I have some unhappy news – a dear friend of the family and former boyfriend of Irene’s was found dead last Sunday at his home. Geoff Prozora was much loved and a wonderful guy. He was bright, talented, and a deep lover of Jesus. A few months back he’d began to show symptoms of depressive mental illness. At that time he and Irene broke up – with the hope that when Geoff got better they could be a couple again. That was not to be. I really liked Geoff a lot. He and I would play together in the worship band. I could go on and on about Geoff, but you get the idea.
I would count it a favor if you could pray for this situation. Please remember Geoff’s parents and sister – the pain in their lives is unimaginable now. Please pray for Irene as she is going through a hellacious time. Please also pray for Geoff’s best friend, Chase, who has loyally stayed with Geoff through the sudden agony that became Geoff’s live over the last few months. Remember Kevin, our youth pastor, for whom Geoff was ‘his guy.’
As I have been experiencing my own grief and observing the grief of others, a few things have occurred to me.
First, grief varies by individual. One of the hard things to deal with in a loss of this sort is expectations. Not everyone is built to engage in rich emotional expression. Some people are mullers – they will take time to process their loss. When they roll things around enough in their hearts, they will come to a helpful conclusion. Some people are contagious – even though the loss wasn’t very personal or close, they empathetically feel the loss of others and find they respond as if the loss was their own. Some people are analytical – they attempt to find meaning even when there is none. When no meaning is found, then they can give themselves permission to feel. Some people are expressive – they weep, groan, shake their fists, and use up a lot of Kleenex. They have a rich emotional life and feel free to express it. Other people are doers – they need activity. As they are distracted by tasks surrounding the loss, they can take small, bite-sized portions of their own grief and process it in ‘manageable’ ways.
The point is that when good-intentioned people put out expectations that having the “meltdown” is the only legitimate greif response then they deny the uniqueness of people. Grief counselors encourage “healthy” mourning by only encouraging the ‘meltdown model.’ So, again, a mourner not only feels loss, but now may feel guilt that they aren’t mourning in a “healthy” way.
Second, Christians are frequently drawn to make theological statements during a time of loss – statements that are meant to be helpful but frequently are out of synch with the needs of mourners. I noted that even within minutes of hearing of Geoff’s death, people were reactively struggling with the theology of the situation. And that is appropriate. However, some were taking the opportunity to press their particular theological theory. When I heard that, it was irritating to me. My consolation was that in such a time, nobody retained those comments.
Third, we can occasionally forget about the peripheral mourners. There were other kids who are and have been struggling with even greater issues than the death of Geoff. When Geoff died, it was a reminder of their own pain. But because Geoff was a rather charismatic guy, the response to his passing was very public. Nobody seemed to think of the secondary effects on already wounded people.
I’m still sorting out what I am seeing and hearing. I am an ‘analytic’ and this helps me with my own sense of loss. But I’ve come to these initial conclusions:
- Death is pretty crappy. It is good to remember that death is still the enemy
- It is not unspiritual, immature, faithless, or less godly to feel pain at the loss of a loved one or friend
- Death, in itself, is a reminder that "It is not supposed to be this way!"
- As much as we can try to ‘handle’ or ‘manage’ our grief ‘process,’ we should not be surprised when that breaks down: we can’t expect this kind of thing to be ‘managable’
P.S.: (20070331) I've received lots of comments on this post off-line and have been very encouraged by them. Recently, I ran across this article on what NOT to say to someone in grief: http://www.pastors.com/rwmt/default.asp?id=302&artid=10355&expand=1