Friday, December 19, 2008

To Mourn with Those Who Mourn

I've received several comments, questions, emails, and have been in several conversations concerning a topic I've touched on previously-- most recently in the "Grieving with Gram" post-- the topic of of "coming alongside" a person in the midst of suffering, grieving, mourning, etc... From an insider's perspective, what recommendations can I make to the Church, to families, to friends, when it comes to "weeping with those who weep, and mourning with those who mourn"?
Certainly, there are important differences to be drawn between people who are suffering (ie, a terminal illness), and those who are mourning or grieving. And of course, different cases of "grieving" can look quite different-- a person who is recently widowed has quite a different set of circumstances from one who, say, has been recently divorced. (Even 2 recently widowed people's grief processes can look unimaginably different from the other's, regardless of how similar their situations seem "on paper".) So, I can't pretend to speak on behalf of all people grieving or suffering everywhere. (In fact, I was just sharing with a friend last night how there are so many "self-help" books on bookshelves that seem to try to boil down my situation-- grieving, single parenthood, etc...-- into a 5-step process, or a matter of right-and-wrong, or a check-list... and frankly, it just doesn't apply to me. Either I'm a freak, or the author is full of crap. Or maybe a bit of both.) However, there are similarities, too, we must admit, between individual journeys through grief, pain, suffering, mourning... "HEALING", we'll call it. (Indeed, sometimes a wound is so fresh and painful that we can't possibly fathom that we are actually already "healing". But many medical experts will acknowledge that the healing process indeed begins with the sensation of pain. Pain is not the absence of healing... it's the advent of it. Without pain, true healing cannot proceed.) Even those who are "dying" (as Leslie was), are still truly in the midst of their own journey of healing. So what do we do when we find ourselves in relationship with a "healing" person? (No matter how casual or intimate that relationship is... it is still a relationship.) How do we help? What do we say? What do we NOT say? How do we LOVE them?

An important part of the dynamic in a relationship between one who is suffering and one who is trying to come alongside the suffering person, is simply that the one who is suffering needs to be open to it. This is bad news, for all of you out there who have loved ones who are just simply unwilling to let you in. (But be careful, though, in your assessment of who is actually unwilling to "let you in". I know VERY FEW people who are truly unwilling to be loved. In fact, most who are truly this way are diagnosable with some sort of clinical disorder. Don't mistake "hard to love" with "unloveable"... don't mistake "reluctant to share" with "unwilling to share".) No matter how those of us who are "healing" want to hoard our sorrow or pain all for ourselves, we need to come to the realization that a) though our case may be somewhat unique, we still are indeed "suffering" like so many others, in different circumstances from our own; and b) it is good for our own souls and the souls of others to indeed let others "in" to our experiences. This is the divine plan of community. Humanity. The Church. The "social Gospel" (as it's been called) of Jesus. That being said... I just want to preface what I'm about to share with the firm assertion that there is no rule of thumb. No 5-step process to coming alongside a fallen or broken brother. No blueprint for loving those in greatest need.

With that being said, here's the best I can come up with, for now, from my own experience, and sharing in the experiences of others who are at various levels of their own "healing journeys". It's rough... it's not balanced... it may not seem "fair" for you outsiders-looking-in, as far as journeys of suffering are concerned. But it's real. I'll lay it out kind of as a quick reference tool... a list of "dos and don'ts". And I encourage dialogue on this! I'm still learning myself! These lists may need editing, amending, abridging, etc... in future blog posts. Please, leave your affirmations and dissentions alike-- your encouragement and discouragement from what you read-- in the "comments" section of this post, for all to see... this is such a healthy exercise for us all to embark on together... truly God-honoring... So, with a prayer to God and plea to you all for grace, I humbly give you my "Dos and Don'ts"... How to come alongside one who is suffering... or mourning... or healing... or whatever:

  1. DON'T TRY TO FIX IT. Suffering is not something to be rescued from. It is something to be endured. It is God who heals. Not you. If your motive is to rescue someone, go to the Humane Society shelter and adopt a pet. If your motive is to love somebody, just be willing to abide with a person in their suffering, without trying to fix it.
  2. DON'T GIVE UNINVITED ADVICE. If they want advice, they'll ask. If you're giving advice, you're just trying to "fix it". As a matter of fact, it just may be that your "healing" friend has more to teach you than they have to learn from you.
  3. DON'T BE CLICHE. Yes, God has a plan. Yes, this too shall pass. Yes, Leslie is better off now. Yes, God is in control and He hears our prayers. But frankly, these are not truths to be uttered in passing, when one when one is grasping for words and can think of nothing else to say. If you've read it in a Hallmark card, just don't say it... no matter how true. (Indeed, if it's on a Hallmark card, just send them the card.) To the person who is suffering, hearing such things just gives the impression that the person doing the "encouraging" has no idea just how badly this sucks... that the person doing the speaking is really just trying to make him/herself feel better, and not really interested in sharing in the pain. Again, I am not dishonoring the truth of such well-known spiritual foundations. On the contrary... I'm just saying that some truths are actually dishonored or cheapened when they're offered as a band-aid, as a greeting of sorts, or as a passing blurb.
  4. DON'T ASSUME YOU CAN "RELATE". It's one thing to try to understand and come alongside someone in their suffering. It's completely another to use someone's predicament as an opportunity to share your own sob story. The fact that your 90-year-old grandmother died following a stroke last year may be an unfortunate fact. But what you learned through the course of that experience is not likely to be applicable to your friend who just lost their 9-year-old daughter to leukemia. In fact, something that helped you when your own daughter died of leukemia might not even be helpful to that friend, either. NEVER say, "I understand just what you're going through, because..." Even if you think you can relate. It is much more fruitful to just say, "I can in no way fathom just what you're going through. I am sorry."
  5. DON'T AVOID THE OBVIOUS. Don't pretend that nothing's wrong. Certainly, there is something to be said for just letting a friend escape their misery and have a conversation about something else. But you need to always be aware... be prepared to "go there"... be prepared to cry, to listen, to love.
  6. DON'T AVOID THE PERSON. This might sound silly to have to say. But I know a family who, after the tragic death of a loved one, was literally abandoned by their church. I know of a man whose friends stopped calling, stopped asking to hang out, stopped loving them after being diagnosed with a terminal disease. "Not knowing what to say" is NOT an excuse for abandoning your friend or loved one. In fact, it is all the more reason to PURSUE them.
  7. DON'T BETRAY TRUST. Don't gossip. If you are fortunate enough to have been allowed "inside"-- into the more intimate spaces of a suffering friend's heart and mind-- honor that by keeping it between the two of you. If you want, you may ask if you can have specific people (your family, your friends, your small group) pray for the matter. But don't assume that just because they shared it with you, that they want all of your friends knowing about it-- or even praying about it. If I'm on a date, and my date offers me a taste of her wine (certainly a bold and intimate gesture), what would she do if I'd take the sip, and then get up from the table and go around the restaurant with her cup, offering sips of her wine to all the other patrons? Just because a friend shares with you a sip from his or her cup, it doesn't mean that it is in fact your cup to share with others.


  1. BE PATIENT. There is no universal timeline. Don't dare to come alongside a person unless you are willing to persevere in patience... even if the person is never "healed" by your definition.

  2. BE KIND. Gentle. A healing heart is fragile. Be kind even when the one you're being kind to is not. If you're not willing to take a punch and answer with a hug or at least a kind word, don't get into the ring.

  3. REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. If your suffering loved one snaps, pushes you away, does not accept your gestures, lashes out, crawls into a hole and avoids the light of day... Let it roll off your back-- do not let it affect how you are able to love them. It's just not about you. Likewise, if you're fortunate enough to find a word that actually brings encouragement, don't take credit. Give the glory to God, and just be happy for the one who is suffering, that they're actually encouraged. (As a side-note, this one was extremely difficult for me, as I learned to come alongside Leslie in her life-long struggle with depression... I know many out there can relate.)

  4. HUG OFTEN. I don't care if it's weird. I don't care if they don't seem like the "touchy-feely" type-- or if you're not the "touchy-feely" type. There are actually clinical studies out there about the positive correllations between "healing" and "physical personal contact". If your loved one side-steps your efforts, try again later. To avoid hugging is to make a person feel as though he's been quarantined. My grief is not contageous by contact. Your love is though. Let me have it!

  5. LISTEN. Just listen. Even if it's hard. Shut up and listen. Or to be more proper/biblical about it: " quick to listen, slow to speak..."

  6. PRAY!! Offer to pray with the suffering person. Pray FOR the suffering person, every time the person enters your mind. Sure, pray for "healing", but don't just stop there. Pray for peace. Pray for revelation. Pray for strength to endure. (Both for your loved one, and for yourself, as you come alongside.) Ask what it is they need prayer for. If you find that you've gone a single day without praying for a person... well then... I guess you're not really "coming alongside", are you? Of all the gestures people have done for us through our "journey"-- all the gifts, all the acts of service, words of encouragement...-- it is the prayer of our friends, families, and even strangers for which we are most grateful.

  7. SHARE YOUR PRAYERS. Be specific. Send a note, or tell them when you see them... For example: "Yesterday, I was thinking of you-- you were just heavy on my heart. And I prayed specifically for peace, and that you could just sleep through the night."

  8. ALLOW FOR SPACE. Not to contradict "DO #4"... but sometimes, a person just needs some space. We just need to be alone sometimes. If you're wondering whether a person needs space or not... simply ask... "Do you just need some space right now?" This is a welcome question, speaking from experience, more so than "how can I help?". (Refer also to "DOs" #1 and #3, if you find yourself trying to love a suffering person who just needs space.)

  9. GIVE RANDOM, THOUGHTFUL GESTURES. The best things we've received from people are the random, heart-felt notes... just to tell us they're thinking of us and praying for us. Or maybe, a box of cookies in the mailbox with a hand-written card. Or maybe a gift-card for Caribou with a note, "Coffee on me! I'd love to join you. Anytime. But no offense if you just want to enjoy this alone." Oh... and when you give random thoughtful gestures... attach no strings. Don't even expect a thank-you. Certainly don't expect a special seat at the greiving table. The fact that your friend received the gesture should be gratitude enough. (But don't, by the way, ask them whether they actually received it... this comes off as begging for a slap on the back. If it's that big of deal, send it certified mail or in some way that requires a signature.)

  10. BE PERSONAL IN YOUR COMMUNICATION. Tell the person specifically what they mean to you... tell them specifically how their struggle is affecting your own life-- what you're learning, how you're losing sleep, how you've been encouraged, how you've struggled... even how you're angry at God or questioning His goodness. This most certainly does NOT contradict #3 above. In fact, I can speak on behalf of Leslie, that she just cherished the realization that her own journey was encouraging, challenging, revealing, etc... to others. That God was using her to reach and minister to other people. (This continues to be the greatest source of encouragement in my own ongoing journey.) (NOTE: See #4 in the "DON'Ts"... Do not mistake this "DO" to mean that you should be personal in relating your own story to a person who is suffering, in an attempt to show that you somehow "understand what they're going through".)
  11. SAY SOMETHING. BUT SAY LITTLE. It's not okay to never talk about it or pretend someone isn't suffering. Granted, someone may not want to talk about their suffering at a given minute. But it is always a good call to just simply say privately, "I'm sorry you're going through what you are." Or, "I've been praying for you like crazy. Just wanted to let you know that." Or, "You've been on my mind a lot. I'd love to talk sometime." Or whatever. And be prepared to move on in the conversation on to a non-related topic. But also, be prepared to just linger there for awhile.
  12. SPEAK AND ACT IN LOVE. Every word. Every deed. Every prayer. Cover it all in love... measure every motive with I. Cor. 13, and ask, "am I acting in LOVE here?": 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.
  13. LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit, that is... If you're not a Christ-follower, I guess you can go ahead and disregard this one. But for those of you who call yourselves "Christians", this is one of the precise reasons why Jesus left us His Holy Spirit... to know how to love each other more fully into the grace, peace, joy, and truth of God. How do you know what's from the Holy Spirit, and what's just that burrito you had for lunch? Ask yourself, "Is this thought, word, gesture, etc... a 'fruit of the Spirit'?" "...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal. 5)

I could truly spend more time on this, and indeed, I hope to, via your comments, and perhaps subsequent posts. In the meantime... I guess I'll just wrap it up by saying, "Love each other well. Abide with one another in love. Don't fix. Don't rescue. Just abide."


Bekah said...

Ty, This is a great post. A great guide for those who have never lost a close loved one. It is difficult to abide with someone who is grieving and healing. Or at least it was difficult for my friends, church family and even distant family members because I was a different person than they once knew...forever changed and it wasn't a fun road for them to be on with me. The hardest moments for me were when people said they knew how I was feeling because they lost so and so. I'm sure I said similar things before Sara and my dad went Home but I am so much more careful with my words now. Thanks for sharing. We were really sorry to hear about your hard weekend in Archbold. My heart hurt reading that post and we continue to pray for the Lord's peace and strength to fill you.

KEITH said...

Tyson, I can keep silent no longer! I'm out of my "box"'re writing is absolutely awsome (best word I can think of for description). My heart continues to be heavy as I think of you often.

This latest blog really touched and encouraged me and I am learning from the broken one. You have a tremendous gift of insight (especially for a kid...that's right, you will always be a kid to me).

Thank you for you're encouragement in your writing...please be encouraged that you are touching lives in countless ways (even old guys).

May God continue to bless you and wrap His arms around you.

Uncle Keif

Anonymous said...

Abide! Amen.

Sarah said...

Tyson, I'm going to think more on what you wrote and try to apply it to people I love. Thank you for what you wrote. I agree with most of what you said...that would have been helpful to just pass out a copy when we were suffering so 3 years ago.

Here's a virtual hug: (((Tyson))). Thanks for the inspiration and sharing what you've learned.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you said. I also believe that the person that is grieving needs to extend grace to others. People say and do “wrong” things with the best of intentions, and out of their own grief and background. I believe that if it is a small thing it is important to let it go. If it is major, address it quickly and directly in love. Reading your list I wonder have I offended inadvertently……That is rhetorical by the way!

You and TJ are prayed for today. I pray for grace with each other and laughter!

Hope you can go sledding~

Bri said...

I am so thankful for this post! I will never be able to fathom the pain you are experiencing, but I have experienced some of those "don't's" when we lost a child to miscarriage. I love the word "abide" instead of fix, correct, heal, etc... Abiding is what the suffering need.

The cliches and comparing of other losses were hardest during my suffering. I will be praying for you Tyson as well as your son. As a follower who has experienced deep sorrow, I cannot pretend to know the depth of your pain, but I can abide with you and pray while you are walking through it.

God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Tyson, thank you so much for your list. I'm afraid I have used #3 on the Don't list often. I am horrible with words, especially in stressful situations. For the socially uncomfortable people like me, do you have suggestions of what we should say? Not to "make things better" but for instance, when you see the "healing" person for the first time after their loss, do you simply give them a hug and move on? Is that too impersonal? Is a simple heartfelt, "I'm sorry" ok or not enough???? My friend's father (only 58 yrs. old) just passed away Tuesday and I definitely don't want to say the wrong thing. Any guidelines would be appreciated.

Verna said...

thanks for the advice, my daughter and her husband just had to give their baby boy back to the Lord and sometimes I...(most of the time) I do not know what to say or do.
Blessings you both of you as you walk through your first Christmas without Leslie.

Becky said...

There have been so many times when I did not know what to say or do when someone I cared for was grieving...and many times when I know darn well that I said the wrong thing, regardless of how well-meaning it was. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge in order to help others be of better friendship to those who are in pain. Keeping you and T.J. in prayer.

There's one other thing I'd like to share, that I have thought for several months about posting. I hope you don't mind this excessively long comment post...

I stumbled upon the "Leslie's Journey" blog on the day before Leslie passed. A fellow adoptive mom had posted a link and asked for prayers on her blog, so I clicked it and spent the next several hours reading from beginning to end with tears streaming down my face. I prayed very hard for the three of you that evening. The next day, Saturday, we took off for Chicago to visit my aunt and see the Venetian Night fireworks. As we walked around Millenium park that evening amongst literally THOUSANDS of other people, I was mostly focused on making sure that my two children did not stray more than 10 feet from me as they played in Crown Fountain. But at about 8:30 pm, I distinctly heard someone walk by me say "Loyola." My immediate thought was "Leslie is there." It seemed merely coincidence, of course...although I don't really believe in coincidence. I was reminded to pray, and moved on to herding the children once again.

The following morning I checked your blog, and of course saw that Leslie had been healed. I cried for your family, who I have never met and had not ever even heard of until two days prior to that moment. None the less, I was moved to tears. I'm sure my husband thought I was nuts!!! Anyway, we headed on our way home and for some reason I actually got to listen to the radio in the van (usually its a DVD instead...this really was an unusual occurence!). I turned on WXRT, and they were playing this song that I had never heard before. For some reason it really stuck in my head.

Later that evening I had a little time to myself and visited your MySpace blog for the first time, where I heard that same song that had been on the radio.


As I said, I don't really believe in coincidence. I belive God has a hand in all things. I have NO idea why He would choose to give ME those reminders of your family...but it seems that He did. I don't have any other explanation. So I hope it doesn't seem too terribly bizarre...but I wanted to share it with you. The journey that you and Leslie have shared has helped me to refocus on celebrating the present instead of fearing for the future. I'm grateful that you have been willing to allow this stranger to witness God's healing presence in your life.

God Bless.

Becky from Sterling, Illinois

Wow! said...

Tyson, Wow, great blog. My journey has been long and the healing process has been slow. Not bitter - just slow. Understanding still is confusing.
I don't know how many times I heard> "you will get over it" "just move on" "you are better off" "I know exactly how you feel" ....sometimes I wanted to scream...hmmm... sometimes I did! This life we have been given is full of choices and consequences. It has unexpected bumps, potholes or craters along the way. Sometimes the whole darn thing derails. It is nice to have people willing to share a kind jesture or even let you know they are praying for you. Those who help you get things back on track.
Thanks for the posting...a reminder for me to tell a few people "thanks"... ginny

Hey, take along run on the sand :)

Tyson Aschliman said...

Thanks for the great thoughts, everyone! Please keep this up! It's encouraging and challenging to me!

A couple thoughts on the discussion:

The 2nd anonymous comment above was right to suggest that the suffering person also needs to act in grace and love, as well. Absolutely! It's a completely different post, for another time, perhaps... The thing is, almost every "suffering" person I talk to can resonnate with these "do's and don'ts", and very few ever do anything but "respond in grace". But I can't deny the fact that I'm more encouraged by the friends that employ these "do's" than by the ones who tend toward the "don'ts". Yes, I understand the innocent motives and big hearts. But I can't deny the unintended hurt that can be caused in innocence, at times. This whole conversation, I understand, is only beneficial if both "sides" (indeed, we've all been on both sides of this conversation to varying degrees) come to the table in grace, share in grace, receive in grace, and then step away from the table... yes... in grace.

Thanks for the virtual hug, Sarah! I smiled. Proof that "Do #4" works. :) And I'm sure I did plenty of the don'ts, 3 years ago, when you were neck-deep in your own tragedy. I'm so sorry. And my heart is still heavy for you all.

You all need to know, by the way, that I don't keep "tabs" of who all as done the "don'ts". In fact, the only interactions i really remember over the last 15 months are striking displays of some significant "Do's". So take a deep breath. NONE of the "Don'ts" were written with embittered memories in mind, or as a "getcha back". If you remember employing any "don'ts" in my own situation, rest easy and know I most certainly do not remember it. No apologies or guilt necessary. In fact, I sincerely apologize to anyone that may be second guessing their gestures done in love, as a result of reading this. NOT at all my intent. I hope you find this conversation as a tool to simply be able to love each other better, moving forward.

"CV" (anonymous)-- Great questions! I'd say a hug is always appropriate... but a risky proposal. You may get "shot down". If that happens, don't take it personally. That person will definitely remember that you tried, and will be touched by that. Some good "one-liners" that always played well with me are as follows, (summarized, actually from this blog post), when encountering a person in the midst of nursing a fresh wound:

"I can in no way fathom just what you're going through. I am sorry."

"I'm sorry you're going through what you are."

"I've been praying for you like crazy. Just wanted to let you know that."

"You've been on my mind a lot. I'd love to talk sometime."

And so-on...

Another point that my mom-in-law (Gram) brings up (I'm at their place for our family Christmas this weekend)-- If someone is fresh off a huge loss or has just been plunged into suffering... that is not the time to ask a lot of questions about details, etc... If any of you bump into me on the street today or in the future, I, personally, enjoy such converations and sharing memories, etc... But my mom was bombarded with a bunch of questions from people out in public the VERY NEXT DAY after Leslie died, and it was just too much for her to take. So... I guess, just be careful.

(Transversely, Gram also mentions that the best thing people did at that point in time was just come up and give her a hug, look in her eyes with sympathy, and walk away. This, incidentally, is still one of the favorite "do's" that my parents-in-law experience even in this present time.)

Verna-- I'm so sorry to hear about your family's loss. My heart is just heavy in my stomach reading that. You and your daughter and her husband are on my mind this morning.

Becky-- I LOVE hearing those kinds of stories! WOO HOO! God is good! I'm encouraged by it, to be certain... but if I could be so bold... it seems likely that His "purpose" was to encourage YOU with Leslie's story. He was simply reaching you through her "ministry". He loves you (and Leslie) THAT much! I'm humbled and excited all at the same time that you had that experience. Our God is alive!

Thanks all! Keep it up!

ps. Miss ya, Uncle Keef. Glad to see you on here!

Janetta said...

You have so nailed it right on! Grief is so different with every situation, I can agree on not liking the "I know exactly what you are going through" comments! On November 1, 1999 My dad passed away at the age of 59, due to a roofing accident. On November 1, 2008, my mom, age 64 passed away due to a stroke. I thought I knew what to expect on this grief process the 2nd time around. It has been so different. For one, the WAY a person passes affects HOW you grieve. The kind of relationship you had makes it very different. My dad and I never had a good relationship... which should have made it easier.... you would have thought.... No! I grieved what I always hoped I would someday have... and never did... I didn't realize how much of my grief over loosing dad I "soothed" by taking care of my mom.... Now I have no one to "care" for.... Where do I put my "grieving energy" ?
I love reading your blog, you are so gifted with words, and its therapy to read it. Sometimes I am laughing and crying at the same time, because so many of your words ring so true!!
How would we ever get through this sucky time in our lives without a God who loves us no matter how lousy our attitude is some days!

Catherine said...

I took the invitation to dialogue at face value, and I hope the length here is consistent with blog etiquette (?) … This is not dissent or criticism. Just a heart-felt caveat about the degree to which this particular list can or cannot be generalized. From my own (admittedly particular) perspective, there are two possible restrictions:

(1) I do think your comments here assume pretty heavily that the person mourning or suffering is already embedded in a dense network of resources and supports, and I think the suburban church already errs too easily in making that assumption based on appearances, with sad result. I would not draw up this same list for many of the hurting people I serve or for the caregivers who are hurting by association … possibly even, “suffering for righteousness’ sake.”

(2) To the church member whose personal gifting falls under that cloudy heading of “prophetic,” you must always be insistent on what you heard from the Spirit (Tyson’s #13 “Do”) even if it falls afoul of the accepted protocol and you feel funny about the violation. You may have to wait on the grieving soul’s timing. I certainly think you have to be gentle and not run total rough-shod – same as the Spirit deals with us – but some discernment may ultimately be required to navigate between the assignment God gave you (that you really know you heard decisively) and the felt needs of the person hurting. The abundance of material and spiritual privileges in certain churches tempts what looks to veteran eyes like a sad profligacy … an exchange of a bigger blessing God intended for something lesser that “meets our needs” as defined by a limited understanding that needs to be enlarged. In the communities I serve, destitute eyes tend instead to stay more perpetually open to the possibility of a surprising ram in the bush. Any stray cat on the porch – the weirder, the more likely – is a possible occasion for God’s mercy because we’ve seen Him wrap His gifts in such strange packages before. What level insistence is the responsibility of that person who is the intended agent of the blessing and the mercy that come out of left field? I honestly don’t know. I have puzzled over this intensely in times past (not with you, Tyson) and still don’t know.

And that brings me to say thanks to the first Anonymous above … I think your point is so well-taken. I do think the person hurting still has a major responsibility, even in the deepest dark, to try looking on the heart minus the details; to be open to whatever strange way God is moving to make the most of this time; to remember that every one of us, due to the human condition, is bearing some form of loss and hurt (as Tyson himself was very careful to say clearly); and to be mindful that our pain is itself a gift requiring good stewardship – a concept magnificently captured in Tyson’s paragraph three and with the important last sentence under #2 in the Don’ts.

My personal conviction about weathering long-term, chronic grief is that the best focus is to assume without much questioning or analysis that the Holy Comforter will tend to the particulars of what we need (offering His direction to the people around us) and that our eyes can be firmly fixed on how to comfort others with the comfort we’ve been given from above. I think that’s the very spirit in which Tyson offered this post. You, Tyson, have indeed been a good steward of your pain. On behalf of all of us whose pain has rendered us untouchable in many churches, thank you. Stay the course.

Anonymous said...

I have sat across the table from comfortable Christians countless times when I didn't have enough to eat or was literally running from death threats and needed shelter (as many of my friends do too). Few ever guessed the depth of my need, or gave me half an invitation to reveal such stark facts ... extreme, perhaps yes, but then again the Gospel says "consider it not strange" and the apostles themselves suffered ends that should make us aware that faithfulness often comes with steep cost.

I do think there is a strong tendency among baby believers not to want to know these things. For them counsel to "abide" is well-placed, but then there comes a time when “abide” becomes a cop-out and there IS a real, substantial calling to “fix.” The passivity of the confessing church in Bonhoeffer’s day shocks us in hindsight, but in our own day there is some equivalent passivity yet undetected by us. I understand the appropriateness of “don’t fix” in your context, but those two words can become a snare without the counterbalancing discernment that in a life of Spirit-leading there are actually relatively few absolutes.

Anonymous said...

take the time to pray with the suffering, don't just say that you are praying. stop them , embrace them, and pray your heart out with them. don' t wait for later, do it immdediately.

Tyson Aschliman said...

Good thoughts, again. One thing I will say is that there is nothing passive about "abiding" with someone in their suffering, by my definition of the concept.

Anonymous said...

I see your point. That definition might be good to elaborate ... possibly "abiding" does mean different things to different people and that's a useful topic for future discussion?

Anonymous cont. said...

I think if you're really and truly abiding with someone and not the way most people mean when they casually toss about that term, it's impossible not to be moved to do in response to gaping need ...

Strongly agreed.

Tracy in MKE said...

Tyson - I just wanted to wish you and your son a blessed Christmas. This is a wonderful post.. part of a beautiful blog that is so real and heartwarming. Thank you for sharing your journey. And even though you don't know me, please know that you and TJ are in my prayers. My best to you and your family in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Don't avoid the obvious...
...when telling the grieving I am sorry or any time you refer to the beloved, say their name. Example: "I am so sorry you and T.J. have to continue living life without the physical presence of Leslie" or "I am so sorry for the loss of your wife Leslie." Not mentioning their name does not make it any less real.
Also, some of the most comforting comments in my journey with grief were not the "I'm sorry" , but hearing another persons memory of my beloved. It is funny the things that we forget about, and the wonderful things we learn about our loved ones in their absence.

Nicole said...

This is a blog that I will read and re-read. I am glad for your gracious response in relieving my fear that I have been on the "don't" list more often than not. Truly, it is my pre-occupation with self-consciousness in these type of moments that further reminds me that it truly isn't about ME!

I was reflecting today on your idea of "abiding", specifically the difference between your meaning of abiding and "remaining" or "stagnating". As I took a snipet of time to read from my ole friend Oswald Chambers this afternoon, lo and behold, he had this to say: (I have edited for conciseness"

"Reality is Redemption, not my experience of Redemption; but Redemption has no meaning for me until it speaks the language of my conscious life. When I am born again, the Spirit of God takes me right out of myself and my experiences, and identifies me with Jesus Christ. If I am left with my experiences, my experiences have not been produced by Redemption. The proof that they are produced by Redemption is that I am led out of myself all the time... My experiences are not worth anything unless they keep me at the Source, Jesus Christ.

...Never nourish an experience which has not God as its Source and faith in God as its result...Is any experience dearer to you than your Lord? I do not care what I experience; I am sure of Him.

Be ruthless with yourself if you are given to talking about the experiences you have had. Faith that is sure of itself is not faith; faith that is sure of God is the only faith there is."

This seems to me to be similar to the messages I have gleaned from your blog- that abiding is drawing you nearer to the person of Jesus Christ, like re-focusing the camera lens of faith, clearing the vision to a Spirit-lead perspective.

Love ya, bro!

Byron Gerber said...

I can usually chit-chat with anyone but have always had a problem finding the right words and actions when trying to "help" a grieving person. So thank you for this wonderful list of dos and don't there are things on both list that I default to (probably more on the don't list). I now have a better idea of how to not "help" but abide with someone who is going through something that I could never image!

Thanks for being an open book, and letting us all have a drink from your glass.


Michael and Courtney Spear said...

Amazing writing! My husband lost his brother years ago and I think I also said the wrong things to him- putting my foot in my mouth- like always! Anyways, I really needed that list of do's and dont's! Glad I have it for the next. The Lord has really given you a gift in writing!!! You should write a book- I'm serious!!! Still praying for you guys! PS- I love when you add new pics of your lil' man! He's adorable!

Anne said...

Thanks for sharing Tyson. As one who has suffered much and doesn't want others to try to fix me I still try to fix others at times. It is really hard for me to know what people want/need. I think what I might start doing is just say "What do you want/need from me?" or "How can I come alongside you?" I do believe that alot of times people really do want to help - but just don't know how. I know I have said wrong things to people even though I truly did want to come alongside in a healing way. I just didn't know how. Thanks for the reminders.

JudyBright said...

We struggle to be truly selfless when coming alongside someone who is grieving.

When I've grieved or just been upset over some day to day event, I find the person who is trying to "comfort" me makes it all about them. Then as the grieved I need to make them feel better, to reassure them that they comforted correctly. Then I am very hesitant to share what's on my mind because of the chore that I know is ahead.

So, yes, if possible comforter, do not make it about you.