LOSS AND OTHER UNCOMFORTABLE SUBJECTS
Pamela C.G. Johnson
Greeting a friend-to-be, I was taken back by their response to my question, “How many children do you have? “
“I have two children. A son died a few years ago. I also have my living son.”
The losses people are dealing with are personal and leave a lasting imprint on their hearts and minds. We must step up in hearing them out. As awkward as it is to hear, the reality is that person loved someone who is now gone from their life. They are left with the haunting and real memories of their face, their memories, and their inability to love them as they once did.
The last 2 years have forced many losses upon us. It seems no-one is exempt. So how can we be present with one who has had loss and honor the life of the individual lost? (We can apply other types of loss as well)
I suggest we learn to be self aware of our losses and understand so we can help others.
As a nurse I have had the privilege and pain to walk with so many suffering physical loss.
When a labor ended in the death of the baby I was holding the parent and the infant as they grieved the loss of new baby, what was not even thought of. I helped them hold their little one and touch her hair, her skin, as they spoke of her tiny fingers, exploring and coming to grips with their loss. Truthfully, I could hardly breath and wept openly with them. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life and I’m so glad I was able to die to my sense of right and wrong and let them live fully in that moment. It looks hours and they spent it holding her little body and speaking of what might have been and what was before them. It was almost perfect pain. Hard to describe, and if allowed I wanted to run from it, yet we let that grief wash over us all by staying in the moment.
I’ve attended at the bedside of hospice patients, holding hands, praying quietly, allowing family time and assisting them in overcoming fears to touch and speak their heart in that very significant hour. Sharing suffering with another is not an easy place to be. Suffering loss marks us for life. Some for better and some not. It’s absolutely appropriate to speak of the loss, it affects the living every single day.
In times past we allowed our aging and ill to die at home with family around them, sharing the memories of their life, laughing at the sweet past and the hopes of the future.
As a pastor I was part of celebrations of life. One that stands out was a gentleman in his 90’s, suffering from liver disease. He was a lovely hue of yellow. While he was still living and alert we had a large circle of friends arrive and set up worship on his lawn. We shared stories of how his life had impacted and changed ours. With humor and joy we sang his favorite hymn and simply loved on him and his precious wife. It was such a powerfully meaningful time. He was unable to stay till the end, but we who loved him didn’t want to leave as the unity, love and harmony, worship and holiness of that time was imprinted on our lives. The loss was so imminent, yet we pushed it away to celebrate his life.
I suggest when you find yourself in that awkward moment when someone shares a loss you were not expecting, that you press into it. Ask a few questions that pull out the value of that loss.
“Thank you for sharing that intimate detail.
“Is there more you would like to say about them?”
“What is a sweet memory you keep regarding your son?”
“How are you living with your remaining son in light of the loss of your first son?”
“How rich you are to have shared that precious time with him.”
So many can sympathize and mourn with you in light of the last 2 years. Thank you for sharing with me.”
If it seems particularly fresh you might ask how they are making each day count with the uncertainties of this life. As people mention their loses I hope you will NOT just stand there as if a brick hit you, or move on like their words never reached your ears. Identify as a human and respond in compassion.
One very powerful experience I was a part of took place in Jerusalem, Israel. Steven and I were renting a room from a woman who lived in a high rise apartment. Down the hall from her another apartment was celebrating the life of someone who recently passed.
The door to their apartment was open all day, every day for 30 days. 30 DAYS
Any and everyone was invited in to hear the widow tell her story. Pictures of the man and their family adorned every table and wall. A prominent one was draped in black. The widow, to wore black. Family and friends were present sitting, sharing, and attentive always for the widow’s needs.
They soaked in their sorrow and grief every waking moment for 30 full days with strangers, family and friends. No one was turned away and everyone was respected as a guest to give honor to the lost one and their family.
I was so affected by this focus and honoring of the life of one person.
At the end of 30 days the door is closed as any home would be. The widow continues to wear black for 12 months. And the community acknowledges her as his widow. Perhaps we could value others’ loss in that way. Helping them unpack their loss and re-experience the immense thing we call life.
Our Heavenly Father felt it so valuable to experience life He sent His son to share it with us!
In life there is suffering and sorrow. We are greatly enriched by every opportunity to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. All of life is worth feeling, experiencing – giving way to our emotions and being with another in the moment.