The effect of all this, however, is not to push you into a place where you feel better, but to make you feel that your loss has been minimized. After all, who would tell a grieving widow to cheer up because, after all, she has other family members who love her? Who would tell a man whose wife has just died not to be so sad because there are lots of other women out there? And so when similar comments are made to bereaved parents, we feel like our child's life is not as valuable as someone who lived longer.
Let me pause a moment to say that I truly believe that most comments like that are intended to help, and not hurt. But I think most people don't know what to say to someone who is grieving. Grief makes us uncomfortable - maybe because it brings us face to face with the whole idea of death and mortality. And so in our discomfort, we speak clumsily, trying to help, but not knowing how. (Think back to the last time you had to deal with someone else's grief - did you know what to say?)
In modern America, I fear we've lost much of the art of mourning with those who mourn, one of the key components of which is the recognition that grief has no timetable. Everyone grieves in their own way, and for their own season. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions as you travel this road:
- Don't limit your grief to a certain number of weeks, months, or even years.
- You may have heard that grief comes in waves, like the ocean. As it does, ride each wave fully. Let yourself feel the intense emotions of grief. Embrace the reality that we grieve because we love.
- Don't avoid the tears; likewise, don't shun the smiles if you feel one coming on.
- Do find one or two others, in addition to your spouse, with whom you can be "real" about your grief, who is willing to ride those waves with you and see you safely back to shore.
- Be wary of methods that encourage you to "escape", whether through food, shopping, TV, the Internet, or substance abuse.
- Be gentle with yourself; allow yourself to take a break from other responsibilities while you heal, both emotionally and physically.
- Finally, be honest with God about your feelings and your questions. He knows them anyway, and He is the one who said, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).