When Comforters Talk Too Much
When Comforters Talk Too Much!
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
After the death of my Mother-in-law last month, as friends offered their condolences, I recalled the similar gestures from friends and acquaintances following the death of my own mother more than a decade ago. I noticed a recurring theme in both situations. Many folks assumed that they understood what and how I was feeling about my loss.
Some said as much: “I know just how you feel, because my mother passed away two years ago, and it took me a long time to get over it.” Some only speculated: “O, you must be devastated,” or “Yours must be a more difficult than normal loss because she lived with you in your home for her last four years.” (In fact Pat and I shared the last four years with both my mother, in the 1990’s, and Pat’s mother, before she died last month!)
A part of me wanted to say, in response to such statements, “No, you really have no idea what I am feeling about this loss. You may know about the grief you have experienced in a situation that you presume is similar, but don’t assume that what you felt then is what I feel now.”
But I didn’t say what I was thinking. I quickly realized that there was no way I could explain adequately how and why I thought they were wrong in their hasty assessments. And I really couldn’t think of a good reason to do so anyway.
I also realized that my friends and acquaintances were not so much speaking out of a need to name and explain my grief as they were out of need to revisit their own grief.
So, since I am a private person and quite able to manage my grief without the verbal assistance of self-appointed comforters, and to seek help with my grief if I need to from persons I trust, I found it best simply to thank those who were attempting to acknowledge my pain, and to be glad to offer them the opportunity to reflect on their own pain, in the face of their own loss. They felt better, and so did I.
From this experience I invite you, the reader of this brief reflection, to consider the following humble advice.
First, if you are the person who is grieving be grateful for friends who, with a minimum of words, simply acknowledge and accept the fact that you are grieving without trying to analyze and interpret your grief. But if they do try to analyze and interpret your grief, quietly and gracefully accept their gesture even if it is not particularly helpful.
Second, when it is your turn to support someone else who is grieving, communicate your caring mostly with gestures, with your steady presence and with a minimum of words. And, by all means, resist the temptation to second guess the nature of the other person’s grief, or to offer comments or advice based upon your assumptions!
Remember most people who are grieving want, and need, little more than to know that their friends are close by, waiting with them and paying attention to them as they go through a difficult time that no one can “fix.”
We chose the name Grief Watch for our organization, based upon the words of Jesus, who, as he faced his own imminent death, said to his close friends, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and watch (stay awake) with me.” One of our aims as an organization is to help people know how to” watch” with friends who are grieving without falling asleep on the job as did the friends of Jesus. (Read the story for yourself in Matthew 26: 36-46)