Talking about Grief

4 11 2006

j0411764 (2)

Few things make us more uncomfortable than words like “grief,,” “loss,” and “death,” so when it comes to dealing with loved ones who are grieving, we don’t know what to do, say, or how to act, and sometimes this ignorance can do horrendous damage to someone already in pain.

While making small talk with some acquaintances, one of the young men in the group, James, tried to mention how his mother is dying, how greatly it’s affecting his entire family, and how hard the stress level and grief has been on him lately.  His friends — who he’s known for several years — suddenly became very awkward and completely tongue-tied.  They began to squirm around in their chairs and franticly glanced at each other as if they were looking for help.

Feeling Uncomfortable 

I’m also losing a parent right now, my dad has a fatal illness, and I’m slowly watching him slip away.  I know the heartache, but I don’t have any answers, no cure for the pain. In fact, I hardly even knew James, but I asked questions about how his mom was doing, how his family was holding up, and most importantly, how he was doing.

His friends continued looking around uncomfortably, and when there was the first break in the conversation, one of them jumped in and changed the subject to something more upbeat. Then, in order to avoid further discomfort, they dominated the entire conversation; a regular “one man band.”  They didn’t want to hear about the heavier things James is currently living with, so they avoided having to listen by not giving him the opportunity to talk about it.

Their friend wanted to talk about the hardest thing in his life, and they responded by changing the subject and dominating the conversation because it made them uncomfortable to talk about grief and death. But I’m sure it doesn’t make James feel comfortable to live with the reality his mother is dying.

Just Listen

Some people — even friends — never ask me how my dad is doing, or how I’m coping with things, even though they know what’s happening and they see me on a regular basis.  Maybe people think they’d be reminding me of my pain by mentioning it, but I haven’t forgotten my dad’s dying.  Even if it’s not living in the forefronts of my thoughts at every moment, the knowledge and reality of it is always there.  They don’t ask for fear of reminding me, but since they don’t ask I assume they’re the ones who’ve forgotten.

“I don’t know what to do,” I hear people say when someone they know is grieving. Well, I’ll tell you, take a deep breath, deal with the fact it’s not your favorite subject of conversation, and listen. You’re right, you can’t change the situation, you can’t make it all better, but they know that even better than you do.   Sometimes, they just need to talk, and they need to know you haven’t forgotten.




9 responses

4 11 2006


You are so right. When my husband died suddenly 8 1/2 years ago, nobody knew what to say to me, so people didn’t say much at all. But I learned one very valuable lesson: I remembered that, in the past, I’d never known what to say to people who had lost someone, either. Suddenly, I realized it didn’t really matter… just say something. Don’t ignore the person because it’s uncomfortable. Just ask them how they’re doing and they’ll guide the conversation. We don’t have to HEAL the other person, we just have to be there for them.

How are you doing, Kelsey?

~ Debi

4 11 2006


Thank you for asking. How I’m doing can change from day to day. I’ve been sick for a few weeks, which always makes even little things harder to cope with, so it’s good to be feel better again.

Sometimes, the reality of my dad’s heath can just seem very factual; I can almost feel numb to the pain. Since we’re no longer living with him anymore — because we weren’t safe — there’s now a chance to breathe and heal; both of which we all need. I’m currently trying to make a point of not pushing myself and just learning how to breathe again.

I’m starting over in a new community, with a new church, and lots of new people. On one hand, it’s a blessing, because it’s a fresh start, but on the other hand it’s hard, because ever new person I meet is yet another person I’ll have to tell about my dad’s heath if I’m ever going to get to know them on any deeper level. It’s challenging, and often scary, because you never know what will come out of someone’s mouth, but I’m getting by. I’m putting one foot in front of the other, pulling myself out of bed, even when I’d rather hid under the covers, and hanging on to my Savior.

Right now, I can’t see the things I’m learning — sometimes, it feels as if the only thing I’ve gained from all my dad’s heath is a slightly bigger vocabulary — but at some point, maybe years from now, I know I’lll be able to see how I grew because of what I went through, but I’m not there yet.

At my church the pastor’s been going through the names of God, which has been just what I needed. I need to focus on who God is.

Grace for the moment,

4 11 2006

Thanks for the reminder, Kelsey. Talking about grief, is a perfect time to live out the scriptures. To bear one another’s burdens and to put others needs before our own.
Your family is in my prayers.
God’s blessings be with you and your family.


Yes, it is a perfect time to be able to live out Scriptures, you’re right. Thank you for your prayers.


5 11 2006
Mrs. Nicklebee

Echoing thankfulness for the reminder, Kelsey, that people need each other and don’t necessarily expect answers or quick fixes. Or lotsa words, even.

I’m willing to bet that the people in the group you were with learned something from you plodding ahead into uncomfortable territory and asking the guy how he was doing. It may not have completely sunk in but it’ll click eventually.

I think it’s okay and even appropriate to pray for God to give everyone the grace and wisdom to deal with the situation at hand when things like what you experienced happen. Mostly I ask God to help me. It just occured to me that maybe I need to also ask God to help those who are with me. Even Christians can be like deer caught in the headlights when something out of our realm of knowledge or experience comes up.

5 11 2006


Glad to know you’re feeling better – when you’re sick, it must only makes matters worse.

Many times over the years, I can remember telling a good friend of mine: “Whatever it is I’m supposed to be learning, can’t I just get a postcard or something?? I want to be done already!” It is human nature to “want out” when in pain, I believe. It took me a long time to realize I was learning to lean on the Lord through my pain, and continue to learn this daily.

Thankfully, my good friend was a blessing for also helping me to focus on who God is when I needed this the most.

In His Love,

It’s hard to not what out when life heats up, but it’s the place where we’re able to learn the most.

I’m glad your friend was able to help you focus. Sometimes, just one person can make all the difference.


5 11 2006

Mrs. Nicklebee,
Thank you. I hope they people I was talking with were maybe able to see how you don’t just have to change the subject when someone brings up something uncomfortable.

You’re right; it does seem like we ought to pray for others, so that they’ll know how to handle things. Too often “the deer in the headlights” thing happens, because people don’t know what to do. I know for my self, I use to feel like I need to some how make it “better” if I was talking with someone who was going through something hard, but since there wasn’t anything I could do, it would seem very awkward.

Since I’m now also the way making people awkward, I can see that you don’t really have to say much of anything, sometimes it’s best to say nothing, and just listen. I didn’t learn how to handle it myself until I was the one dealing with all the “deer” who didn’t know what to do with me. It does make it easier to be gracious with people who don’t know what to do, or what to say; I didn’t have any idea before either.


7 11 2006

Kelsey, way to go. The talking with your friend as you did. It was so well put in an earlier comment, just let them know you are there and they will guide the conversation. You were a blessing to the friend in need and a teacher to the others. Glad you are starting to feel better.

Thank you, Bill. 🙂


8 11 2006

I hope that i am never caught in the trap of not wanting to talk with you about hard things. You are one of my closest and best friends in the whole world and pray that i can be as much a blessing to you as you have been to me. Just know that i’m always here to listen, no matter the time of day or night. If for some reason i don’t pick up my phone, leave me a message and i will call you as soon as a get it.

love you lots!

Thank you, Des. It means a lot to me. 🙂


5 03 2007

How true. Nice post, and true insight.

Thank you, Josh.


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