I’ve reflected before on grief, and its impact. The truth is: to be alive is to face grief. To be alive for a long time is often to face profound grief. Gerald Sittser knows this personally, having lost his wife, his mother, and one of his daughters in a car crash — where they were struck by an intoxicated driver. I find Sittser’s book, A Grief Observed, particularly insightful (read it free here). In it, Sittser describes friends who flew in from Chicago right after the accident. When they arrived at his house, his friends looked at each other, realizing they had no answers. They decided simply to be present with him. So, they walked into the house and embraced him with tears, having no idea what to say. Through their vulnerability and availability, Sittser writes, they became a part of his family’s “community of brokenness.”
With the benefit of looking back on that journey (a journey that continues, for sure), Sittser describes 4 things that he recommends we do to share with those who are suffering:
- Be present.
- Be consistent.
- Be patient.
- Show symbolic gestures.
I think the first 3 are self-explanatory. Sittser gives an example of #4, when he describes a friend who for at least the first 18 years after his wife’s death would send him a thoughtful letter on the anniversary of the accident — a note that was sympathetic, but not “syrupy;” reflective, real, & thoughtful. (Sittser shares this story in a 3-part interview with Dennis & Barbara Rainey; it’s a great way to get introduced to Sittser’s experience and what he has learned from it.)
Notice what he doesn’t recommend to help people who are hurting:
- Be present until you figure “they’re surely over it by now.”
- Encourage them to “get on with their life.”
- Talk a lot.
- Offer a lot of scripture and church-y language (Everything happens for a reason or We just have to trust God or God is in control or (heaven forbid) God must have just wanted another angel in heaven.
This doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work, or that He isn’t still on His throne. It simply means that pious platitudes may ring hollow when what people need most is faithful, consistent friends to walk with them. People who are hurting don’t so much need answers for what they are going through, as they need to have a faithful friend go through it with them — no matter how long the pain lasts or what it looks like.
Grief, Sittser says, is like a mountain. When we stand right next to it, the mountain is all we can see. It seems larger than life. But the further we move away from it, the more it becomes less a part of our vision. It never goes away; its height does not change — but our perspective on it does.
What mountains are you facing? How big do they loom in your field of vision?
What mountains of grief or loss or pain are your friends & family facing? Where can you be present, consistent, & patient; how can you show them in practical ways that they are not alone; no matter how long the journey lasts?