I wish there were Band-Aids for broken hearts—and maybe a little miracle dust sprinkled on the Band-Aid pad instead of the antibacterial stuff. Just sayin’ . . . because I really would have preferred a quick fix the other day. But I’m continuing to learn that there’s no quick fix to healing a hurting heart.
It’s Never Easy
We knew this day was coming for a while. Our 12-year-old dog, Desoto, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness more than a year ago. We watched the signs of failing health and hoped against hope he wouldn’t have to go. He was part of our family. Saying goodbye to one you love is heartbreaking, and there’s no Band-Aid or quick fix for family goodbyes . . . human, animal, or otherwise. As my daughter and I waited for our family to arrive for Desoto’s farewell, we did all we could to keep him comfortable. We played, laughed, loved on him, let him eat whatever he wanted; and we waited as time passed.
My daughter works at the veterinary clinic where Desoto was to be put to sleep, so she asked if I would stay throughout that day to keep her company. Having a companion present helps soften the pain when our hands and hearts have to let go of what we love. I often tell others about how to “be present” with someone who is grieving. But being present is difficult. Rather than being a help, we often tend to try to quick-fix a grieving person’s situation by doing any or all of the following:
- Telling her how to feel
- Spitting out Scripture
- Finding a distraction
- Filling the silence with words
- Going to work
- Pretending nothing is wrong
- Talking about tough stuff others are going through, such as starving children or persecuted people
Have these ever helped anyone who is hurting deeply? NO! But they are a tempting option when sitting with a person in pain.
Being with the Brokenhearted
Because I hate someone trying to “fix” me, I forced myself not to try and “fix” her. It was terribly painful but we did it together. I listened and laughed when it was appropriate, sat on the floor with my daughter and got dog hair all over my clothes. (Who cares? Sorrow is messy anyway.) It wasn’t always comfortable because pain isn’t comfortable. But we were together, and that is comforting.
Finally, my family gathered at 5:45, took some pictures, and held our beloved Desoto; and we wept together as he took his last breath.
The Magnificent Seven Musts
There are no Band-Aids for bereavement. There are, however, magnificent movements in our souls when we walk through pain with others. Hang on to these; you will inevitably need them, or someone you love will need you to need them.
- Show up. Without an agenda, a Bible, a prayer book, just show up empty-handed so you can hold the hand of the person grieving.
- Remain present. Turn off your phone, and leave the laptop at home. Look into the person’s eyes, and ask what he or she needs. Until you ask, you don’t know. The answer may be, “Nothing,” which often means he or she doesn’t know or doesn’t know how to tell you. When you’re present, you notice tears, clenched fists, closed eyes, feelings of confusion or despair. You get tissue, hold a hand, offer a hug if wanted or needed, find a warm blanket. You wrap your love around the griever as he or she is falling apart.
- Help contain. We get scattered when we grieve; we forget or lose the little essential things like wallets, car keys, coats, purses, phones, stuff. Help keep a hurting person organized by keeping track of his or her essentials.
- Be quiet. Silence is good for the soul; don’t fill it with your own stories of loss, unwanted advice—certainly don’t tell the person grieving how to feel. Just remain quiet while you let him or her feel. God may have a few things to say anyway, and He doesn’t need our help.
- When appropriate, recall good memories. Desoto played in our pool and went on walks through the woods with the kids. He did some really silly stuff too. He was clunky and would trip over his huge paws. Every so often, talk about the good times and laugh.
- Don’t put a timetable on healing. The brokenhearted person may have loved so deeply that parts of his or her heart will always sting. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is insensitive anyway. Let God do the healing in His time, not yours.
- Stay connected . . . follow up. Send notes, pick up kids, cook a meal, clean the home, fold the laundry, mow the lawn; help with the daily tasks of life, because these are the hardest to keep up with when we struggle.
Let Me Hear from You
This is not a complete list; it’s a place to start. In fact, I would love to hear what has helped you heal after a painful goodbye or broken heart. Leave a comment, offering other ideas as we help one another walk though those hard goodbyes.
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