Dan, a cancer widower, answered my questions as I tapped away on my laptop. I was interviewing him for an article about a shower truck—this really cool ministry for the homeless in our community. He’d had a significant part in designing and converting the truck into two shower rooms, one for men and one for women. And now that it’s functional, he serves as a driver and facilitator of the ministry.
After the interview, we lingered over hot beverages, exchanging our common experiences as long-term cancer caregivers. He teared up a couple times during the conversation and seemed almost apologetic. “I’m not normally an emotional guy,” he said as he wiped away grief that was leaking from his eyes. “Just when I think I’m doing better, the tears come out of nowhere.”
Oh, don’t apologize, I wanted to say. I see a vulnerable man who loved his wife and isn’t afraid to talk about her to someone he’s just met, even though talking about her will surely generate tears. Which means, I see strength and courage.
But I don’t say this out loud.
Simple Acts Make a Big Impact
Dan and I have a common love for outdoor activity, and so we started hiking some of the local trails together. I continued asking questions about his deceased wife and how his adult children were handling their loss. And he asked questions about my experience and how I had managed the grief after my husband died of cancer.
Dan told me it was good to talk with someone who understood what he was experiencing. And I thanked him for making it easy for me to share memories of Gary.
It wasn’t until a recent conversation with one of my brothers-in-law, that I realized more fully the gift Dan and I were giving to each other—the gift of listening, of sitting with someone in their loss, of inviting remembrances and stories.
My brother-in-law lost his wife in a tragic accident just six months after they were married. When he started dating the girl who is now my lovely sister-in-law, she asked a lot of questions about his deceased wife. My brother-in-law remembered how good and therapeutic it was to be able to talk about her with someone who seemed interested. What a good reminder of how much it can mean to someone to simply listen and care.
Don’t Focus on Fixing Anything
Ashley Davis Bush shares this thought on sorrow:
“We live in a world that doesn’t like pain. We too might be tempted to turn from it, to keep the stiff upper lip. But grief asks us to touch pain, to sit with pain and to ask it to tea. Being with your sorrow is brave. It is counter-culture courage.”
What about hanging out with a friend as they grieve—does that also take counter-culture courage? I’m thinking it does. Because it’s not necessarily comfortable. Because we feel helpless to fix it.
But we’re not called to fix anything. Sometimes, the greatest gift we can give to someone who is hurting is our presence.
I recently heard the story of a young woman, Ella, married but with no children, who worked from a home office. Ella packed up her laptop every morning and spread her work out over her friend’s dining room table. Her friend’s husband had died unexpectedly—too soon, too young—and Ella was simply making herself available. Day after day. I’m here for you if you want to talk. I’m here for you if you don’t want to talk. You are not alone.
Receive Comfort and Give It Back
There is a passage from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the early church in Corinth. Notice how frequently the word comfort shows up in these few verses:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
The comforting, the giving back what we’ve received, the sitting still and inviting someone to talk about their sorrow—could this be important to God?
These words from Nanea Hoffman describe the attitude I want to carry as I encounter others in their grief, as I share God’s comfort with them:
“In case you need to hear this: What happened was real. Your feelings are valid. You are entitled to heal in whatever way you need and in your own time. You are not alone, even if it feels that way. You are necessary in this world. I see you.”
What if we didn’t ignore our pain? Or deny it, or try to hold back the tears? What if talking about our deceased loved ones is a healthy part of sitting with our grief? And what if, in time, we could sit with others traveling this same heart-wrenching path?
Grit and grace required.
Grieving? Don’t miss this video from one of our writers.
For more encouragement on dealing with life’s challenges, start here:
Finding Your Grit Just When You Are Sure You Don’t Have Any
This Is a Window Into My Widowhood
What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know
On Courage: Strong People Have Weak Moments
Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Handle Crushing Grief?
When Dreams Die… Grieving What Should Have Been
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