of questions and rationalizations and disbelief, and the spirit is injured. The survivor simply can’t hear anything.
They don’t want to hear you’re sorry. Everybody says that.
They don’t need to hear the upside view of things. At this moment there is no bright perspective – their lives have been forever changed. They will resent your minimizing of their loss.
They don’t need someone to force them to eat. The body shuts down the need for food in the initial stages of shock and grief. They will eat eventually. Hand them a bottle of cold water instead.
They don’t need advice. Solutions will present themselves soon enough. Let the grief have its moments.
They don’t need you to pass judgment on how they grieve. Every person grieves differently.
They do need someone who will allow them to talk without interruption, cry as softly or loudly as need be, be silent and quiet as thoughts untangle, and to offer a comforting touch or hug if appropriate.
They do want to hear short positive memories or compliments of the person lost when appropriate.
They will appreciate happy photos of the deceased.
Then, after the funeral and burial have passed and the world moves on, they will appreciate your acknowledgement that you are still thinking about them, they are not alone, and they are not forgotten. Cards are best sent a month or two after the death. Flowers at Christmas in memory of the loss, or a tribute of some kind, or a phone call – it’s never too late to reach out to the survivor.
On the third of every month, my daughter (who lost a close friend on Super Bowl Sunday of this year) will come in and announce how long it’s been since Morgan died. We share a moment eye to eye, and I am silent to allow her to comment. Sometimes I give her a hug. Sometimes she’s quiet, sometimes she sheds a tear.
It’s all good.
Grief, in all its anguish, is a normal, natural part of life. It is not something to avoid, but to make time to embrace and work through unhurried. Our loved ones who pass away are worth it.