Around this time last year, my family and I were hurting as we grappled with the loss of our Mom. This was not my birth mother; it was my mother-in-law. But “mom” is the word that best captures her. She was all hugs and kisses, presents and perfume, laughter and good times, birthday cakes and apple cobblers, holidays and cheer, grandchildren and treats — and we miss her dearly. However, so much has happened this month that has reminded me not just about her but about empathy for people dealing with their own grief moment.
As a professor of graduate students, I often get a peek into the windows of their lives for three months or more during their journey at my current university. These are individuals who all lead busy lives as spouses, parents, teachers/professionals trying to juggle it all in the pursuit of higher education. Yet even with so many balls in the air, sometimes the unexpected happens and every ball threatens to come crashing down on them, like it almost did for our family on November 13, 2013—the night mom passed away.
I have been touched by the tenacity of these students in the face of significant challenges—an only child and single parent mother managing her family and making endless trips to the hospital as she deals with the debilitating health of her mother; a young man whose heart is breaking as he waits for news about the survival of his first child; and a mother of two planning funeral services for her last living parent—her mom. These are my students juggling it all in the middle of a busy and taxing semester and my heart breaks for them. And they inspire me in so many ways. What can I do? How can I help?
I am not a stranger to grief. However, this post is not about my grief or the palpable grief I sense in my students. These incidents have made me question my own response to others in moments of despair– death, loss, illness, life challenges. How should I respond? How should we respond?
Last year, while we rode the mental and emotional roller coaster of having a loved one in ICU for almost a month, if there is one phrase my husband and I had grown to despise was: “If there is anything I can do to help..? Though I am sure well intentioned, it was so cliché, so unanswerable—felt almost like a cop out, the thing to say, the path of least resistance. Likewise, while we did appreciate the prayers of friends, how much more meaningful was the food sent over in our time of grief, the advice from a close friend who traveled from Florida to be with us, to help us figure out how to break the news to our 4 and 6 year old daughters, the one who came to stay with our kids while we were at the hospital, and the friend who made the difficult journey with my husband to collect mom’s things….
As I reflect on the life of Jesus, it occurs to me that when confronted with the grief of others He did not just offer to pray about it, though that would have certainly been enough! Instead, we see Jesus traveling to Bethany to comfort two grieving sisters; we see him making breakfast for a boat full of weary fishermen, there he is on bended knee making mud with his own spittle and putting it on the eyes of a blind man; can you see him holding the hands of a little girl and saying the life giving words: ‘Little girl, Wake up!’ ?
This world is filled with hurting people. While they can certainly use our prayers, how much more do they need us to be the hands, the feet, the arms, the voice, the money, the gifts, the warmth, the care, the food, the time that gently and lovingly supports them through heartbreaking moments of grief.
Don’t just offer to pray about it—be about it!
- For more information about how to care for those dealing with loss, check out Coping with Bereavement