On New Year’s Eve we had to put down our son’s dog who was suffering from bone cancer. He got her while volunteering at the Cache Humane Society when he was in high school. He named her Salam (Arabic for peace); she certainly brought our family peace and joy. Grief and sorrow follow the loss of a companion like a favored pet; however, the peace we long for can be elusive.
The pain of loss is very real, and at times, people’s well-meaning attempts to bring us comfort will fall short. It isn’t due to their lack of care, but it is due to a lack of wisdom. If wisdom is needed to help some grieve the loss of a pet, how much greater is it when trying to help someone grieve the loss of a loved one.
A post by Gary Sturgis (Surviving Grief) said, “It’s important to understand that every relationship that has ever existed between people is unique.” With this in mind, he suggests that saying, “I know how you feel, because...” will likely be hollow and, “automatically robs dignity from the person who is now made to feel as if their loss isn’t as big. It also negates the basic truth that all grief is experienced at 100%.” Recognizing that our friend’s grief is experienced at 100% allows me to not minimize their pain.
In considering the grief felt over the loss of life, I was reminded that this week the sanctity of human life is remembered. On January 13, 1984 President Ronald Reagan made a presidential proclamation designating January 22 as the National Sanctity of Human Life Day. This Sunday, churches throughout the US will be celebrating God's gift of life, commemorating lives lost to abortion, and committing themselves to protecting human life at every stage.
The term “sanctity of human life” describes the preciousness of human life for both the unborn and the living. It is because all life is precious that we should not only protect life but also support and encourage those grieving. We’re told that all life is a precious gift from God, “For it was [God] who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.”(Psalm 139:13–14)
Since all life is precious, we especially grieve the loss of a life taken by choice. Those grieving the loss of life due to an abortion often find little support to help them in their grief. Frank Peretti, in his novel “Tilly”, tells the story of a woman’s healing journey nine years after her abortion. The forward says, “It tells the story especially of how she came to know the reality of God’s forgiveness, and the recovery of joy and hope.” For those needing post-abortive support, The Center For Pregnancy Choices offers a support group for those grieving after an abortion.
There are other losses of a child that cause us to grieve. Some grieve the loss that follows a miscarriage or a still birth. Others grieve a death from SIDS or a childhood disease. Whatever the reason, their grief is “experienced at 100%.” To offer comfort, we must start by acknowledging the pain of their loss and then seek to help them find a path to healing.
Finding words to comfort those grieving can be difficult even if we have suffered a similar loss.
In the 90’s my wife had two miscarriages. Though serving our church as its pastor, I struggled to find the words to offer her comfort or to know how to grieve our loss. During this time I not only learned how common miscarriages were, I saw how little support or help there was for those grieving their loss.
Remembering that grief is “experienced at 100%” will help us from offering empty platitudes. Our friend doesn’t need our silence but they do need our support and encouragement. It might be a word, but all they may need is a hug and someone to share their tears with.
While grieving any loss is personal, it’s difficult to exit grief alone. To successfully walk through our grief, we’ll not only benefit from leaning on others, but by ultimately trusting in the Lord. We can trust David’s words, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18) Do you need comfort in your grief? Look to the Lord and pray for someone who will walk with you in your grief.