During a recent grief support group meeting, I was struck by a common element of grief that had not occurred to me before. So much of what is talked about by those suffering great losses has to do with the other person. Perhaps the other person is an even more significant struggle than the pain felt in one’s own loss. “The other person” could be a variety of people.
The other person in your family. The ones who are feeling your pain in as great or even greater measure than you, are those in your family who also lost a loved one. How difficult it is to want to offer compassion to someone whom you care about so deeply, but you have nothing to give. Each person in the family is grieving in their own way. Each one expresses grief out of an individual and unique experience with the one that was lost. The loss of a child is often catastrophic to a marriage. Siblings are often referred to as “the forgotten mourners” because there is so much pain being experienced by all, that the comfort they would normally receive in any other circumstance is absent. When everyone in a family is drowning in grief, the ones we expect to help us are unable.
The other person in your circle of friends. All of the friends of someone suffering from loss desire to help. And all of them do so from different perspectives and with different actions. Some suffer silently with you, some mourn as if they had lost their own, some become distant, some bring food. And most of them feel helpless and they mostly are. There is nothing a friend can do to take away this pain.
The other person in your wider circle of acquaintances. These might include people we do not know very well but we encounter them at church, work, school, in the marketplace. We know who they are but seldom interact on a deeper level than an occasional greeting. Sometimes these people will pretend not to know anything has happened. Sometimes they offer unwelcomed advice. Most of the time they mean well, but just do not know you well enough to serve you in this kind of struggle.
The other person in the world. Yes, even strangers can impact the grieving person. With no personal loss of their own in this matter, they may say cold or difficult things. “Why don’t you just get back to work and get over it?” “I knew a man who lost his son and he got a new wife and had more kids.” I heard of one lady who had lost a young toddler. Some well meaning dragon told her, “at least you won’t have to go through potty training with them.” When Reba McEntire’s band died in a plane crash, she sang a song called “I guess the world’s not going to stop for my broken heart.” That is an accurate description of the other people in the world who did not lose the one you love and miss so deeply.
In many of the grief support group meetings of which I have been a part, much time is occupied in considering the other person. It is true that the words and actions of other people take on immense proportions to the person who grieves.
In my next post I want to offer some thoughts that might help when the grieving person is focused on other people, as is so often the case.