Mourning with Those that Mourn – A How-To

As a Young Mens leader in my ward, I’m seldom called upon to offer guidance during times of grief. So I was at a complete loss recently when a desperate father reached out for help with his son, who had witnessed the tragic death of his best friend.

The young man hadn’t been to church in years, and in fact I’d never met him. So I was expecting an awkward housecall—I figured the last thing a grieving teenager wants is a stranger from church to talk to.  What should I say? How should I act?

I sent a distress call to the wise BCC permabloggers, who pointed me to a wealth of resources here on the blog. I wanted to aggregate and share their guidance, as we’ve had much to mourn over the past couple weeks. I hope it’s as helpful for you as it has been for me. Please feel free to share any additional resources and reactions in the comment.

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Aaron R’s post from 2010 is the best possible expression of how we can mourn with those that mourn. This will be my template for all such situations for the rest of my life.

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mmiles has some excellent advice on how to mourn in the internet age, with a list of specific dos and don’ts. Facebook can be both a comforting tool and a blunt weapon during times of mourning.

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Jacob wrote a beautiful essay about the challenges and opportunities for us in mourning with our fellow Saints:

“Truly mourning with the Saints may very well be the most demanding element of what constitutes us as genuine members of the body of Christ. It requires us to turn ourselves inside out in order to meet vulnerability with vulnerability. There’s an enormous risk that our acts of mourning will not be received, or that they will be misinterpreted, or simply not be sufficient for the task. Comforting can be terribly uncomfortable. It’s little wonder that we often either tentatively extend ourselves in superficial ways or try to avoid comfort and mourning altogether.”

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On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Sunny wrote a remarkable post entitled “Keeping Vigil with the Dying”:

“In the best parts of ourselves I believe we yearn to do what Christ has done for us, to become intimately acquainted with another’s grief, to take it into ourselves and know for ourselves what that experience was for each person in each moment, that we might know how to succor, to heal, to mend. That, above all, they might not suffer alone.”

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Those looking for philosophical answers will be satisfied and frustrated in equal measure by Jacob’s Sunstone presentation on Alma 14, and the seemingly irreconcilable theodicy issues it presents. An especially apropos topic right now.

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This comment by smb, the preeminent expert on Mormon grieving rituals:

“I have recently loved a book that WJK published by one of the preeminent mainline Protestant preachers: Thomas Long, Accompany them with Singing. He has a wonderful section where he talks about hopeful doctrines (e.g. heavenly reunions) as a trust that we keep for people so that, when such reassurances will be actually useful (often months or years later), we can carry the faith back to them.”

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This comment by Sunny:

“When my dad died I remember so well the wish that I could be among people, but not really present. I wanted to be a part of the normalcy of others’ lives, yet didn’t possess the strength to participate myself. I wanted them to move around me, not toward me. I wished that they would go on as if I wasn’t there, yet allow me to be there, observing and soaking in the stream of life moving forward. Sometimes mere presence is more than enough to bridge the chasm where words fall short.”

Comments

  1. marginalizedmormon says:

    It has been my experience that LDS are not comfortable with mourning (themselves) or helping others to mourn–

    ancient cultures were good at it; they tore clothes and put ashes upon themselves; they wailed and cried for days; family came and helped them; primitive tribes do it quite well–

    LDS today are all about corporate efficiency, so the process needs to be hurried along, so that things can get back to normal for “business”–

    I have spoken with quite a few people who have mentioned that, in spite of the fact that Victorian critics saw it as a maudlin custom, in our present society we could use some kind of ‘sign’, some way of saying, “be kind; I’m in grief”, such as the wearing of black armbands or black clothing–

    True, it was probably taken too far in Victorian times, but the fact is that for some people it takes a long, long time to get over the death of a loved one, and often *we* are hit by more than one death of a loved one–

    I have experienced a fair amount of loss, and I learned that it was better not to talk about it with ward members, because I could usually count on being told that I shouldn’t mourn–
    or . . . given some kind of awkward silent treatment.

    So I have kept my grief to myself. I have no other advice; wise people keep their griefs to themselves in a competitive society–

  2. I’m sorry your ward members didn’t know how to be supportive when you needed them. I think that’s a characteristic of western society in general, but we as saints should be better at it.

  3. Thanks for compiling this list, Kyle.

    I think it’s important for lots of people who are grieving and others who want to comfort the grieving to be able to learn from others prior to, during and after the most intense moments of grief. We tend to do what has been and is modeled for us, and having alternative models, even if only in print, is an important part of not modeling only what is natural to us or what we have observed visually.

  4. Antonio Parr says:

    I think Latter-Day Saints are extraordinary in mourning with those who mourn. I have had my struggles with the Church over the years, but never over the absence of compassion on the part of Church members. I have seen countless acts of almost heroic sacrifice, and never with fanfare or complaint. I have seen witnessed the face of Christ many times in the countenances of fellow Saints as they have list themselves in love’s service.

  5. Antonio Parr says:

    List = lost. Etc.

  6. Antonio Parr says:

    The incomparable Frederick Buechner makes the following observation:

    I used to think as a minister you are supposed to know the answers, that you go to someone who is having a terrible time and you tell them something to make them feel better. I have decided since that that’s the least if what you do. You go and simply are with them.

    It is difficult sometimes to talk to people about religious things because they are not religious people and the last thing they want is someone coming in and talking about Jesus. They don’t give a hoot about Jesus. But i am there because of Jesus. I would not be there if it were not for Him. And, therefore, in faith, I like to believe that in some sense He is in me and that maybe something that i say or dont say – some touch of my hand – will convey the something of healing I’ve found.

  7. Antonio Parr says:

    (Sorry for the poor transcription in the prior post. “Something of the healing I have found” is the proper phrase.

    Through times of trial and deep grief, my family has been the beneficiary of visits like the one described by Buechner. There were no perfect words or insightful turn of a phrase. There was only the presence of another who, notwithstanding his/her inadequacies, were willing to enter the presence of suffering, and, in Jesus’ name, offer a touch, a word, a prayer, a blessing, a tear, even shared silence.

    And Jesus was in the midst of such moments.

  8. thanks Kyle,
    i really do appreciate this compilation, though, i wish i had this earlier – we lost a young man in our ward about two months ago, it was such a difficult time for the family.

  9. I lost a friend in high school to a complication during routine surgery. My parents could certainly been a lot more supportive. Only a day or two after her death, my father said, “I don’t know why you keep moping around — you know she’s fine.”

    It is quite the contrasting memory to when I saw my friend (who was best friends with the girl who died) the day of her death. She ran over to me and we wrapped in a big hug and I said, “It’s okay! It’s okay!” and she fiercely replied back, “It is NOT okay!”

    I learned a lesson from both of these experiences. From the first, some people are not very compassionate sometimes, but their lack of compassion does not invalidate your pain. From the second, these feelings need to be felt, acknowledged and accepted. Loss is a real pain, and sometimes our hearts and souls need to bleed a little to gain some management over the pain.

  10. marginalizedmormon says:

    Thank you, Kyle M–

    We’re fine . . ., actually. *We*–LOL!

    There are some personalities that find it easier to get ‘help’ or compassion, and I don’t think anyone in our family has that kind of personality.

    There have been individuals who have reached out, everywhere we have lived. (our family, that is)–

    There are people who seem to be led to help those who are quietly suffering, I have found. But as far as the usual ‘channels’ of church, we have not had success with that. We serve and look for people we can help, but it is not openly given back. I don’t mean this as a complaint, and after reading Antonio Parr’s comments I realize that it could sound like whining.

    I do believe that there are ward and groups of LDS in different places that are more ‘tuned in’ to such things as comforting others in grief, and it could be that Antonio Parr’s family members are especially adorable–

    Some of us are not adorable–LOL! This is true. Some of us are self-sufficient and spend a lot of time competently taking care of others, and when we have a ‘break down’ others don’t know what to do with *us*–

    This is a true principle–

    Others are cute and cuddly, and people want to comfort them. So the experience will vary, according to personality and capacity. My family has been given the capacity to carry a lot without whining–

    But when I see a topic like this on a forum like BCC I feel that I need to speak up and share what I have learned, not just from my own experience, but from the experiences of others who, like *me* (and my family members) tend to be, perhaps, more independent by nature and aren’t particularly ‘cute’–

    For people like *us* the system doesn’t really work, but Heavenly Father is there; I do have experience with comfort from Heaven.

  11. #10 – Well said.

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    Marginalizedmormon-

    I am sorry for your experiences.

    Peace of Christ to you and to yours.

  13. Personally, I find that I am adequate at empathizing for a moment or an hour, and really stink at extending that to a time period required for real mourning. I really need to work on this skill set and appreciate the post. There was a great session on mourning at Exponent this year. Also, I suggest C.S. Lewis’ A GRIEF OBSERVED.

  14. I have experienced what marginalizedmormon has. People who have had or have seen good experiences with members – I have to ask – in what part of the U.S. do you live?

  15. #14 – six states – in almost every region of the country, over a span of nearly 30 years

  16. Kristiina Sorensen says:

    Here’s another beautiful post about mourning from Melissa Dalton-Bradford:

    http://melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/dogma-and-doubt/

    She has been writing about grieving since losing her own son, Parker, five and a half years ago, and her essays are tender and powerful.

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