Last year, dear friends of the AHG Ministry, Al and Wendy Newell of Newell and Associates, publishers of High Impact Volunteer Ministry, a curriculum AHG routinely uses, tragically lost their beautiful 28 year old daughter. Collectively we grieve for this great loss and words cannot provide the sorrow we feel towards this amazing family who serves the Lord with all of their might.
In our own lives we experience gut wrenching, heart aching loss. I have always struggled with what to do to help another, what to say, what not to say, how to put my grief to work to help the grieving family in a positive, helpful manner. Upon reading Al's article this morning I felt compelled to share it with you, my dear ones and I pray that Al's tips on handling grief may help you as you minister to others through AHG.
And on this Memorial Day Weekend may we remember all of those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom and for the grieving families those brave ones left behind.
Tips from a Dad with a Raw Broken Heart
your eyes. Raise your hand if you have experienced a tragedy or serious
illness in the last five years.” Half of the audience raised their
hand. “Keep your hand raised if that has happened in the last two
years.” 10-15 hands remain. “Now, of those remaining, keep your hand
raised if your loss was the death of a spouse or a child.” Only 3-4
hands remain. “Now keep your hand raised if you lost a beautiful 28 year
old daughter named Amy that was one of the godliest people you have
That was the way I introduced the topic of grieving to my
audiences at every High Impact training event this year.
Do you know what I’ve learned since the loss of our precious daughter
Amy? I have learned that I am not very good helping others to grieve. I
wonder just how often I have made the pain of others worse or poked
around in their open wound. Shocking gaffes have taught me a lot about
what not to do and I have garnered even more from watching the body of
Christ show real love.
If you lead volunteer teams, then it is only a matter of time before
one of your team members experiences a loss. Learning how to suffer with
your team members is a crucial part of what we call the “In-here goals”
in High Impact. Maybe you can garner a tip or two from these guidelines
that come from the raw broken heart of a hurting Dad.
What not to do?
Don’t use feigned compassion as an opportunity to get a newbie in
your network marketing down line. Don’t send plastic flowers. Don’t get
the name wrong of the person who has died, just saying….
Don’t tell someone you “understand”.
Don’t tell me your story.
Wendy my wife is a cancer
survivor. She survived chemo and the loss all of her hair, but untimely
cancer stories almost killed her. It was astounding just how many people
shared cancer stories ending with the death of their loved one, NOT
what Wendy needed to hear.
“I lost a child too.” You would think that would be comforting, but
it is far from comforting when a person begins to cry and share for
thirty minutes just how devastated they still are, especially when our
wound is so fresh.
Imagine you are experiencing a heart attack. An EMT is standing over
you and rather than life-saving medical techniques, the EMT begins to
share, “Yep, my uncle had a heart attack once; he suffered for years,
had a bypass and then…” Sharing grief is NOT a competition. What’s
amazing is to receive a card from someone that we know has experienced
deep pain, and yet they don’t mention their loss.
Don’t expect me to get over it.
If I seem angry,
despondent, and hopeless or if I scream, yell, or even swear, I haven’t
jumped off the God boat. I am mourning, grieving. Jesus was a man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is 53:3). Ecclesiastes says “Better
is the house of mourning.” Jesus said blessed are those who mourn. Jesus
wept after the death of Lazarus. Grieving is normal. It’s okay to
grieve. It’s healthy to grieve.
There is no time limit on grieving.
Don’t expect me to make progress on your time table. We’ll never get
over the loss of Amy. We’ll always walk with a limp. Sometimes we cry
every day, sometimes every few days. It is what we are supposed to do.
And, it’s also okay if we don’t cry. Allowing ourselves to grieve has
been healing. It is my common prayer, “Help us to grieve as You would
have us grieve.” It’s therapy for our souls.
What to do?
Listen. For all of the failings of Job’s friends,
they waited 7 days before they spoke. They saw his pain was so deep they
said nothing. I told a friend and executive at a Christian
organization, who also tragically lost a child that we thought about
writing a book on what to do. He said he’d thought of it too, but then
realized the first chapter would be blank. Bridling our tongue is maybe
the godliest thing to do. Let me talk, scream, cry and yell if I want
to, or let me sit and say nothing but just listen.
Feel. Sharing grief with others has far too often
been a to-do list for me. Send a card; say the right words; buy flowers.
I have failed often at feeling another person’s pain. Now, I try to
shut up and consciously feel their pain. After hearing of our loss, a
pastor from a church that had been a client called and left a message.
He was sobbing uncontrollably about our loss. I listened to that message
more than once. How much it meant to me.
Say something. It is also important to verbally
acknowledge someone else’s loss. Avoiding the subject or talking about
sports simply is not going to cut it. You must address it. I am so sorry
for your loss. There are no words. I am sorry for your pain. Some
other helpful phrases: How are you holding up? Would you care to talk
about it? What was Amy like? If you know positive things about their
loved ones, share it! Reading hundreds of comments through our
daughter’s tribute page has been wonderfully healing. One of the most
beautiful things a Christian leader said to me was, “I’ve met your
daughter Becky and if your daughter Amy was even remotely as incredible
as her, I can’t even begin to imagine your loss.” Amy was that
incredible and I cherish that comment.
Do something. I often wondered if sending flowers
was a waste, not any more. We received many flowers, and I read every
note more than once. Sending a card is great. What was even more special
was receiving a beautiful card with carefully crafted words. The first
meals we received were from Christian leaders from a client in Canada.
Our daughter Becky had many friends who would just come, watch her kids
and or sit with her days to help her make it through the day. Family
members sat with us. Several of them without being asked, just super
cleaned our SUV. Don’t ask what you can do, just do it. One day we came
home; our hearts were grieving so hard, we could barely stand up. That
day, we opened an envelope from the staff of Operation Christmas Child
full of countless restaurant gift cards. It was perfect, we cried and
cried. Many people skilled in grieving just gave me the biggest hug. I
never knew how much an embrace could mean.
Recently I shared some of these lessons at an event. After the
session several people stood in line to greet me. The last man, a big
ol’ country boy with a ball cap, waited patiently. When his turn
arrived, he stepped up and hugged me for several moments and then left
without a word. I just stood there and then I cried.
Experiencing God’s power together with others is a cause for team
celebration; however suffering together produces an adhesive team bond
that is unbreakable."
Dear Heavenly Father, please help us to love one another through our grief. Help us to discern what is right to do in each instance. Help us to address the grieving person with love, compassion and action. We are a hurting people. Thank you for your intense love for each of us and for the gift of empathy. And Father, thank you for those men and women who have given up their lives in the name of freedom. We love you. In the name of Your Son Jesus. Amen.
Until Next Time,