Friday, May 11, 2007

Helpful Hints

At Lillian's service our Chaplain, Cody, prayed that people would know what to say to us. That their words would be soothing and not cause any additional grief. God has been faithful in answering that prayer. But I can see from sympathetic looks and awkward pauses that many people just don't know what to say to a grieving person. I wouldn't. Undoubtedly I would be the one to say something stupid. (I'm better in writing than in person.) So I thought I might use my experience being on the receiving end to help other conversationally-challenged folks know how to handle the most extreme of circumstances...you know...when someone...you know...goes to that place in the clouds...angels, harps, that kind of thing...you know...dies. Whew, now that we've got that out in the open, here's my advice:

What to avoid:

  • "How are you doing?" Okay, this one is tough. It's really a pretty benign question filled with the best of polite intentions but somehow, in these circumstances, the answer is complicated. If you use the standard response of "good", it doesn't seem accurate and inevitably evokes a look of confusion. How could you possibly be good?! If you say "bad", the conversation swirls into a pity pool from which there is no graceful recovery.
  • "It's better this way." Death is hardest on the living. Though it may be better for the deceased to not have to endure pain any longer, the suffering for those who survive is just beginning. It's never better to be without someone you love. Never.
  • "I don't know how you live through something like this." Frankly, I didn't know that was an option! We watched the movie "Eragon" (a poor man's "Lord of the Rings" if you ask me but worth the rental). The movie is about dragons and their riders. The bond between a rider and his dragon is so strong that when the rider dies, the dragon cannot survive. Perhaps that is how it should be with humans but alas, that's not God's plan.

What to say:

  • "I'm sorry." It can't truly sum up the depth of sympathy but what else can you say? It's short, it's simple and it's honest.
  • "I'm praying for you." Okay, there's a trick to this one. I love to learn that people are praying for me. What greater gift than to lift someone else up to the Creator of EVERYTHING? But the trick is, you can't just say you're praying. You've got to actually pray. Sorry, I don't make the rules, I just communicate them.
  • "Want to grab a cup of coffee?" This one is a bit tricky too. Timing is critical. For example, I wouldn't make this offer at the funeral. Wait a couple weeks and check in. Also, a cup of coffee may be substituted with breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or pretty much anything else involving an food-related activity. Though it's technically not critical, I like the food activity for two reasons - 1) everyone has to eat sometime and 2) it gives you something to do in between crying and laughing. Oh yes, there will be crying and laughing. Likely more of the former than the latter. Hey, I didn't say this one was easy. If crying makes you squeamish, stick with "I'm sorry" and get out FAST. You never know what may provoke a gusher.

Thank you all so much for keeping track of us. We've appreciated your sympathy. We've felt your prayers. And we've loved chatting with you over food of any kind.

Grief is such a selfish process that it is only recently that I've been able to realize how many people are also grieving over the loss of Lillian. So to all of you I say "I'm sorry. I'm praying for you. Want to grab a cup of coffee?"

7 comments:

LCM May 11, 2007 at 8:36 PM  

Lori, I sure appreciate your signing Maddy's website so often. I am impressed how some people have so many visits and we haven't cracked 2,000 yet.
I would like to say that I am thinking of you. Does that come across okay? I worry about how things are going for you. I like how you keep in touch with all of us cancer friends. It's amazing how we all feel like a family now.

Anonymous May 12, 2007 at 4:48 AM  

Lori, I like this one. It is far to often people don't have a clue what to say to someone who has lost a family member or someone close to them! It was nice of you to tell everyone what is and is not good to say. My last two weeks at work was awkward because people didn't know what to say. Some just didn't say anything at all to me. Thanks. You, Jeff, your extended families are all in my thoughts and prayers. Beth

Lisa Ward May 12, 2007 at 11:25 AM  

Lori,

I love your writing. It has such honesty and humor at the same time! Thanks for adding Gabriel to your prayers. I've prayed for you and your family also as I learned of you and Lillian just last month.
I read webpages and tears just roll down my face and I wonder in my heart, "Why, God? Why must your children suffer so?" I hate the fact that we are part of a cancer family. In so many ways I want to hide under the covers and wish it all away. In others I know that God has changed all of us profoundly and I don't know if I'd want to go back. Anyway, just wanted you to know that you are in my heart and prayers. Really. I hate it too when someone says they'll pray and they don't really do it.
Your "sister"in the familiy of God and of the "C"word!
Lisa Ward

Anonymous May 12, 2007 at 7:05 PM  

Lori----I truely am praying for you(every night), and I am very sorry, and I know that we have never been very close, but would you like to have lunch next time I am in town? Or maybe if you vacation in Tucson the invite is open here too. Joey

Anonymous May 12, 2007 at 8:11 PM  

Lori,
Thank you for the helpful information on responding to someone who has lost a loved one. You are generous to help us know what helps and what doesn't. I have been and will continue to pray for you and Jeff and also the other people who have loved Lillian. Liz G.

Jennifer May 13, 2007 at 7:57 PM  

Lori,
Thank you so much for helping us know how to best support you. When can we go get that cup of coffee?
Love ya sister!
Jenn

PS- we are praying for you...everyday.

sandy g. May 14, 2007 at 10:48 AM  

Hi Lori,
I've been lurking until now, and continuing to pray for you and Jeff. Thanks for your suggestions of what to avoid saying and what's best to say to a grieving loved one. I have some to add from experience. When my dad was killed in a prvate plane crash years ago, many well meaning people said to my mom that "he died doing what he loved to do." Although that was true, it was not what Mom wanted to hear at the time. The best response to me personally was a friend who came to my door after she heard about my dad, hugged me and cried with me, without words.

Keep blogging, your posts are good prayer reminders for all of us.

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