In her widely shared Ted Talk, Dr. Edith Eva Eger explains her life-changing experience during the deportation of the Hungarian Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz. In 1943, at the age of fifteen, she recalls the euphoric feeling of being in love with her then boyfriend and expressed how they enjoyed planning their future life together.
She was also in ballet and had aspirations of joining the Olympics. She had big dreams of living in the rays of the light of life. Her picture of the future was greatly altered when a knock on her parents door led to the journey from her home town to Auschwitz which we now remember as the Holocaust. She was suddenly separated from her boyfriend, her mother and her hopes of being in the Olympics. Deep sorrow doesn’t begin to explain what young Edith Eva Eger had felt.
How do you comfort a person who is going through a despairing experience such as losing a job due to leadership mismanagement, the death of a spouse from an unexpected accident or the incarceration of a teenage child? In other words, how do you respond to someone who is grieving? Most of us are conditioned to giving and receiving cliches such as: “don’t cry over spilt milk”, “Everything happens for a reason” and “time heals all wounds.” If we can relate to hearing such shallow phrases in response to the outpouring of our deepest hurt then we understand the desire to reply to the well intentioned individuals with something like: ‘You can keep your cliches because they don’t help!’
A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused which betrays original thought. Unfortunately, too many of us have been left feeling alone after bearing our hearts pain to others. The good news is that we don’t have to remain powerless in the face of grief which is defined as deep sorrow caused by a loss of some kind. It can be caused by the loss of a loved one, the loss of good health, the loss of a season in life, etc. We all experience grief and there are several stages to it.
Stage 1: Shock. This is the paralysis we experience after receiving bad news or realized the occurrence of a traumatic event.
Stage 2: Denial. This is when we initially deny what has happened.
Stage 3: Anger. This is a natural reaction which often leads us to be angry at God, the doctor or the messenger of the bad news.
Stage 4: Bargaining. This is when we pray, fast or adopt a new diet with hopes of regaining control.
Stage 5: Depression. This is after we realize that bargaining has failed.
Stage 6: Testing. This is when we experiment with ways to cope with the loss.
Stage 7: Acceptance. This is when we reach a place of understanding the loss that has occurred.
The above stages are not experienced exactly in this order but it has been discovered that all people go through most of them at some point. Sometimes we become so preoccupied with living from one day to the next that we undervalue the need to grieve. Rather than giving ourselves permission to acknowledge how we really feel, many of us tend to stuff our feelings into an emotional box that we visit on rare occasions. According to Dr. Eger, “you cannot grieve what you do not feel.” Therefore, learning to feel through our loss is imperative for our healing.
David, in the bible, was a man who allowed himself to feel the emotions of his many experiences.
“Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1
“Hear my prayer Lord, listen to my cry for help, do not be deaf to my weeping.” Psalm 39:12
It has been said that the book of Psalms is us speaking to God whereas the rest of the Bible contains God speaking to us. It should be comforting to know that the Almighty is not intimidated by our honest expressions of hurt, pain and sorrow. In fact, He invites us to bring our hurt to Him which is comforting news for each of us.
Before concluding I would like for us to revisit the question: what is a best way to respond to someone who is expressing grief? First, accept that you are not required to have an answer for them. Second, take time to listen without judging them. Lastly, remind them that it’s alright for them to go through their emotional experience. Sometimes, hurting people are just looking for a steady presence and not an immediate solution.