It had been a couple weeks since my sister had passed away unexpectedly by a drunk driver. A warm October evening, it was nice to be relaxing outside under the stars on the wood deck. Children's laughter and cries of glee traveled across the expansive backyard and I took a sip of tea from my glass.
My thoughts went to earlier that day and what had transpired during a play date for the kids....
"Do you have siblings?" the other mom had asked me.
I had hesitated. I honestly wasn't sure how to answer this question. I didn't want to say "One." because it felt just wrong. Acknowledging only one sibling seemed to act as though the one I'd lost never existed. Yet how was I to handle this? I wasn't ready to explain anything and yet I felt trapped by her question.
"Yes." I'd finally uttered reluctantly.
"Do they live here? Sister? A brother?" the questions came at me despite my wanting them to halt.
Ugh, I'd thought. What a time for this.
Drawing in a sharp breath, I had replied "I have two siblings. One recently passed away."
Awkward silence ensued and I had changed the subject.
She hadn't known what to say.
It wasn't a moment either of us wanted or had counted on happening.
Death Divorce Trials Illness or Cancer Developmental Disorders
All these issues can sometimes cause people to shift uncomfortably when they know someone who is experiencing them. They may pull back, become distant and even choose to terminate the friendship.
Fight or flight sets in…. and like a deer caught in headlights they just want to flee the scene.
Ignoring it is awful and we all know that if we were in their shoes we wouldn't want a life trial we were facing to be ignored ...or us.
We aren't going to "catch it"...it's not contagious.
No, not even the cancer. Sometimes people can begin acting really wary of anyone they know going through something big. But we need to have compassion and show empathy toward others who are suffering as this is the way of God. Yes, we may truly not know what to say and struggle. For some, words come easily and for others it's tougher...and that's okay. But if words don't come easily for us, it's up to us to find out what is the compassionate thing to say.
In general we shouldn't ignore them. We can call, text or email them and admit it sucks and we are sorry to hear about it. That simple acknowledgement will mean so much. In general we can't tell people not to be sad, angry upset etc. They have to go through the emotional process. Acknowledge how they feel and validate their feelings.
What We Can Say...
Divorce: It's a long grueling process. Ask how the kids are doing. Life is changing and with it often brings great change like moving, counseling and new jobs. Offer the name of a great therapist, realtor or job opening...it will always be greatly appreciated. Pushing for them to date again....even if you vehemently believe they were married to a certifiable a-(hem) -hole and could do way better... they need to go though their grieving process before they are prepared to date. Instead point out how strong they are, how you know they will persevere, and you will be there for them. Hug them. Don't hide your own struggles, allow them to support you also and lift you up...distraction is a wonderful thing. Keep reaching out.
Cancer: A hug, a card, some flowers, a nice meal dropped off do wonders. Suggestions for alternative therapy like dousing your body in green tea isn't helpful. Discussions of how your Aunt recently got over shingles or Pneumonia. It's not the same as cancer. But we can ask how they are doing, how their treatments are going and offer transportation to and from the doctor. They will gladly take some extra help and a laugh or two wouldn't hurt either.
Death: Your hamster or your pet fish just died? It's not the same. So many people are there in the beginning of a loss and then drift away. Make a point to invite them to lunch two months out from the date of their loss, six months, etc. If you aren't hearing from them they may have symptoms of depression. Don't give up.
Disabilities: Someone is trying to explain their child's disability.... whether its physical or learning etc it isn't helpful if you say "He looks normal. I don't see any issue." This isn't comforting. It's dismissive. No one wants to feel their concerns are dismissed, that they are being pegged an over anxious neurotic parent, or ignorant. Behind closed doors there are struggles, doctor appointments, therapies, evaluations, stress, advocacy, and sometimes isolation and depression. Listen and listen some more. Try to understand what they are going through. Be encouraging through words and actions. Plan a play date for the child with yours. Learn about differences and teach your own children to have empathy towards others.
Death & Life Are In The Power Of The Tongue… Proverbs 18:23
We all have the ability to encourage. To offer uplifting words with our tongue that bring life not despair to others. When we take the time to find out what words are most pleasing to God we are able to grow in new ways, drawing people closer to us not further away. They are not contagious....When we speak in love to someone who is struggling the love it has reverberates. This is a powerful act and God sees the positive effects it has on many which pleases him.