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On Grieving

General Insights

Everyone gains insight into themselves and others simply by living, and being engaged in what’s going on around them in the context of personal and public relationships.  Working with grieving families over the years has brought insights specific to the dynamics of how families experience the grieving process, from the actual death through the funeral services, and even beyond that.  The following insights may not apply to everyone, but to the extent that they may be helpful to someone, they are set forth herein. 

Death is a natural part of life, and, consequently, so is bereavement.  Although bereavement is a universal experience in this life, each person experiences it and grieves in his or her own way, even when it involves loss of similar relationships.  For example, one person who suffers the devastating loss of a spouse will experience a grieving process that is completely different from that of another person suffering a similar loss.  That’s why it usually is not comforting to the bereaved to hear from others that they “know exactly what you’re going through.” The truth is, no one can possibly know that, any more than any individual can truly know the private thoughts or feelings experienced by another, or any more than the circumstances of one person's death are exactly the same as those of another.

 

Although it may seem formulaic, it’s always appropriate to express one’s sympathies, or to extend condolences, and those are sufficient when it comes to paying respects.  Sometimes bereaved family members are comforted by hearing kind comments or anecdotes about their loved one; other times, they just want to get through the line.  It’s normal to be uncertain and a bit uncomfortable in this situation; most people just do the best they can.  In any case, families appreciate when people take the time to pay their respects.

We all understand that grieving people are going through a difficult time; more so for some than for others.  Many find it unbearable, and struggle to go on.  Others take it in stride, and are fine. Many fall somewhere along that grieving continuum. However, if people repress the difficult feelings, and don't engage their grief, this can lead to a particularly precarious place, because when it comes to grief, a person can’t just “get over it.”  Rather, they must get through it, day by day—and sometimes minute by minute—until time does what it does, the pain diminishes, and each day is a little less difficult than the last.

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Concerning Children

Parents are sometimes at a loss as to whether their child should attend a funeral. This is indeed a profoundly personal decision.  When considering this question, it is important to carefully observe the child’s behavior and reaction to the event, and to offer the child the opportunity to express thoughts and ask questions.  Just as important is to accept when a child demurs such overtures.

It’s true that adults can sometimes learn a lot from children, and no less true when it comes to funerals.  Children often possess a natural ability to lovingly accept what The Lord sends us, when He “giveth” and when He “taketh away,” that is sublime and inspiring.  But it would be naïve to assume that all children possess that ability to the same degree.  Each child is unique in his or her emotional makeup, and a parent will inuitively consider this when trying to determine whether a child will be able to handle attending the funeral services of a loved one—or anyone, for that matter.  In that regard, it simply makes sense to point out that children will generally not be attending funeral services for non-family members.  One thing, however, is certain: children should never be forced to attend a funeral.

 

 Should parents decide that it is appropriate for their child to attend a particular funeral, it is prudent while there to carefully observe how he responds to what’s going on, to assess his comfort level, offer gentle guidance and reassurance, and allow some leeway in expressing his thoughts and emotions.  In addition, it is often helpful to have another family member, whom the child trusts, to take over during moments that are especially difficult for the parents. 

Generally speaking, as is often pointed out, children learn what they live—even when it comes to grieving.  When children observe their parents dealing with a death in the family, as they continue to love and care for their children in the context of discharging the daily duties of life, including work and play, this gives children a sense of security.  Ultimately, such continuity conveys to children the message that death is a natural part of life, that people get through the grieving process, and for the living, life goes on, warmed by the love and memories that are the legacy of their loved one who has passed on.

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