It can be difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate someone’s reaction to loss. On more than one occasion I’ve been surprised.
I’ve seen people lose loved ones and I worried about what they would do. They were so close and the loss so great that I wondered how they would ever recover. But months later they were doing remarkably well.
I can’t explain it and don’t think it’s indicative of their love for the deceased. They were just somehow able to come to grips with things and realized that, although the loved one is no longer here, they must press on, and with the support of family and friends they started life again.
I’ve seen other people devastated by the loss of someone they hardly knew. The most common example is the death of a celebrity. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people will travel great distances and cry uncontrollably at the funeral of someone they’ve only seen on a screen or heard through speakers.
While there are occasions when a little intervention can help someone through the grieving process, I think for the most part it’s best to let each person work through it according to their temperament, personality, and ability. Some people want to talk, some don’t. Some want to be alone, others dread the idea. Unless they suddenly plan a life-changing decision or look to hurt themselves it might not be a bad idea to give them time and space and let them know “I’m here.”
In a matter of four years C. S. Lewis went from being a 58-year-old confirmed bachelor to a husband and father of two small stepsons to being a 62-year-old widow with two small children. He handled it by writing about it. The book is appropriately entitled, A Grief Observed. In thinking about ways of handling grief he shares this illustration:
“Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not be pain. It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”1
The story is that the musicians of the RMS Titanic played music, intending to calm the passengers, for as long as they possibly could and went down with the ship. I believe it was from this simple act of heroism we now have the term “And the band played on” to describe the deliberate downplaying of an impending calamity. Ever since I read Lewis’s illustration I’ve said to myself on more than one occasion, “The drill drills on.”
“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” – Job 1:21-22.
- C. S. Lewis. A Grief Observed (New York: Anthem Books, 1976), 38.