Monday, April 14, 2008

Acquainted with Sorrow

I rarely answer my cell phone when driving, but when it rang that April afternoon, I answered. I almost didn’t have to. I answered, knowing instinctively what the news was. My friend asked me where I was and I explained I was driving back in town from an appointment. She told me to call her when I was back in town.

When I had left the hospital for an appointment in a nearby town, Bill had been “relatively” stable and I had planned on going right back. But I drove home instead because I knew, as my friend would confirm, that Bill had died.

Bill and I had dated for several months, spending daily time together and talking about the future. At the end of March we took a break, but I anticipated getting back together. In April, Bill (at the age of 41) had an aortic aneurysm. He lingered for a few days, but never regained consciousness.

Recently, I came across a book, Amish Grace by Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher concerning the West Nickel Mines Amish school shootings. I fell upon a passage regarding the Amish and the grieving. It explained that in public settings, Amish who are grieving wear black. The length of time that they wear black depends upon their relationship to the one who has died. What struck me was the reason behind the wearing of black. Simply put, they wear black to remind others in their community to take special care of grieving.

How different from our fast paced society! We don’t say it, but there is a compartmentalization of those who grieve. While the grieving may be intently cared for a few days after the death and funeral, it is a struggle for us in our busy lives to care well for the grieving over the long haul. And it is a long haul. Experts estimate that grief takes 18 months or more.

Bill was not the first person in my life to die. I’ve lost all of my grandparents at various ages and my mother when I was just twenty-three. I’ve lost people quickly and have experienced death that has lingered. Neither is easy. As I’ve grieved Bill, I’ve gone to a grief support group and met others who are grieving. Here are the top three things I’ve learned about those who grieve and how to help them.

Keep asking how you can help. Better yet – don’t just ask but pitch in. Your friend may not know at first how to tell you to how to help, but keep asking or think of things and offer specifics. This could be helping go through belongings or writing out thank you notes. It could mean making phone calls. I’ve learned from those in the support group that death is complicated. There are forms to fill out, names to change, wills to find, people to contact. If you have the time and energy, help with those nitty-gritty details even if you have never done it before. Your friend may not have done it before either, but it will help to have someone to bounce ideas off of.

Stay connected and have a ready ear. Especially if your friend lived with their loved one, the sudden isolation can be staggering. For those who have lost both parents, there may be the sobering realization that even though they are adult, they are now an “orphan.” Be willing to listen to stories about the loved one or even the death over and over. Be patient. This talking it out is part of “framing” the grief. Eventually, this part of grief moves from something handled daily to that which can be hung on the wall. It’s still there, but it no longer takes center stage. Rather, it can be taken down periodically and good as well as sad remembrances can be shared.

Care for the grieving over the long-haul. Write down the date of death and write a reminder in your calendar 1 month, 3, months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months out. On those dates, send a note, make a phone call, or have a cup of coffee. For some reason the “threes” are particularly hard. While no one can tell me why that is, those who work with the grieving and those that grieve know that it is. My theory is that those come with the changing of seasons in most areas and are a reminder that the loved-one is no longer present.

When we walk with the grieving, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (KJV). In John 11, Jesus learns that his friend, Lazarus, has died. When he sees Lazarus’ sister Mary weeping, it says that Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33, NIV). And in versus 35 it says, “Jesus wept.” (NIV).

I am fascinated that Jesus wept even knowing that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He was moved by Mary’s grief and wept with her. I think we often shy away from the grieving because we don’t want to feel such raw emotion and don’t like not knowing what to do or say. Be yourself and let yourself be moved by your friend’s grief – to weep with them, to listen to them, to serve them, to be Jesus to them.

Bill died April 23, 2007. As might be expected, he has been on my mind a bit lately. I'll probably share more about him over the next week. He was a special person in my life -- a gift even if I only had him for a short while.

Sorry if this is a bit more "article" sounding. I wrote it to submit for publication, but I thought I would share it with you as well.


Lelia Chealey said...

Very sweet Amy. When I was pregnant with my oldest, my close friend Jennifer was killed by a drunk driver. I've always called them on Dec. 16-the date of her death & her b-day too... April 6th. With all that was going on I forgot her bday...tomorrow I will call. Her mom always tells me how much it means to them that I've not forgotten her & I'm the only one who still talks about her. 17 years & it's still a hard death to accept. 18 years too young to die.
Thanks for the reminder to remember & I'm so sorry about the loss of Bill. Somethings just don't make any sense.
Also, thanks so much for all of your encouragment with my girls. Granddaughters before 40yrs of age...not too shabby after all~especially when they're only 5 days old! :)

Jenny said...

I'm sorry for your loss but the advice you shared will really help people.

Have a great evening ~

heather said...

I have been touched by your posts about Bill.
Your talking about the grieving process came to my mind tonight, and I realized that I am at 6 months this week from being in the hospital on the mental health unit. No wonder things have been so hard this week.
thank you for your prayers, and when i am more awake adn have more energy adn time, i will let you know how today went.
God bless,