There is an ongoing battle occurring as I sit down to write this blog. It is over the death of a soldier and the response of the current President.
In our present, ever-changing, lightning speed culture we have pushed and squeezed death into a tidy box or urn, as far away from us as possible. We no longer know how to comfort those who mourn. As a people who have lifted the value of physical comfort high on our list of our God-given rights, death makes us very uncomfortable. We do not know what to do with it. Death takes too much of our valuable time. We no longer go to those who have lost a loved one and sit with them in silence or tears. We send cards or perhaps flowers. We rarely go to funerals or memorial services. When we do, the focus is often on celebrating the lives of the ones who have left us and leaving out the grief.
When confronted with grief we often don’t know what to say or do. If we speak we use clichés and platitudes. Instead of entering into the grief with our friend, neighbor or coworker we distance ourselves from the grief with phrases such as, “She died doing what she loved.” or “He knew what he signed up for when he joined the army”. These unthinking, unfeeling phrases roll off the tongue and put the blame on the person who just died, for their choice. I don’t need to be uncomfortable, it wasn’t my fault. These kinds of phrases do not help the grieving person.
Living in Central Asia with people who value the observation grief has helped me understand it. They do not leave relatives, neighbors, or friends alone with their grief, they enter into it together.
What helps a grieving person is to enter the grief with them and feel the pain they are going through. Silence is better than saying something that distances us from them. When someone acknowledges my pain with words like “I’m so sorry you lost your son”, they enter into my grief with me. When someone let’s me cry or even wail it makes my grief just a little bit more bearable. Often those grieving need to process with their words what they are feeling or talk about their loved one. If my goal is to listen and help bear their burden I can truly help instead of shoving their grief away.
Maybe one thing this president is doing is highlighting the unhealthy, even dangerous places in our society. We need to pay attention! Let’s take another look at our responses to death and grief, sexual abuse and harassment, racial injustices, greed, idolatry and poverty, to name a few.