Let’s Stop Ignoring Grieving People



It’s February – we are in the middle of winter. The winter I’m having is not as cold as many but it has been fairly sun-less and snow-less. Last month I read an article that debated a day known as “Blue Monday.”  Some say it’s the most depressing day of the year.  It’s a combination of winter weather (for those of us in certain areas of the world), the realization we have already failed at our New Years Resolutions (what? I haven’t lost the 20lbs yet? It’s been 19 days!), post Christmas blues (I haven’t got the outdoor lights down yet and I’ve already lost a new earring).  Sounds pretty horrible doesn’t it? As my husband would say in a moment of deep sarcasm, “No one is suffering more than me right now!”

Although I can see how someone might feel particularly down mid-winter, declaring one day to be the most depressing feels like a tidy way to put everyone’s grief in a neat little box. We declare the day here and now it’s over.  Should our sadness be over now because “Blue Monday” was a few weeks ago? Should we be yelling,  “Cheer up folks, Spring is around the corner!”?

Considering how I’m feeling right now, with the weather varying between “dark grey vs light grey” and “mist vs rain” I’d be up for renaming the dreaded holiday “Blue Winter” but for most people grief is not that simple.

Ironically, mid January is my least favorite time of year. I’m sure the fact I’m a California kid living in a rainforest doesn’t help but it’s the anniversary of all sort of sad events in my life.  This is why every January, I’m more aware of my own grief and that of others.

One of the hardest things about grief is that we tend to avoid grieving people.

Why do we avoid grieving people? You know how it goes.  We avoid because we think we can’t do anything and, at some level, we don’t want to even think about their situation because we know, in many cases, “it” could happen to us. We don’t want to think about children being hit by cars or dads getting serious cancer because there are children we love or a dad that we miss. We avoid people who are grieving instead of acknowledging them because it is easier on us.

What if, instead of avoiding, we acknowledged the grieving person with an appropriate level of contact or connection.

I’m an introvert. Trust me, I don’t want perfect strangers harping on my grief but I also know, it’s easier to avoid grieving people in your life because you don’t have the right thing to say or you know you can’t even begin to fix them!  Guess what, no one does.  Often times the person grieving doesn’t even know what they need.  How about you try this: “I don’t really know what to say but I heard about ____ and I’m so sorry.”

People who have gone through loss will attest to the stress of wondering if other people know about their situation. Do them a favor and simply acknowledge that you know.  This will help the people who worry about this kind of thing.

I made a friend while in seminary whose dad was dying. A bunch of us were ironically taking the course “Pastoral Care” with him while he was grieving.  At one raw moment he expressed anger about the lack of care he was receiving from his friends.  When I asked him what he would want from us he said, “I want you to just acknowledge what is going on. No one wants to even do that.”  Step one: acknowledge the person and what they are going through.

Another reason we avoid grieving people is because we don’t think we can do anything for them. And you know what? You’re right, there may not be much you can do. You can’t bring people back from dead or heal people of cancer. But no one is expecting you to do these things.

You may not be able to do anything at all, but isn’t it better to ask?

I would also encourage you to ask realistically and consistently if you can help. “I’m making a big pot of soup today, can I drop some off for your family?” is easier for a grieving person to answer than “Let me know if I can help.”  Or ask them, “Is there something specific I could help with? Kids? Food?”

Lastly, remember to listen well. If someone says, “No, I don’t want to talk about it right now,” then please respect that. But leave space for them to speak.

Listen to hear what is being said, not simply to reply. Listen to learn about them, not to fix their situation. Often times a listening ear is exactly what someone needs. And you will never get to that point unless you acknowledge them first.

Whether it’s Blue Monday, the winter blues or the daily trials we encounter, acknowledging grieving people is an important first step.