Monday, June 22, 2020

What Grieving People Wish You Knew

What Grieving People Wish You Knew, Nancy Guthrie

Many of us feel ill-equipped when a friend’s loved one has died. We don’t know what to say, we worry we’ll say the wrong thing, we might offer platitudes that aren’t helpful, or perhaps we avoid the person all together. If we ourselves have not yet walked the road of strong, personal loss, we can be feeling our way with little knowledge or experience.

If you are like me and know you still have a lot to learn in this area, Nancy Guthrie’s book What Grieving People Wish You Knew About What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) will be of enormous benefit, both humbling you and helping you.

I have previously appreciated Guthrie’s wisdom biblical teaching and wisdom though her devotional Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, and readings for Christmas (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus) and Easter (Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross). Yet, you may not know that she and her husband have experienced their own personal grief, having lost two infant children, leading them to minister to others in grief. She is eminently equipped to write on this topic.

This is an excellent book. I hesitate to say ‘resource’ because we want to view coming alongside people in their grief as a service and a friendship, not a project. Yet, we may still benefit from advice and warnings before we wade in.

Guthrie starts with “what to say (and what not to say)”, making the clearest plea of all - say something. It’s so painful when others do not acknowledge your loss and grief. She walks the reader through numerous suggestions, including:
  • Let them take the lead
  • Don’t compare 
  • Don’t feel the need to fix
  • Don’t be in a hurry
  • Don’t make it about you
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Don’t tell them what to do
  • Esteem their grief
  • Don’t be put off by tears
  • Don’t ask potentially painful questions out of curiosity
The next chapter “typical things people say (and what you can say instead)” is honestly heartfelt pointing out how even well-meaning comments can be taken. She’s realistic and gracious noting that people will say the wrong thing, yet encourages readers to apologise where necessary, and keep trying to be helpful. One key thing is to keep using their loved one’s name, to keep talking about them, and being willing to hear about them.

Then she turns to the assumptions that keep us away and what we can do, providing numerous suggestions for how to be practically helpful and get involved without being overbearing. Most of it is being present, being a safe person who actively looks for ways to help, remembering that grief is a long road, and that we support people long term. Of course there is much wisdom needed to know what would be helpful for your friend, and what you are able to do.

She considers the online expression of grief, and acknowledges some people’s choice to grieve via social media and how getting likes or comments can validate their grief. This was a helpful perspective, because I haven’t always been sure how to respond to online expressions of grief. As she also notes, online messages can be an easy way to support people that shows you love and care. Indeed, a friend will notice if you respond to their other posts, but not their grief posts. Part of this is realising that everyone grieves differently, and uses public methods in various ways, so you can let the grieving person drive it.

Guthrie then turns to heaven and reflects on the unhelpful and incorrect things people say. She explores why comments like “they are in a better place”, or “God needed them more than we did” can be hurtful. She clearly outlines what she believes does happen from death to resurrection body, and deals with common lies and misleading platitudes, such as how people become angels when they die or that they are now taking care of us from heaven. Guthrie is candid that sometimes heaven does not feel like enough because it is so far away from where we are now, and truthfully, sometimes we long to see our loved ones more than Jesus in heaven. This chapter had biblical focus and pastoral insight, and aids in us forming a biblical view of heaven, which informs our hope.

She finishes with some questions and answers, with the final one a very honest message to the grieving person about whether they are willing to forgive the people around them who make mistakes with them during their grief.

This is clearly a book about grief related to loss through death. I wondered if there could have been an acknowledgement that not all grief is related to death. There are other griefs one might face in this world including: the grief of people turning away from the Lord, the grief of children that are not as expected or hoped, grief of infertility, and grief over certain circumstances. However, I suspect that would have complicated the subject too much, and would have taken away from the strength of what this book does offer.

As Guthrie has lived this and walked along many others, she speaks with knowledge, wisdom, insight, grace and gentleness. She draws extensively on the comments of others, so you are given a wide range of feedback and insight from dozens of other people’s experience. At about 160 pages, it is a quick read, but not an easy one. Those willing to learn will be greatly helped as they walk beside others in their grief. Highly recommended.

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