Thursday, November 04, 2010

How to Help the Grieving

TITLE: How To Help the Grieving
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 4 Nov 2010

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
MAIN POINT: Three precious verbs to comfort the grieving. Use the LUV paradigm. Listen to them. Understand them. Value them that they are loved.

This week has been a challenge. One of my Church members are grieving right now, having lost their daughter. It is a time to grieve. It is a time to cry and mourn together. In times like these, sometimes we would like to help. We like to do some comforting, and maybe offer a word of encouragement. Despite our best intentions, we can fumble in our various ways. Clumsy words. Inappropriate actions. It happens. A popular question pops up regularly: How do we grieve and mourn with those who mourn?

Short answer: "If in doubt, shut up!"

I have gone through mourning. I mourn over the loss of my dad. I mourn over the deaths of dear friends. I mourn the loss of my peers. Mourning is a part of life. It represents a down moment for me. Sometimes, it makes me uncomfortable. I would rather get up and running, leaping in joyful deeds than to be stuck in the rut of helpless situations. Yet, grief and mournful times is a deep part of what it means to be human. Let me try to offer some tips for those of us wanting to help. I call it LUV.

1) Listening
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

It is a strange phenomenon in human behaviour. We are creatures that habitually like to offer advice. There was a time when I feel depressed. A sister in Christ out of her good intentions came to walk with me. It was not long before I feel like I have to be lectured or tutored upon how to get out of my depression. Instead of finding a listening ear, I feel like I have to become that listening ear for her words of advice! It was frustrating and I had to tell her off.

Sometimes, we can be insensitive to people who are grieving by offering advice at inappropriate times. For people who are mourning, receiving advice is the last thing they ever wanted. People in mourning are not there for us to 'fix.' Hearts that are broken can only be healed through God's love, not fixed through human words of wisdom. As disciples of Christ, our best way to love people in mourning is to listen to them.
  • use your ears to listen intently;
  • affirm them with nodding heads;
  • recognize their pain by holding their hands;
  • sit with them without the urge to 'do' things, but just to be with them.

The first step of love is to adopt a listening posture. The next step is to listen with understandng.

2) Understanding

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,” (Proverbs 3:13)

One of the most difficult things to do is to lay aside our presuppositions and our pre-conceived ideas about what people need. For hurting people, often they are not interested in philosophy, theology or all kinds of ideas about why disasters or pain are happening. Instead, they want to be heard. They want to be acknowledged that what they are feeling is a normal thing. They want to know that they are not crazy. They need assurance. The best gift anyone can offer them is simply to understand.

Do not be too quick to assume we understand. Sometimes, our best understanding of what happened in the past, is absolutely not applicable. It is like trying to rush the bell during the quiz. Before the full question is read out, the participants interrupt as if they know the full answer even before the entire question is read out.

Sorry, your answer is wrong!” says the host.

When we try to interject our own understanding into a grieving person, it can be cruel. Instead, if you really need to say something, here is what you can do:
  • Try to paraphrase in simple words what you have heard;
  • Don't give advice or assumptions. Nod not because you agree with what you hear, but you UNDERSTAND the words and emotions tied to them.
  • If you need to speak, speak at the same tone or mood as them.
The great St Francis of Asissi immortalizes this in his prayer.
Seek not to be understood but to understand.”

During moments of mourning, it is far more important to try to understand without judging or preconceived ideas. Understanding is love in action.

Finally, do not assume that you know, until you are able to validate what you have heard. This brings us to the third part.

3) Validating and Value-date

People needs to feel that they are listened to and understood. Sometimes, in communications, we need to learn not only to paraphrase our understanding, but also to validate what we have heard. Validating acts are like:
  • Nodding your head, or softly saying: “I see.” “I understand.” “Ok. Go on.. ”
  • Withhold advice, but receive their emotions with a big heart. Do not judge their feelings. Simply walk with them, and to talk about their feelings more than you talk yours.
  • encourage them to share by not giving 'precooked' ideas about how to deal with them.
They need to be affirmed for their sense of worth. This is best done by showing that you care for them no matter what happens.

Final Words

During moments of grief, the best thing we can do for people in pain is to LUV them. Love them by listening more than we ever speak. Love them by understanding their emotional ups and downs. Love them by validating themselves as humans who are hurting. Hurting people are not problematic machines needing a mechanic to solve their squeaky wheels or groaning engines. They are delicate souls who require the gentle arms of love and embrace. They are vulnerable beings who need the Body of Christ to surround them with care and protection. They need no advice, but a listening ear, and understanding heart and to know they are valued. Let me close with this prayer that we can all pray.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen


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