Thursday, July 2, 2015

When can I forget about someone else's tragedy?

I have never been a good comforter. In objectively sad situations, I tend to bypass the grieving stage and dive headfirst into insensitive jokes. When people are hurting, I feel awkward and generally try to casually remove myself from their presence as quickly as possible.

I remember when I was a teenager at camp, I was reading in my bed when the only other girl in the room began to cry. I sunk lower into my cot and tried to make myself as small as possible in the hopes she’d forget I was there while I silently panicked. What am I supposed to do? Should I ask her if she’s ok? Because I’d really like to finish this chapter of Harry Potter.

Another girl entered shortly after and immediately ran to her side, gave her a hug, and asked her what was wrong. I chastised myself. A hug! I could totally have done that!

So my question for today is: How do I help a long-distance friend who is grieving?

My best friend Hope’s newborn baby girl died.

Hope has had an incredibly Christ-centered attitude since she learned a few months ago that their baby might not survive. She told me,“If God decides to heal her, He will be glorified by her miraculous healing. If He doesn’t, then He will be glorified in how we respond.”

She has been striving to trust in God throughout this whole ordeal, and I’ve been reminded and amazed at the amount of pain God can bear. The pain from one tragedy can be enough to cripple one person, yet God can handle it. He has the ability to bear the burdens of every single person. His pain tolerance is infinite.

It’s astounding the amount of love and support she and her husband are receiving already. There’s an online campaign to pay for her medical expenses and another site where people can sign up to bring them meals. But as the weeks, months, and years go by, they will stop receiving food and gifts, and we will stop asking them how they’re holding up or even mentioning their baby Nolah’s name.

It’s hard to imagine that this is only day one of a great sorrow that will never truly dissipate. I think I expect people to eventually move on, to look back on a time that once caused them immense sadness and feel nothing. Because once I’ve forgotten about their tragedy, shouldn’t they?

David Brooks wrote an article for The New York Times titled, “The Art of Presence”, which featured the Woodiwiss family. The elder daughter, Ann, died in a freak horseback riding accident. Five years later, her younger sister Catherine was biking to work when she was hit by a car, enduring severe injuries and an arduous recovery. Brooks shared the responses to grief they found helpful and unhelpful after enduring these two tragedies.

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.”

I want to encourage you to mourn with those who mourn, even if it seems like they are no longer mourning. Whether its been weeks, months, or years, be a builder for someone you care about and show them that they are loved and their pain hasn’t been forgotten. It is never too late to be a builder. Even if you feel awkward or comforting doesn’t come naturally to you as it doesn’t to me, step out for their sake.

As Catharine Woodiwiss wrote in her post, “It is a much lighter burden to say, ‘Thanks for your love, but please go away,’ than to say, ‘I was hurting and no one cared for me.’ Err on the side of presence.”

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