Apr 24, 2015

Compassion Through Grief

One friend who understands your tears is more valuable than many who only see your smile. -Unknown

Is there any more devastating human experience than the loss of a loved one? It doesn't matter what our personal beliefs are as to what happens to those we lose once they pass from this world. Whether we believe they are gone forever and death is the end or have deep abiding faith that they're reunited with others who will welcome them home, there still remains in our hearts an empty place where their companionship lived and breathed meaning into our world. That emptiness hurts - and it will for as long as it takes to stop.

The only people who believe there is a time limit on grief are the ones who have never lost a piece of their heart. - Unknown

These times are among the most challenging we'll ever face. They're made less so by the loving compassion of others. As societies we know the universality of loss. We know that we'll all face it at some point if we haven't yet. We build rituals around loss to support the grieving and buoy each other up at such times. These rituals are just as important to those who come to support as for the bereaved. They remind us of our own mortality and the fragility of it - it's fleeting temporary nature. They shine a bright light on the importance of nurturing the relationships we're blessed to have and they give us a chance to dig deep into ourselves and willingly feel the pain of another.

 When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. - Fred Rogers

As I attended two separate funerals this week, I was able to see this principle in action. I saw sharing of tears, hugs, and just the quiet holding of each other. I heard stories shared and laughter ringing through the darkness bringing beams of light. I heard a loving vocal performance sung from a soul - not from a throat. I saw cards, and flowers, and photo-memories - but most of all I saw compassion, because all of these things are the face of compassion.

Compassion was in the tearful eyes of those waiting to speak with the family of a lost loved one. I saw it in the ritual gathering itself - people putting their regularly scheduled lives on hold to be present to help shoulder the pain - to make it lighter even if only for that moment. It's been said that God loves us through other people - living angels who minister his love and tenderness. I've seen such angels. At times in our lives we will be called upon to be such angels.
When your fear touches someone’s pain, it becomes pity, when your love touches someone’s pain, it become compassion. - Stephen Levine
We must never underestimate the value of a sympathetic word or gesture. It may seem small to us - almost worthless, and there are those who feel that they have nothing to offer at such times that could be of any consequence. Instead they choose to stay away in fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. Any loving thing is the right thing. No one kind word, hug, or expression of empathy will heal a broken heart - like no one thread will bind, but woven together many threads become a strong rope that's hard to break and it's the same with loving expressions of kindness. They layer upon each other and form a thick blanket - a soft place for those who are grieving to fall. Those gestures reaffirm life and show the grieving that there is enough love left for which to carry on.
  A feeling of pleasure or solace can be so hard to find when you are in the depths of your grief. Sometimes it's the little things that help get you through the day. You may think your comforts sound ridiculous to others, but there is nothing ridiculous about finding one little thing to help you feel good in the midst of pain and sorrow!
- Elizabeth Berrien
May we each strive to be those ministering angels - those who just show up with a layer big or small to add to the blanket. Let's say the loving things that come to our hearts. Even our presence speaks volumes if we utter not a word. We all have it in us to lend healing balm in times of need. Let's also strive to be receivers of that balm from others. Don't turn away, out of discomfort or pride, the love being offered. It's a gift - given by someone who cares.
 If I can see pain in your eyes then share with me your tears. If I can see joy in your eyes then share with me your smile. 
- Santosh Kalwar
Let's also have compassion on those who try. Don't make them offenders for a word that might feel misplaced to us at the time. We all have different abilities and there are those among us who just choke in situations like that. Appreciate their efforts. Love them anyway for their concern. Understand that our sensitivities are at their peak in grief and the same words spoken at a different time might not have felt the same.
Loss is a common experience that we will all share. It's the bitter pill that comes with the sweet one in the "love package." It's just the much harder one to swallow. Let compassion see us through. Help others swallow their pill by offering them compassion too. I love the saying: "We're all just here to walk each other home." When is that more evident or important than in times of loss? 


  1. Thank you for this. You have made some very good points! I think there needs to be more helpful information like this about grief and how to compassionately help those who are going through it.

    1. Thanks Di
      I think it's easy to take for granted that it's "natural" to know what to say or do. For some people that's true but for others it is an awkward process. There are as many ways to help as there are people looking for a way to. Sometimes the best we can do is anything. Knowing that we're each just one ingredient in the "help soup" instead of whole meal can be helpful too. It keeps us from feeling inadequate. Sometimes being at the service can help. For those who find that difficult they could provide a meal or childcare for those who need to attend. When we think from our heart a way will present itself. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!