“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 2:17, ESV)
When our son Jamie died one of his friends wrote us a song. One of the verses in the song P.J. wrote is “Death only hurts those left behind”. It’s the ones left behind that are given the hard task of trying to live without their loved one. Life keeps going on, bills keep coming due and all you want to do is stop. The love you had for them is still there. But you are not able to express that love to them anymore. It is that inability to express that love that makes grief and all the emotions that come with it so hard to survive.
Everywhere I went people were asking me “how are you?” I appreciated the ones that asked and were interested in hearing an answer. While it was difficult to talk about, if someone stopped, and made the effort to hear what I had to say, I would respond. However, most people would look at me and smile and say “hi, how are you?” and keep on walking. They never even heard me answer. Some days it infuriated me. Other days it turned me into a puddle of tears. I was a big open wound that was trying to get up and live. Yet this question triggered a lot of pain. Simply because people really didn’t care (well, at least that’s how it felt to me at that time).
Our society calls it a polite courtesy. I feel it’s pretentious. Why ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer? We have a world of hurting people around us. Yet, I watch people walk by one another with such a shallowness. One will say “hi, how are you?” the other will respond “I’m fine” and they keep on moving. Why?? Why ask a question – instead why not make a declarative statement. “Hi, it’s good to see you” and keep on walking. You didn’t ask the person anything. There’s nothing shallow or pretentious about making a statement. But when you ask that question what are you expecting the person to say? Especially when you know they’ve just experienced a great loss. You’re putting that person in the position to lie. That simple question became a thorn in my side. I would pray and do all I could to “get it together” to go out in public. Then someone would walk by me and in what felt like a very insincere manner – “Hi, how are you?” and just as I try to muster up the words to answer them – they were gone.
One incident that was extremely upsetting to me was walking into a friend from church at the grocery store. She saw me, her face lit up and she made a beeline to me.
“Hey girl, how are you doing? How’s your summer been?”
And just like that she was gone. I thought she was making a beeline to me. Apparently, she was after the produce that was behind me. There I was, left standing, feeling like I had just been shot in the gut, hemorrhaging in the produce department.
“She was at the funeral in May. It’s only July, did she really ask me how my summer has been?”
Would Jesus walk up to someone whose child had just died and say “Hey girl, how are you doing? How’s your summer going?” No, I don’t think so. Yet sometimes Christians and even non-believers lack the simplest of sincerity and compassions. We erroneously think that because the funeral has taken place, the grieving is done. The funeral preparations were the easiest part of this process- -the everyday living with the emptiness is the real horror of it all. Being asked that question whenever I went out in public cut deeply. I wanted to scream at them, “How do you think I’m doing – my heart has just been ripped out of my chest – my family is a mess and I’m barely hanging on.” The reality of it is, that our society has become so casual minded, that the question “how are you doing?” is something we ask to start polite conversation. We expect the other person to respond “Ok” and then proceed on. We really don’t want to hear the minutia of details going on in that persons’ life.
In my grief, I had lost that sensor to just ignore the question. Some days I would respond out of the rawness of the pain I was feeling. I had nothing in me to “pretend everything was fine”. There were times I responded quite bluntly “I’m hurting, I’m asking God for strength every minute of the day, otherwise I’d still be in the bed.” The insensitivity of the way that question was often asked made me want to completely retreat from the outside world. Prior to Jamie’s death, I had been guilty of doing the same thing to people myself. I would walk by them in a grocery store or the church and politely smile and say “Hi, how are you?”; all the while knowing that something hard was going on in their life. Yet not sure of how to say anything or even if I should say anything. I found myself asking the Lord for forgiveness of my own insensitivity. People still do it to me today. I usually respond with it’s nice to see you. I will only ask how you are doing if I’m able to engage in a conversation with you. To do anything less would be disrespectful of all that grief has taught me.
I recently ran into a mother that lost her daughter this year. I saw her at the gym that morning and I knew it was her daughter’s birthday (her first birthday in Heaven). I didn’t ask the mother how she was. Instead, I walked up to her and gave her a hug. I told her how proud I was of her for getting out of the house that day, that I understood what it took for her to do that. And that I was praying for her.
It’s hard to know what to say on both sides of the grief conversation. But people always appreciate sincerity and honesty. Sometimes no words are needed, just a simple hug or the physical presence of being there in the moment go a long way.
My Hope Endures,
Director, Ephraim Ministries