by Rev. John Farmer
Are we prepared for sadness?
The older I get, the more sentimental I become. Frequently I find the plight of others crippling. My hands tremble around the issue. My heart opens. My soul pales as I measure the consequence of what lies before some friend, neighbor, family member or church partner. My prayer life is taxed. I must admit that when deep tragedy threatens or assails, I feel so helpless to minister to others.
Recently our community has lost several citizens, acquainted to family, or church. Still, many others cope with uncertain health issues. I find myself inadequately at the feet of Jesus, down where the blood dripped from his side. He alone, not I, can alleviate or ameliorate the deep suffering that others are trying to shoulder.
We need to be very considerate as we traffic in the grief of others. I am most aware of the drag of anticipatory grief, of righteous anger and fear of the unknown.
If our family member, friend or neighbor is facing a long-suffering situation over the illness of their significant other, mind your words. Hugs, assurance of prayer support and errand running might just be the ministry to which we are called. An offer to sit while the caregiver undertakes other chores is often a well-received offer. Measure the privacy of issues. Carefully enlist prayer supporters.
If you know the grieving soul well enough and you know that their significant other did all the shopping, all the bill paying, you might offer to assist.
Food is another touchy place. Everyone’s palette is so different. Diets prevail. Diabetes, heart trouble and such determine which foods are appropriate. What time will that person, or persons eat? Is the sick person on caution not to mix certain foods with prescribed medicines?
Your great-grandmother’s favorite dish or bowl may have great value to you, but it can add to the stress of that very person for whom you seek to aid. They’ll be afraid to microwave the offering in it. They will panic that they have now become responsible for another’s heirloom. They will probably shy away from actually placing it on the table or bed tray. Is it dishwasher proof? Suppose I drop it? What started out as a loving gift, quick becomes a liability.
So, if we are going to bestow food upon another, perhaps we will use a microwaveable, re-sealable, disposable container. It might also be well to deliver that offering cold, even frozen, in case they are managing a bounty from similar minded Samaritans. Our best intentions might not mesh with the schedule over which others are straining.
Flowers are a sweet thought, but not necessarily best. Allergies awaken, sensitivities arise and the inevitable thought that they are probably going to get lots of them when that loved one dies might spill buckets of tears. If it is an arrangement that you grew in your yard, ask if you might bring them over.
Avoid empty caveats. The caregiver most likely has no idea how they will transit the loss when it comes. If you equip them to know that you will be there for them is a godsend, a blessing. Just don’t try to program what it is that you will do. Leave that door open to be addressed at the proper time.
After our friend has sustained the eminent loss, tread softly. Don’t ask too many questions. What will you do now? Will you stay in that big old house alone? Such questions are just like pouring gas on a fire. Your friend is still trying to get a grip on what has just happened to them. Similarly, don’t offer tons of advice. Don’t offer to clean out his closet, donate clothing, haul off treasures, put away medicines, or dismantle the sick room—unless you are asked… don’t bring it up. They just need time to grieve.
Quality of life issues are tender places. Our personal opinions might confuse others. Are there written instructions that need to weigh in?
If it is appropriate, you might become a telephone warrior, when there is something to tell.
Body language is just as threatening. I remember a cousin coming to our house right after my paternal grandmother died. She was so uncomfortable coming into our home that she started re-arranging furniture as she passed through the front door. I later learned that she was just trying to cover-up her own inadequacies. She just needed to do something.
I find it best to let my suffering friends know that I am wounded by their plight and not puff above the sadness we are all trying to mature. Work at sharing the journey not defining the destination. Let them know we will partner their struggle, not attempt to manage it.
When asked (and you might be) what should he or she do next? Pause; gather your wits about you. Are there others better qualified to speak? Are there siblings, legal voices, offspring, who need wade in? Don’t complicate difficult family issues by posting absolutes.
The goal to achieve is getting through the next hour; accomplishing only that which is of necessity, involving only the major players in the fray. This is not a time to post our personal feelings.