This has been one of the most emotionally and mentally exhausting weekends I have experienced in my entire career…. the human anguish pain, suffering that I’ve experienced and seen this weekend has been overwhelming at times.
Seeing such horrible tragedy and trying to find the words to say, and then attempting to comfort and speak with families who have just lost someone so young and so unexpectedly is more than heartbreaking. People regularly ask me, “What do I say or do?” During hundreds of incidences, I’ve watched well-meaning and caring people that want to help, but just don’t know what to do. In an attempt to help, they say things that unintentionally hurt and could actually leave those in grief feeling worse. Many times the best thing you can do is to say nothing, but instead to simply hold that loved one or friend and just love them, let them feel the concern, the heartache and pain that you empathetically feel for them. And then, if you want to say something, tell them that you love them and that you’re going to be there for them, not only right now and not just that day, but tomorrow and every day thereafter for whatever they need; then make sure you are there, and just leave it at that…
When people receive the worst news they can ever experience as a human, you don’t need to fix anything; what you need to do is bring calm to the storm and some blessed assurance that you will always be there with them and for them. By doing that, they will know and feel that God loves them and He is still with them. They need facts, not well meaning emotional fiction.
Do not say things like, “It will get better,” or ” It was the Lord’s will,” or “In time you will feel better.” When your friends or family are experiencing tragedy, even though it’s not your intention, you will make them feel rejection and diminish their feelings due to the circumstance by those statements. It may leave them asking, “Why did this happen then?” They will want to know if God really loves them and “why” is this all happening. Use your time with them to love, hug, and care for them, cry with them and let them grieve, create a safe and private place for them to hurt and be loved. Because the reality is, there are really no words that are going to make it better or make it hurt less, but your actions and prayers will.
Focus on making sure there is food even though they don’t want to eat; keep the house clean and do the laundry; help them with the decisions that they don’t want to make. And as they ask you the difficult questions of “why,” it is okay for you to say you don’t have the answers. In some situations, there may never be an answer.
I can tell you by my own personal experience in the death of my brother-in-law 10 days before Christmas almost 20 years ago, that was caused by his own bad decision, the joy and celebration of Christmas has never been the same 20 years later. The empty feeling and place at the table has never been filled or “gotten better.” But what was and has been a blessing to the family to this day is the love, compassion, and acts of kindness that we remember the most and which helped us all thru it. We cherish the fond memories and happy moments people shared with us.
I witnessed that just a year after his death, how it aged my mother-in-law. Did she eventually get better compared with the first day it happened? Absolutely. However, it was a healing process that time brought. It didn’t get better because of time, but time brought healing and the ability to cope with the first Christmas without him, the first birthday without him, and all the many memories without him. Remember, it’s alright and perfectly okay not say anything, but just be there. I’ve watched so many friends and family that just don’t know what to do, so they totally avoid the situation altogether, thinking in their minds that once they figure out what to do then they’ll do something. Having a room full of people immediately following the tragedy can give hope and comfort. But then later, there are days where you just want to be left alone after the funeral. Use wisdom in every situation. If you don’t know what to do, ask God to help you. He does not need our abilities, what He needs is our availability in times like these.
It’s recorded in the Bible how devastating the death of Jesus Christ was and the impact it had on his disciples. Many of them abandoned what they believed to be the hope of the Messiah. Because of Jesus’s death, they felt all hope was gone and there was no more meaning to life. They had seen the blinded eyes open, healing to those that were crippled, feeding of the thousands hanging out with the deplorables, like tax collectors, prostitutes and people that had failed very badly. They watched as the religious leadership and political leadership of their community hung an innocent man on a cross to die. A man who had done nothing but good and brought healing hope to their terrible situation of oppression by the Roman government and failed religious system. And yet, in the scriptures, 50 days after his death through the actions of the Apostles, the following was written in the book of Acts, Chapter One:
“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’”
Then they were asked by the Angels, “So why are you just standing there?” “This Same Jesus” whom they had seen open the blinded eyes, bring healing to those that were sick, raise the dead, feed the masses and turn the religious world upside down by his teaching of loving your neighbor as yourself, THIS SAME Jesus was still the same. Another text says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Heb 13:8.
No matter your circumstance or the situations and events of life that may be trying to destroy or discourage you, Jesus is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. Your circumstance may change; how you feel about things may change. The unexpected death, diagnosis or circumstances of this experience called life will change, but “This Same Jesus” will always be the same; He will always love you, accept you, forgive you, help you, and restore you. He will be there to succor you through all the hurt and pain. But you still need to make yourself available and accept these gifts, be a blessing and serve others. That is the key to dealing with the hurt and pain of tragedy, it is found in “This Same Jesus” and in letting Him heal you, and then use you to love others.
Wayne L Mack, author of The Directed Path: Using God’s Compass