It was during my first year as a minister when a young man was killed in a horrible truck accident. His family asked me to come to the visitation at the funeral home. I will never forget walking into the room. Around the room, everyone was seated against the wall.
The room was full of quiet conversation until I walked in.
Then there was complete silence as I made my way to the grieving family. Everyone was watching me and waiting for me to say something. What am I going to say? I know there is nothing I can say that will make it okay. Words cannot take away the confusion, the anger, the emptiness or the pain. In fact, words can even minimize or trivialize what a person is experiencing.
We sometimes think we have to say something that will 'make it better.' In our attempt to help the grieving person we may quote scripture or make such statements as, 'You know she is in a better place,' or 'Her suffering is over.' While all these statements may be true, they may be interpreted as our saying, 'I'm too uncomfortable talking about this so we can move to more comfortable topic.' These comments may even hinder the grief process. It is not a time of verbal plateaus or intellectualizing. It is a time to talk about feelings and the deceased.
When we are in the shock stage, we most likely will not remember what was said but we will remember the ones who were there for us. We will remember the ones who sat in silence and held our hands. We will remember the acts of caring such as others bringing in food. It is okay not to know what to say. Our presence says more than words.
While words may fail us, it is important to invite the grieving person to talk about what they are emotionally experiencing They may want to talk about the person who died and share their stories. The more they talk and cry, the quicker the healing process.
It is more painful for the grieving person when we avoid getting her to talk. A widow, Hap Grady, wrote a poem in memory of her husband. The poem is entitled, 'The Elephant In The Room.' In the poem she talks about how others avoid addressing the elephant by talking about the weather, work and trivial chatter.
Grady ends the poem with:
Oh, please say their name.
Oh, please say '( )' again.
Oh, please let's talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we can talk about their death,
Perhaps we can talk about their life.
Can I say their name to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me,
Alone. . . . in the room . . . with an elephant.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700