Our church is going through a deep sorrow over the death of Dean and Charla’s son, Ford. Ford was tragically killed in a single car accident on Saturday night and he would have been 21 this Friday. Inevitably when tragedies like this strike our people, I am always asked, “What can we do? How do we respond?” And I join you in being at a loss in what to say or do. But let me give you a couple of quotes from some books on grief and maybe they will help you think through the issue on how to respond to those who are in deep need.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis was a journal that he wrote in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He writes early in the book:
“There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” (p. 7)
It’s interesting that Lewis says, “I want others to be about me.” He is longing for the presence of other people in his pain and disorientation.
Lament for a Son is written by Nicolas Wolterstorff who for years was professor of philosophy at Calvin College and Yale University. He lost his 25 year old son in a mountain climbing accident and he wrote the following:
“What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words are spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know we are with you in your grief.”
Our even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.
But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as a comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it us. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” (p. 34)
Once again, Wolterstorff said, “Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” In other words, bring the tangible presence of the reality of Christ to me. He doesn’t ask for answers to questions that cannot be answered. He asks for a presence.
Recently, Frank Page, formerly a pastor from South Carolina, has written a book on the death of his daughter, Melissa. She died of suicide. He said this in a recent interview:
“Don’t let an awkward situation dissuade you from active Christian ministry to hurting people. If you really want to minister to someone who is going through this, be there for them. The ministry of presence is powerful. You may not have all the right words to say, that’s ok. Are you there for them? Are you praying with them?
We had friends come to visit us immediately after Melissa’s suicide. I don’t think they ever said anything profound, but their presence was profound. Their love for us was so obvious. They were there to do anything they could. So if you or your family has suffered in this way, let people love you.” (Christianity Today, July/August 2013, p. 67)
Again, he says, “Their presence was profound.”
I believe that it is incredibly important to be there for people as they grieve and mourn the death of a loved one. Most people are not looking for answers or even words of notable consolation but they do long for a presence.
May God by his grace and glory make us people who are sensitive to others and represent the shepherding presence of Christ to them.
Please pray for the Hendersons.