When it comes, whether suddenly or with ample warning, the symptoms are similar: shock, heartache, anger, desperate longing, and loneliness. Initially people reflexively reach out, but often over time the caring touch dwindles before those who grieve experience renewal.
I was recently reminded of this as I drove down University Avenue in Palo Alto, CA three days after the death of Steve Jobs. Palo Alto was Jobs’ hometown, and the site of the first street level Apple Store. After his death, the Apple Store had become a shrine to the innovative genius. The shop windows were completely covered by multicolor Post-It notes of sympathy, the sidewalks filled with silhouettes from candlelight, the pedestrians somber, still, silent. Many paused, a few expressed sorrows, and then most continued along the sidewalk. Despite the international attention Jobs’ death created, one month later those reflexive reaching out moments are mostly in the rear view mirror.
Grief work takes time, a long time, and most are not committed to walking slowly alongside the bereaved. It’s awkward, becomes uncomfortable, and creates anxiety for solution-oriented folks. Better to distract the bereaved with work, humor, or recreation lest anyone become overwhelmed with memories, feelings, or vulnerabilities. Therefore, grievers often become silent regarding their loss, everyone hoping the pain will vanish mysteriously.
Grievers need patience, presence, and a path upon which to heal, which includes talking about their sorrow, many times over. One of the greatest gifts given to those who grieve is a listening ear. Talking about the pain purges the pain, creating space within the heart for God to heal.
“He (God) has sent me (Christ) to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow upon them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” ~Isaiah 61:1-3
Amazingly enough, there is an iPhone grief support app filled with tremendous and supportive information, however they haven’t quite replaced the power of personal presence and a healing God. Caring people and a comforting God, there’s just no app for that.