Hemrick: Words for the grief-stricken?


Grief comes in many forms: losing a valued heirloom, a job or a home filled with beautiful memories. The list of heartbreaks is unending. However, losing a loved one with a whole life ahead of him or her pierces the very depths of our heart.

How do we support a grief-stricken person?

First, understanding grief’s five stages is imperative: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Each stage possesses demanding challenges for mending a wounded spirit. To understand them is the foremost means for lending support.

Our human spirit is often taken for granted when riding high. When crippled, it can leave us crying out: “What did I do to warrant this?” Feelings like this leave us with the choice to give up on life or fight to amend it and enlist support. In struggles like this, a supportive friend is precious.

Supporting a grief-stricken person comes with a price. When we commiserate with another, we take on their pain. Commiseration requires heartfelt understanding of the depths of pain and touching it. When we touch it, it says, “I don’t know all you’re suffering, but I am trying to understand it to be one with your suffering.”

When I was a young priest, I received an emergency call in the middle of the night. Upon arriving, I saw a dazed police officer sweating effusively. In another room was a doctor with a crib-dead baby. The mother was crying hysterically because she felt responsible for the tragedy. Those around her tried to console her with no success.

Suddenly a woman entered the room, went to the mother and held her in her arms without saying a word. With that hug, she quietly absorbed the mother’s pain and quieted her.

Words of commiseration are consoling, but without heart they limp and need a heartfelt hug: the tender power for soothing sorrow.

As much as grief has no time limit for healing, it can result in paralysis if healing never comes.

Poet and songwriter Patti Smith reminds us how to get over the hump of sorrow: “Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn’t serve anyone, and it’s painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you’re magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.”

How very true it is: A life ended is enabled to live on thanks to the gift of remembrance.