How to help and not hurt those who are grieving

My 96 year old grandfather died yesterday, April 4th. Yesterday, I was reminded again of the following reality when it comes to grieving: us humans (this includes me) tend to have a hard time just sitting with someone in grief. I find this to be especially true with persons of faith. Often, the uncomfortable reality of heartache is swept aside and those grieving are told to be grateful that the deceased is in a better place. While this may be true, this type of immediate response doesn’t make sense when we look at Jesus’ example surrounding the death of a friend.

John 11:35 tells us that “Jesus wept.” Why was Jesus deeply troubled and wept? Jesus wept after Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, delivered the message that Lazarus had died. Jesus knew that all would be well (he later raised Lazarus from the dead) but he still cried.

Another biblical example re: grief is found in the Old Testament. Job, who had lost family, livelihood and health, had people come to sit with him in his grief. Job 2:13 reads:

“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

What a beautiful picture of literally sitting with someone in their grief!

Recapping, the following are tips that may be helpful when coming alongside someone in bereavement:

  1. Showing tears is appropriate. Jesus wept. He knew all would be well and he still wept anyways. Don’t be afraid of crying for yourself or crying as you observe the pain of others walking in grief.
  2. Pause before immediately trying to put a positive twist on loss. And if you do want to celebrate something that you’re grateful for – do just that. Use “I” statements instead of “you.” Example: “I am glad that he lived as long as he did” instead of, “you should be glad he lived as long as he did.”
  3. Whenever appropriate, just be with those who are grieving. You don’t need to know what to say. Often, the simplest words go so far like “I’m so sorry”, “I will miss him” and “praying for you.”

Keep in mind: we all need grace in the midst of grief. Extend grace to yourself and others. While there are ways that we can do this grief thing better, we will never be perfect at it. Showing up is what matters most and seeing the heart/motives behind comments and efforts made is very important.

Unfortunately, loss and heartache are part of this journey of life. Our lives are mixed with the beautiful and brutal. When it comes to grief, we can take our cues from Jesus and from those who sat with Job. We don’t need to push the sadness of death under the rug. We can show up. We can weep. We can sit in our own grief and sit in the grief of others. And that can truly be enough.

 

Good grief: reflections on living with loss

My 30th year can be described in one word: grief. I feel that I’m just recently coming out of a grief fog. Grief is one complex little bugger. You think you are doing better and then bam – you step on a grief landmine. After my grandmother died of cancer that had spread to her liver, I heard the lyrics by Miranda Lambert: “I numbed the pain at the expense of my liver”. In the past, I thought that this line was clever. Now, with the knowledge that my grandmother’s liver failed her, I couldn’t turn the radio station fast enough. A grief landmine. A trigger reminding me that a part of my heart is cracked and bruised.

Good grief. What is “good” about grief? Not much. As I reflect back, I did experience some profound gifts during the midst of watching my Grandmother’s body fail her. As an aside, this was the first time that I visited someone in hospital regularly and watched the dying process. I feel that in some ways, it has complicated my grief. Not only do I grieve the sudden death of my grandmother (she felt ill in April. was given 6-12 months to live in May and died less than 1 month later), but there’s also a certain level of trauma attached to watching a loved one die.

Back to “good grief”. The recent lessons in the midst of grief are hard to explain. They are moments that have challenged my heart. How many people get to witness their grandfather say his good-byes to his wife of nearly 64 years? Absolutely heartbreaking and a beautiful reflection of life and love. Even though I choke up just thinking about it, I wouldn’t trade that memory for a million dollars. I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life. How many grandchildren get to feed their grandmother when she’s unable to feed herself? To know that she spoon fed me as a young child and now I’m doing the same for her, there are no words. Not being a touchy feely person, I couldn’t help but give my grandmother a kiss and say, “I love you” before heading for home after a visit. On the last day that I saw her and she was semi-communicative, with all of her strength she whispered back, “I love you too”. These, among many others, are my good in the midst of grief.

Grief is an inevitable part of life. Grief can be a change agent. We are never the same after loss. Sure, often with time we are able to function better. Maybe we go days or weeks without crying or feeling sad. But we can’t escape our grief completely. There are grief landmines everywhere. Reminders that our fragile hearts are not the same as they used to be. I believe that grief is as much a part of the human experience as joy. And sometimes, we find a form of beauty in the ashes. A sliver of good in midst of grief.

30. Good grief! You have outdone yourself.  And yet, I have never felt more like an adult than now. For I have fully entered into grief (instead of avoiding or stuffing it as per my previous track record) and came out wiser. I want to be more giving. More loving. More desiring to seize the day. Whether I like it or not, my grief is part of who I am. And if I ever think that I can forget this fact a grief landmine will remind me.

Funeral speech for my Grandmother

If you’ve found this blog because you’ve lost your grandma, I’m so very sorry for your loss. As you prepare for your grandmother’s funeral, I pray you’ll have strength for the day. 

 My tribute to Grandma is on behalf of all of her grandchildren. While I may be her oldest grandchild, there are 10 of us, and we all brought her great joy. There’s a plaque in Grandma’s trailer at Wesley Acres that reads: Grandma’s House – a place where cousins go to become friends. As a child, I took for granted just how close knit the James family is. Now, I see that Grandma’s passion for her family helped to bond our family together and has turned cousins into friends.

While we won’t deny Grandma’s apple pies being the best in this world, our Grandma was so much more to us than her great cooking. Did you know that she was funny? I mean really funny. Oh how we’ll miss her sense of humour. Her wit would often catch us by surprise, make us laugh, and leave us smiling long after the conversation was over. On countless occasions our spirits were lifted by her sense of humour and we felt pride for having such funny grandmother.

Grandma was well dressed for every occasion. She was a classy lady. Even though she’d be the first person to tell grandpa that she didn’t think that it was a good idea for him to go here or there, she’d also have an outfit picked out for him to wear. She helped us all to be presentable.

Grandma was an artist; some of her paintings hang on their walls. Grandma loved poetry and collected serious and humorous poems over the years. I wrote the following poem 3 years ago, for Grandma’s 80th birthday:

To my Grandma, a Pastor’s Wife

Our grandma is the kind that often gets overlooked
She has a very outgoing husband who always seems to be booked!

She is not the type to say, “look at me!”
Rather, she offers people a bed, a meal, and a cup of tea

At Wesley Acres when she saw construction men working on hot summer days
She would make lemonade and have her grandchildren deliver it right away

While she never has asked for the spotlight, this much is true
She has given us all an example of servanthood through and through

On her 80th birthday it’s good to reflect
That sometimes those who are the least noticed teach us best.

I’m going to miss talking to Grandma about life as a pastor’s wife. We’ll all miss Grandma’s stories.

Grandma wasn’t perfect, in-fact, she would worry. But it wasn’t the worry you typically think of. Her worries were for others rather than herself. My sister Victoria, who can’t be with us today because she’s in Uganda, shared the following with me: “Grandma was always honest. If she ever thought I had something going on that wasn’t okay, she’d be sure to tell me. On our last meeting she said, “I thought you’d be done all this travelling after high school…but you just haven’t stopped!” Even though it was hard for her to see me go to such foreign lands, she always supported me. She honestly told me her worries, but then gave me a hug, kiss, and a prayer (i.e. her blessing). I just loved that even in her fears she trusted God.”

Of all the things that we could share with you about our grandmother we want you to remember her heart; her generous and caring spirit. Grandpa and Grandma have always viewed money as something that you give away….to the Lord, to those in need, Christmas presents for 10 grandchildren even when money was tight. What is remarkable is that despite having very little, Grandma was always willing to give away what she possessed to help others. My dad, Bill, recalls a time as a young boy when Grandpa was pastoring in Whitby and money was very scarce. Grandpa came home one day and shared with Grandma that there was a family, with children, in dire need. Without hesitation, Grandma grabbed boxes and cleared out what very little they had in their pantry. My dad remembers Grandma giving all their food away, there was only enough food for one breakfast. When my dad approached Grandma to ask what they would eat, Grandma said to him, “Don’t worry, the Lord will provide.” And He did. And just this past Christmas, my dad noticed Grandma making a lot of baked goods for our James Christmas gathering. When my dad said to her that she didn’t need to make that much food for our family, Grandma replied that there were people in their building that were going to be alone for Christmas. She was baking for them as well.

Grandma was always thinking of others before herself. She never wanted us to be sad and would do anything to cheer us up. Even in the hospital she used her wit, jokes, and humour to get us smiling and laughing. For example, one time when Lindsay (a grandchild) was visiting Grandma in the hospital, Grandma took ice cubes from her cup and dropped them down a hole at the knee in Lindsay’s jeans! She knew how to cheer us up when upset or worried.

Grandpa let me know that he likes eulogies to be short; he has given me 5 minutes max. Before I close though Grandpa, Melissa wants me to mention Grandma’s love of honey garlic chicken wings 🙂

In closing, Grandma made it a priority to open up their home, as well as their trailer @ Wesley Acres to their grandchildren. As a result of her great love for us, cousins have become friends.

JamesPhoto

On Saturday June 14th, when good-byes were being spoken to little Eliza Jane at St. Mary’s hospital, I intentionally used the word “we” instead of “I”. The words that I uttered were: “We love you Grandma, we will never forget you, we’ll take care of each other, you can go in peace.” We, the grandchildren, will never forget her. We will love and miss our sweet grandmother for the rest of our lives.

The following may be helpful to read as you grieve:
Good grief: reflections on living with loss