There was once a man who was traveling when he was attacked and beaten to the point where he might have died. Two different people came by, but neither helped, one possibly out of fear and one perhaps out of selfishness. Then a stranger happened by and had compassion and helped the man until he was healed enough to care for himself.
I’ve written about the story of the good Samaritan before. This time will be different.
There are people all around us who have been attacked and beaten on the road of life. In some cases, their injuries are so severe they are unable to function. Their injuries are not physical; they are emotional. These people have lost someone they love. A child, a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend. Whatever the circumstances, the wounds are real even if you can’t see them.
I recently got to tour Calm Waters, a center for helping people during their grief journey. One thing that stood out to me was how often people’s behavior and personality shifts after a significant loss. It was also disturbing to realize how few people are getting help to process their grief and reconcile it.
I say reconcile, because no one really recovers from grief. People don’t “get over” a loss. However, over time, the feelings soften, and the intense pangs of grief become less frequent. Reconciliation brings a renewed sense of hope, energy, and confidence.
Back to the story. When the Samaritan found the man in the road, he gave him the kind of help he needed. He poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds and bandaged him up. He helped him get to a place of safety where he could rest. He took the burden of care off him so he could recover.
There are needs a person has during their grief journey. While we cannot do the work of mourning for someone, we can participate with them in ways that are healthy and helpful. Mourning involves acknowledging the reality of the death, embracing the pain of the loss, remembering the person who died, developing a self-identity without the deceased, searching for meaning, and receiving support from others.
Before we look at what we can and should say and do, let’s deal with what we shouldn’t say.
There are some things people often say that make the wounds worse instead of helping them to heal. “You’ll be ok after a while.” “Be brave, you can push through this.” “At least they didn’t suffer.” “They are in a better place.” “This reminds me of a loss I went through…” Anything we might be tempted to say to make things better probably won’t. The loss is real. The feelings are real. We can’t fix that.
The things we say and do have the power to help someone make this journey or potentially to hinder them. Knowing what kind of things to say and do gives us the chance to be the Samaritan.
The first thing we must know is that the grief journey isn’t short. Mourning is a process that takes place over time, and they will need support for months and even years after the loss. To be helpful, we must realize the impact loss can have on people and be available, not just in the days after, but for the long haul.
Next, we need to realize that we cannot make it better or do the work for them. My spiritual mentor tells me, “There is your job, their job, and God’s job.” We cannot do their job, nor can we do God’s, but we can help.
- Tell them how sorry you are. It’s simple. It’s important to acknowledge that something tragic and sad has happened and you are sorry.
- Share a memory. Someone grieving a loss wants and needs to remember the person. Sharing our memories helps that process. Ironically, sometimes people think that by talking about the person you will make the person who is grieving sadder. The opposite is true.
- Offer them space to talk, or not. Be willing to sit with someone and let them talk about how they are feeling if they want to. Or let them be still if they need to be. If you want to say something, tell the person that however they are feeling is ok.
- Recognize how hard it is for them. We cannot take the pain away. We cannot fix it. We can acknowledge their pain and grief by letting them know we can see how difficult this is. Just letting them know this can help them feel heard and supported.
- Ask what they need. Saying “Let me know if you need anything.” seems like a nice gesture, but it isn’t really helpful. Ask what they specifically need and assure them you are more than willing to do it. If they can’t think of anything at the moment, you can suggest things like a meal, doing chores, or running errands. Either way, ask again later. Then again.
Ultimately, we need to take our cues from the person. This requires paying attention and being open to just being with them without saying or doing much of anything. I would encourage anyone who knows someone who is grieving a loss to tell them about Calm Waters. There is even training you can get to help people in their grief journey.
There are so many people who have been wounded and feel like they have been left on the roadside. I want to be someone who stops and offers the kind of help that is needed. I want my words and actions to be like oil and wine on their wounds, not salt. I want to be safe for them to talk about their feelings and their loss. I want to continue offering help until the person can stand on their own. I want to be that person because someday I may need that person, and it is The Kimray Way.