Thoughts on Trying to Comfort Those Who Grieve

Last weekend we had the joy of a visit from Bruce, who was one of Alan’s closest friends during residency days and with whom Alan shared his first practice in Ann Arbor. Bruce married in his thirties, so we knew him as a single man, watched him fall in love, and rejoiced in his marriage. Bruce and his wife were best of friends! She was his greatest fan, and they were a “match made in heaven.” All that sweetness came to a bitter end five years ago when Lisa died of stage IV colon cancer.

There are no words to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of someone they love deeply. No words will ameliorate the pain, but there are plenty of words that can feel like sharp knives piercing an already wounded heart.

Alan and Kathi at Meijer Garden

Because Alan lost both his parents in a tragic event when he was only twenty-nine, and because he is a geriatrician who has cared for many dying patients over the past forty years, I used to stay tucked under his wing when we attended funerals, wanting to be present but feeling totally helpless as far as having any comforting words to offer, knowing that what I would imagine might comfort me could cause stinging pain to my friend.

Now that Alan and I are nearing seventy, and more and more of our friends are experiencing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve been trying to learn more about how to comfort those who are experiencing great loss. In that quest, I listened to an audio book called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, by Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside.

There are a plethora of books on grief recovery, and this particular one wasn’t my all-time favorite, but there are several ideas I want to pass on. It also reminded me that if you are grieving, or if you love someone who is grieving, there are many resources out there, probably most of which will offer at least some helpful insights. If you’re grieving, consider reading what others have experienced on their journeys of sorrow. For many, there’s truth in the old adage that “misery loves company.” (However, Bruce tells me that what really soothed him was the still, small voice, not the whirlwind of other voices.) If you enjoy writing, consider starting a journal about your personal pilgrimage. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic exercises on earth!

So, here are my favorite takeaways from Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love (along with some photos from Meijer Garden, where Alan and I took Bruce for a quiet stroll after church last Sunday afternoon).

Zen Garden at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids, MI

“‘I feel your pain.’ Those four words say it all. You don’t have to have answers, just be present.” Personally, I’m not sure if “I feel your pain” is adequate, since I usually feel like their pain is often beyond my comprehension, since I haven’t lost a spouse or child yet. Nevertheless, Bruce (and others) confirm that saying nothing is better than saying anything trivial, but being present with the person is crucially helpful. Listening with compassion and without any criticism or shock over whatever they might express is also a healing balm. Their wounds are raw and sometimes ugly. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Don’t try to play the Holy Spirit and “cure” them. Pray for the Holy Spirit to comfort and cure them.

Hydrangeas in sunshine at Meijer Garden

“Don’t stare constantly at either the sun or death.” If you’re grieving loss, don’t allow yourself to spend all your waking hours experiencing pain, or your soul will become as blind as someone who stares constantly into the sun. Instead, look into the face of God to find “safe” sunshine and beauty to relieve your aching heart. Ditto if you’re trying to encourage someone else. Don’t PREACH! Walk alongside your friend in some beautiful place where she/he will feel refreshed. “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17).

“The seemingly little things you grieve are not little! The whole fabric of  your life has been rent!” I thought this was profound. The authors went on to say we need to allow ourselves to experience and process pain without trying to minimize or ignore it. Each person’s pain is unique and probably unbearable. “It will be alright,” or “Someday it will be better” doesn’t help present-tense and is like rubbing salt in the wound. Better to say nothing than try to smooth the mountain into a mole hill. It’s NOT!! (BTW, God can overcome our mountains: “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Solomon 2:8).

“I thought it would be too hard to say goodbye until I refused to do so.” This point is good to process personally if you’re grieving, and I suppose there may be a time in which you can share the authors’ experiences (and both authors were writing from the wells of their own grief), but be careful on this one. Each person’s time to feel released from the intense sense of grieving out of loyalty (which follows grieving out of personal loss) is so unique that the grieving person may feel you (as the one who wants to comfort) are just pushing the person to heal so that you and she/he can both “get on with life.” My friend still wears his wedding ring after five years as a widower. That’s just fine! He’ll take it off when and if he’s ever ready to! Don’t push. Pray!! “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant” (Psalm 119:76, and for the comfort of our loved ones).

“Suicide is a permanent end for a temporary problem” (the temporary problem being grief). I’ve never been suicidal, but I’ve known a number of people who have suicided, and I definitely think some people have a genetic pre-disposition for turning to this age-old solution to chronic pain. God wants us to turn to Him in our grief (and all our troubles). He does not want us to take matters into our own hands and “end it all.”

Think of the prodigal son. When he returned to his father, his father’s arms were open, and the prodigal found forgiveness and a whole new life opening up to him. I’m not saying we are “prodigals” when we grieve, but I am saying that God is there, whether or not we’ve stayed on the farm or run off to some far country. He is waiting for us to come back and rest under the covert of his wings. He loves us. As long as He wants us on earth, He has good reasons for our being here, even if we don’t see them or understand them. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death” (Psalm 68:20).

Listening to History at Meijer Sculpture Park

Another verse to consider for yourself (but would probably not be good to offer someone else who is grieving) is Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” We’re responsible for living with integrity and faith; God is responsible for choosing when we are born and when we die. He is also available to help us every day from birth to death and offers us eternal life through Jesus Christ, his Son, which is—to me—the ultimate comfort in the death of loved ones who have trusted in Jesus as their Lord and Savior: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Plaque in the Faith Reflective Garden. Meijer Gardens, Michigan

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Do your loved ones know God and Jesus Christ? Do you?

The Birthday Club Goes Ludington

When we planned our trip to Ludington State Park for Susan’s birthday outing (months ago), I had visions of bright blue skies and balmy weather, but the weather—like all of life—is totally unpredictable, isn’t it?!

Instead of sunshine, there was a misty rain. Instead of being 80° (which it had been one day last week), it was 52° with a stiff wind.

We debated whether or not we should even try the four-mile hike to the lighthouse because, despite bundling, we knew we’d be uncomfortably cold by the time we climbed to the top of the Big Sable Lighthouse.

However, it seemed like the right thing to do, so we persevered.

It was indeed windy and bone-chillingly cold at the top!

But then, as if by magic, when we descended and started our trek back to the car, a streak of blue appeared along the horizon!

In less than an hour, the dark storm clouds blew away, and soon we were immersed in a world of bright blue skies and—well, maybe not balmy, but certainly lovely—springtime weather!

We recovered with a very late and very yummy lunch at the House of Flavors, where we celebrated Susan’s birthday with gifts and happy conversation. Our Birthday Club isn’t just dedicated to honoring the birthday girl, it’s a time to celebrate the blessings of God and the encouragement of friendship, so there is often a theme and some thoughtful sharing of comforting verses as well as communal prayer on the way home.

This year, Cindi had found a 100+year-old book of poetry from an antique shop (Souvenir Rhymes by James Hamilton) and read some to us. My favorite concerned the preciousness of faithful friends who administer mercy and grace to one another, which I’ll include at the end.

There is something very nurturing about true friends who inspire one another to persevere, not only through gloomy weather but also through gloomy circumstances. I thank God for every treasured friend of mine, and for every person who is willing to be a friend to someone else.

Are you feeling discouraged and sad? We all need companions to journey with us, not only through the bright and balmy times of life, but when the wind is in our faces and we’re not prepared for the unexpected and sometimes very miserable changes in our situations. We need one another to help us push on until the rain passes by and the sun starts shining again!

Have you got a friend? Be a friend! Reach out. We need each other! “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrew 10:23-25, ESV).

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17, ESV).

What to Eat When Your Wife is Gone for the Weekend

Okay, so this is going to be a “for fun” recipe (of sorts), but while Lizzie was visiting me not long ago, she shared a great text from her husband picturing what he was eating for dinner, and it was so funny that I asked for permission to share it with you. Maybe I should start with just a tiny introduction about my “baby brother,” Chuck (who is actually 6’6″). I just happened to be visiting my “sister” Liz in Chicago the first night they dated (about 17 years ago). She asked if I wanted to meet him, and I said, “I don’t care! You date so many guys…” I had to eat those words later. Little did I know Chuck was going to be “the one” after Lizzie had waited almost 40 years for the right guy. And, let me tell you, he’s the right guy! He’s not only handsome (as you can see…I can brag about him because he’s my little brother…even if we’re not actually related), he’s loyal, kind, brilliant, tenderhearted, funny, and extremely good to his wife! So, as far as I’m concerned, he can pretty much do no wrong.  🙂

At any rate, before Lizzie came to visit, she made Chuck a big casserole, but by Sunday night, it was all gone, so Chuck started foraging in their refrigerator for something to eat. Want to know what he found?      How do you like it? He said he also had a bunch of fresh veggies and fruit.

Now, you might not think hotdogs with sauerkraut, carrots, and spinach on tortilla shells would be your first pick for dinner, but he said it actually tasted pretty good! And, the thing I especially love is the idea of trying new combinations of things. If you like various foods individually, who’s to say you might not like them together?

So, the next time you’re a little low on food and don’t want to take time to shop, look a little closer at your fridge and cupboards. Maybe you can find a winning combination too! Let me know what you create, will you?!!

(P.S.—I did ask their permission before writing this. They are too fun for words!)

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
(Proverbs 17:17)

Banana Crepes…Extraordinaire!

banana-pancake-dessertFor 40 days I was on a strict diet, eating only fruits, veggies, meat, and dairy products. It worked great, and I lost some weight as a bonus, although it made celebrating my birthday a little more tricky. banana-pancake-dessert-2Cindi and Susan were more than up for the challenge, however, and came up with a birthday dessert that looked and tasted totally yummy! Just in case any of you are looking for a nutritious way to have a spectacular gluten-free, dairy-free, pie-in-the-sky yummy treat, this is what they did:banana-pancakeThey made a stack of 4 banana pancakes. These were made from mashing 1 banana and two eggs together. That’s it! Well, the more pancakes you want, the more batter you need, but the ratio stays the same: 1 banana+2 eggs (for 4 pancakes they used 3 bananas and 6 eggs). You can also add a dash of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla if you want, but that’s not crucial.banana-pancake-flipThe batter looks something like crepe batter once it’s nicely whipped. They poured it out onto a hot, well buttered skillet, and let it brown until it bubbled.banana-pancake-brownedThen, they flipped them over and browned each banana cake until golden. Cindi and Susan made “whipped topping” from whipping coconut cream until frothy. It’s mildly sweet (and because I was on a sugar-free diet, it really tasted sweet). Each banana crepe was frosted with whipped coconut cream and then ladled with some type of fruit: fresh raspberries, blueberries, peaches, slivered almonds (or use whatever you love best). After the concoction was so loaded with fruits and nuts we weren’t sure how we’d ever  divide it up, we did…and it stayed pretty intact. banana-pancake-dessert-3It’s filling, but it didn’t make us feel overfull or sick, the way some extravagant desserts do. In fact, we felt delightfully virtuous in our decadence because it was made from “guilt-free” ingredients and was really quite nutritious!   🙂  What great friends to go to such bother to make a birthday treat I could eat!

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
(Proverbs 17:17)

The Birthday Club Previews ArtPrize 8…Including my Entry

from-the-rising-of-the-sun-mural-at-the-holiday-innYesterday our birthday club met to celebrate my birthday, knowing that once ArtPrize 8 begins tomorrow, I won’t have a minute to catch a breath until it’s all over. Besides, we wanted to celebrate my entry, which is at the Holiday Inn. singing-at-vans-pastriesBut, first the girls had a wonderful surprise for me! vans-pastriesWe stopped at Van’s Pastries, vans-pastry-shopwhere they have an old-fashioned hymn sing to begin the week
every Monday morning at 9:00! standing-in-the-doorway-of-vans-pastries-to-singWhat fun! It was so crowded that we had to stand in the doorway,
and more folks just kept coming.

hymn-sing-at-vans-pastries To start the day praising the Lord brightened my scan more than five cups of coffee could have, and we even got to catch up with a dear friend, “Uncle Charlie,” now retired from Children’s Bible Hour. kathryn-w-armstrongs-artprize-8-muralSecond stop was to check out my ArtPrize Entry, titled “From the Rising of the Sun,” based on Psalm 113:3, “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the LORD’s name is to be praised.”

from-the-rising-of-the-sun-second-halfI still need to finish up with the lighting and various other projects,
but hopefully everything will be in order for the official start tomorrow morning.sunshine-snack-along-the-grand-river By then, it was time to stop for “Elevensies,” and the girls picnicking-along-the-grand-river—knowing I’m on a diet—made the most magnificent banana/egg pancakes
with fruit, nuts, and coconut cream topping! It was amazing and tasted great! banana-egg-pancakes-with-fruitIn fact, I’ll make a separate post to share the recipe when I get a chance! public-museum-of-grand-rapidsAfter our respite by the Grand River, we headed out to see what else we could see of the ArtPrize pieces that are already installed. color-me-orangeOf course, with 1,453 entries at 171 venues, we barely scratched the surface, devos-hall-conference-centerbut we had fun, and I now know there’s a lot of excellent competition! migration-of-monarach-butterflies-sculptureWe could have spent all day (had we had the leisure), marie-catribs-in-grand-rapidsbut our last stop (before ending at my house for a prayer time) was a late lunch at Marie Catrib’s, where there’s always a great selection of veggie dishes.choosing-dishes-at-marie-catribs We all chose the “Choose 3 Salads” option, pick-3-veggie-lunchand I came home inspired with some new ideas
for how to eat light and still ‘licious! enjoying-lunch-at-marie-catribsI have to say, it’s great to have friends who are so supportive, not only of what I’m trying to do (like ArtPrize), but what I’m trying not to do (like overeat). elevensies-along-the-grand-riverThank you, Lord, for faithful friends! I want to be a faithful friend too.quote-by-martin-luther-king“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).