She Can’t Grieve on Command

April 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm 22 comments

How To Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 6

I tend to be a rule-follower. I like to follow instructions. That’s why I knit and I don’t do interior design. I get to follow a pattern when I knit. I get to check off the boxes in my mind as I go down the pattern—DONE! Wow, that feels good.

That’s not how it is when you’re grieving. That’s not how it will be if you persevere in friendship with a grieving person. It’s more like a spontaneous dance or some kind of unfunny improv. And if you’re like me, that can be anything from annoying to downright infuriating.

In my last post I said it’s often good to talk to your grieving friend about her loss. Now I’m going to turn around and tell you it’s not good. Sort of. It’s complicated.

I’ve had a lot of people come up and ask me how I’m doing because they want to know me in this hard time. Sometimes I’m able to engage emotionally. But when someone asks me how I’m doing and in that moment I’m struggling to just be a normal woman (as opposed to a weepy one), I don’t know how to respond. I don’t always want to grieve or open up.

I really appreciate their concern and prayers. What I’ve discovered, though, is that this kind of conversation can accidentally place a burden on the friend grieving to “have a moment” right then.

I try to receive graciously, because I know that it comes from my friend’s genuine care for me. I know it, but I don’t always feel it. Often all I feel is a huge expectation from that person: “Grieve—now!”

I know these kinds of interactions happen because I don’t get to see these friends regularly and they are trying to seize the moment to let me know they care. But it’s just not possible for me to turn it on. I can’t grieve on command.

So if you are an acquaintance of a grieving person and you try to find out how she’s doing (out of sincere love and concern) you might get a response like, “Today’s a good day. Thanks for asking,” or “Today has been kind of hard. Thanks for asking.” This might not be what you expected. Perhaps she’s not letting you in emotionally the way you were hoping. But please accept whatever she can give you even if it’s not much.

Just be sure to hear the second part of her answer—“Thanks for asking.”

(Read other posts in this series.)

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Entry filed under: Grief. Tags: .

She May Explode (But Probably Not) Ask Her Specific Questions

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chelsea  |  April 4, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    This seems like it ties in with the “church lobby” conversations. I never would have thought about it before, but I can see now why it’s not a good idea to bring it up like that.

    Reply
  • 2. crystal bowers  |  April 4, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    wow! you do such a good job of interpreting your feelings/thoughts and putting them into words.

    reading these posts have been sooo helpful for me to look back on the experience of loosing my mom to suicide (after finding out she had been having an affair for 4 years..). I wasn’t able to articulate these things… but felt them.

    and now that it’s 4+ years after my mom has died…. I feel like I should be the expert on how people should help their greiving friends…. but i still feel pretty helpless in that department.

    so i want to say… thanks so much for taking the time, strength to write these posts!
    <3

    Reply
  • 3. Andrea  |  April 4, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Thank for tackling this subject and doing so from the heart. I lost my dad when I was 18 years old. You are so right that grief has no timeline. There are moments even now when I will look over at my daughter and suddenly feel the loss of my dad all over again. Mostly out of longing for them to have known each other, for what could’ve been. I always felt that I wasn’t “Christian enough” if I couldn’t handle the grief and be done with it. Many years later, I know (thanks to the teaching of your great father-in-law) that there is a joy in Christ to be found amidst my suffering and pain. I don’t try to ignore the grief, that would be impossible. I do thank God for it becoming a part of who I am and hope to use it to glorify Him and help others. Just as you are doing with this blog. I also appreciated your blog on stalking. I’ll have to use that myself to encourage more comments from friends and strangers. You can be sure I’ll be a new regular reader here. Soli Deo Gloria

    Reply
  • 4. Kellie  |  April 4, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    That is so true Molly. What a good word.

    Reply
  • 5. Mrs. MK  |  April 4, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    How I do appreciate it when people ask—though you are very right—there is often not the emotional engagement that they are looking for, or even that I wish I could give.

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to put into words all these mixed up feelings. You are blessing me so much!

    Reply
  • 6. shawnda  |  April 4, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    That was good, Molly. This is definitely something I am SURE I have done….not just in grieving, but in every day challenges with people…..if I’m talking to them, I just want them to “go there” with me b/c I love them and want to know their heart. THIS was really convicting for me. Now it’s all the more confusing ; ) but, nonetheless, helpful! : ) Thanks!!

    Reply
  • 7. puremotif  |  April 4, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    this is a really good contrast to your other post. thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • 8. Elaine Williams  |  April 4, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I know many times I just gave a superficial answer to “how are you doing?” It was all I could manage some days. So it’s not only that people sometimes don’t know what to say, sometimes the person grieving doesn’t want to talk about it. So hopefully friends will just support and be there when they do want to talk.

    Reply
  • 9. Lisa S  |  April 5, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Right on! I have to thank you again for articulating what I have been feeling but unable to express. What I have learned by going through this is that people who interact with those who grieve are trying to put themselves in your place, and they can’t because they have had experienced life differently than I have, and they carry different baggage from that than I do. I’m at a place where I’m starting to think that acceptance of where I’m at might be better than attempts at empathy. But I sure do appreciate that people care and are trying to relate. (I hope that makes sense) I guess what I’m trying to put out there is that grieving is much more than missing the ones you have lost. It changes you as a person – forces you to examine who you are, where you have come from, and where you are going.

    Reply
  • 10. Dolores Bowers  |  April 5, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Molly, I was moved to tears reading your blog and, even though you don’t know me, I’ll be praying for you. We miscarried over 20 years
    ago and I would have loved to have been able to express myself as well as you do. We don’t have a grave to visit but know that we have another child waiting for us in heaven to meet someday.
    I’d love to chat with you via email about possibly using your blog entries for a short ladies’ Bible study at our church this spring. I think
    it would be a great help for many others.
    Thank you for your courage in sharing such raw emotions.

    Reply
  • 11. Diana  |  April 5, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I totally agree with Lisa S. I am a different person now. I also see things differently as well.

    Once again, I feel blessed to be able to read these posts.

    Reply
  • 12. elisa engesser  |  April 5, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Molly, Thank you so much for being willing to open your heart to everyone like this. I pray you find much healing in it, as others are being blessed as well.

    We’ve lost three babies in miscarriages, the most recent “home-going” being last fall. It is so true that those tears are just under the surface. Some days it feels like one word could set me off, days like today.

    Thank you again for these posts. Even though I am acquainted with this kind of grief, I am clearly a sinner in need of help and appreciate these wise ideas.

    Thank you,
    elisa

    Reply
  • 13. Debbie  |  April 6, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I so agree with what you are saying. I lost my brother suddenly 5 months ago and have been stunned by the grief. I appreciate a friend who just talks normally to me and allows me to bring up my brother whenever I want. My conversations are so scattered because I am always thinking of him just underneath everything else. So I can be talking about grocery shopping one minute and something my brother said or did the next. Then I’m back to a sale at Penny’s, then to my brother’s last words, and on and on. It can be a challenge to listen to, but I so appreciate friends who just go with the flow of it and allow me to talk.

    Reply
  • 14. Jenny  |  April 6, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Molly, I came here via… oh, I don’t even know how I found you :) But we go to BBC and I have been rivited by your openness (both on this blog and on Abraham’s 22 words blog), your ability to express yourself so – raw – and yet so – hopeful . Thank you for making this a public expression of your grief, as well as this helpful series. You write it so honestly and so graciously, and it has been very helpful for me and many others.
    Jenny Wilson

    Reply
  • 15. leanne gilchrist  |  April 6, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Molly~

    I found you through someone else’s blog……..I’m so glad I did.

    I have to tell you that I was sort of scared of what I’d find when I logged on to your blog, especially these posts about how to treat a grieving friend. I’m not sure why….

    I have 6 kids, and when my 5 year old was 9 months old, we got pregnant again. Our baby died at 26.5 weeks. I’m trying to make this as simple as possible, although I think you know that it just isn’t!!

    After baby #6, we tried for over a year to get pregnant again, only to miscarry in late July of 2007…….and again on Valentine’s day 2008. I almost died after that miscarriage…….I’d never had a miscarriage in all of my life, never.

    I loved your posts in this series. I found myself nodding my head while reading each one. You handle it with such grace and the right suggestions and words.

    I was afraid to visit you on your blog for fear all of the grief would just come rushing out, and I guess I didn’t want to hurt again, although the pain is who I am now….

    Ugh, this comment just doesn’t sound like me!!! If you want to visit me, you can visit me over at homeschoolblogger.com/stillgrowing, to get to know me, and then you can hop over to mysupplications.blogspot.com.

    Sorry for the randomness of this comment……..I pray that you find time to visit me and get to know me.

    I loved your blog.

    Leanne in Longview

    Reply
  • 16. nanette  |  April 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    This May will be 5 years since my first child Natalie went to heaven when I was 34 weeks pregnant. Your blog would have been such an encouragement to me at the time, and now I can read your blog and remember feeling just like you are feeling. Keep up the great work. Praise the Lord that He has given you the wisdom and courage to be so honest.
    I am so sorry for the loss of your Felicity. I am sure you still miss her so much. She would be so proud of how you are trying to help others.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  • 17. erin  |  April 6, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    I found this blog through “Amy’s Humble Musings,” and I’m so glad I did. I have a friend who just lost a baby at 11 weeks in February, and I have been so grieved for her and also concerned that I will inadvertently hurt her by saying something stupid or unhelpful. These posts help me to better understand what this grief looks like. God bless you.

    Reply
  • 18. Cari  |  April 21, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Molly-
    Do you remember me? Thankyou so much for your insight. I especially wondered as an acquantance of a grieving friend how to let someone no that you find their grief significant and are praying for them without putting them on the spot and giving them the pressure to open up to someone that is practically a stranger. So this post and the one before are very helpful. I apologize for church lobby comments, and appreciated your idea of a heartfelt note instead. I know I don’t know you very well, but I have a lot of respect for you and appreciate what you have taken time to share here, it is very helpful. I also passed on your husband’s poem to a woman whose baby went home to Jesus after 2 1/2 hours just a two weeks ago. And finally, Felicity is a beautiful name for a beautiful girl.

    Reply
  • […] of their loss, but they might not want to feel that loss with you right then. Just before dinner might not be a good time for “a […]

    Reply
  • 20. Lori  |  May 12, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Thanks for these words of wisdom.

    Reply
  • 21. lorijo  |  July 17, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    interesting thoughts. it’s been weird having little or no emotions and people apologizing for my loss, or crying for me and i have nothing. nada. it’s part of having a imperfect relationship, and bigger picture of God’s sovereignty in all of this, because we know he is in heaven, but it’s hard to respond to people who are sadder than i am of my dad’s death…

    Reply
  • 22. Rebecca  |  June 29, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    I would also add that it is important to keep asking. Asking once can be an easy way to check it off the to-do list of caring (I know that sounds crass, but we often operate like that). Be consistent in your pursuit and your grieving friend will feel freer to share more and you are more likely to ask at a time when she really needs someone to.

    Reply

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