We had a tragedy affect our family a week ago. I won’t get into details here but to say that it’s a friend of family. Nevertheless, it is a loss. And so this last week has been a week of tears, grieving, sleepless nights, and trying to reach out to persons we love and care about.
I do the “death” thing pretty regularly as a pastor. I’ve had parishioners and friends die…and parents of friends…and other relatives. Some have affected us more than others. It depends, of course, on how close we were and the circumstances of death. Deaths hit you in different ways. That’s just the way it works. And each time you get thrust into deep questions of existence and eternity depending on your religious background.
The metaphor I use for the grieving process is that of a merry-go-round. When someone you deeply care about dies it’s like being tossed off of a merry-go-round. There you are on the ground, wounded, shaken up. But the merry-go-round keeps on spinning. And you spend your days trying to figure out how to get back on. And, when someone dear to you dies, your whole world comes crashing to a halt. It stops. Yet, all around you, there are people who are going about life as usual, whose world hasn’t stopped. Some may stop for a while; relatives may come and visit, spouses may take time off of work, teachers may make allowances for missed work. But the world keeps spinning on. And part of grieving is figuring out how to jump back onto a world that has gone on spinning without you.
And it’s a difficult process.
And the difficulty can be compounded by good-intentioned people who don’t give you the space you need to process all of this or who say things that are unhelpful in this time of need.
One of the things that has really been hitting me this week is that we live in a time of over-sharing. Our social media is filled with, it seems, a picture of every hot latte or homemade dinner anyone has, ever. Our TV is, at times, little more than celebrity gossip filled with every single daily activity of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (or others) that we really didn’t need to know about. And while there are awesome things posted on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, the majority of it is drivel…just stuff…just information or pictures or posts for the sake of saying something…anything.
Social media, for good or bad, is how many of us communicate these days. Some of you reading this post will find out about it via Facebook or Twitter. Some of you will have heard that we were grieving through those outlets and will have reached out to us through them as well. And we live in an age where many persons find out about deaths, and tragedies, and funeral services through social media.
And this has bearing on how we grieve. Social media is built on sharing everything in life and the pressure to communicate life’s minutiae with the world, letting the world see and read our interior monologues. Yet, in the face of a tragedy we don’t need to fill the every space with more words. We don’t need to go on and on about the person we lost. We don’t need to reach out, in a grand gesture, to those who are thrust into grief. And this is all the more important if, really, we aren’t the one lost our best friend or our child or our parent. I think, in this age of over-sharing, we have forgotten that the best thing to do, at times, is to say, very sincerely, “I’m sorry for your loss” and “If there’s anything I can do for you let me know.”
Recently I’ve seen some responses to death that have seemed inappropriate and insensitive to those who were mourning. I don’t doubt that persons meant well. I only offer these as cases where less could have been more:
- The person who very forcefully tried to come over to the home of those who were grieving even though they made it clear they needed space.
- The person who posted a long, flowing Facebook post about their “BFF” that they had lost, only to have many people feel like they were overstating their relationship (which is a hazard in this age where having a “Facebook friend” can be much different than having a friend in “real life”).
- The person who approached the one who was grieving, stating in great detail about their own loss and how they can understand.
- The person who appeared (at least to those closest to the death) to be putting on a show of their mourning, taking attention and care away from family members of the deceased.
- The person asking very pointed questions about death’s circumstances on social media, apparently trying to get details that they just didn’t need to know.
Again, I don’t doubt that these folks all meant well. I really don’t. And we all mourn differently. I need to remember that.
But I think we’ve lost something in our culture–the notion that it’s OK not to fill the space with words, that it’s OK to offer a hand on a shoulder without saying anything, that it’s OK not to post to Instagram or Facebook or Twitter about a death, that it’s OK to not put ourselves into every situation…making everything be about us.
So, in the wake of recent events, let me offer this reminder to you. When someone is grieving, it is often best to say less. Yes, say, “I’m sorry.” Yes, offer to help if needed. But let the grieving have some space. The death of someone you care about is a lot to work through and it can be harder as you are bombarded the (we’ll assume) good intentions of others.
So, for those who are grieving today, even in my own family, I’m sorry for your loss. If you want to talk, I’m here for you. Until then, I’ll let you grieve in the way you need to and I’ll be praying for you.