January 31, 2012 By Ben Witherington
One of the most obvious things that happens to a person in deep grief is that they become hyper-sensitive, even to things that previously never bothered them. Sounds in the night. Sudden winds whipping up. Or thunder and lightning, a child crying out in the neighborhood, an unexpected phone call, more difficulty than usual fixing something or getting somewhere — all this and much more can set the person off in a retrograde motion, or make them unexpectedly angry or short tempered. But this is not all.
Even if a person profoundly loves music, and I definitely do, if they are grieving deeply they will be reticent to listen to music, especially music in minor keys, or familiar but sad songs. Anything that prompts the stirring of the deeper emotions is often avoided by those in deep grief. Nor do they feel much like being happy, joyful, celebrating anything, going out to eat and laughing. None of those things seems appropriate during deep grief.
It took my Mom weeks before she could go back to church after Dad died precisely because she did not want to relive the sadness over and over again of being where the funeral was held and being consoled anew. Consoling is a good thing, but too much of it makes those in grief gun-shy, and drive them to avoid human contact, especially if they are already private and shy persons.
So, a warning to those near or in a family with someone in shock and grief: do not try the ‘business as usual’ approach to that person, as if nothing has happened — but neither does the person likely want to be smothered with attention. Mostly, they want some space and time to process what the heck just happened. They need silence, sleep, and (yes) prayers and some encouragement, without over-doing it. It’s a good thing to comfort those who mourn, but it is not a good thing to be like Job’s comforters.
In my case, what has helped when it comes to music is only gradually to go back to it, and to start with instrumental music. I’ve been listening to some gentle jazz—some ballads, but not the real sad ones. One of my wife’s friends gave her a home-made CD to comfort her. The first song on the CD was James Taylor’s “Shower the People with Love,” which is a great song, but when Ann heard the line “Father, and Mother, Sister, and Brother….” she just started weeping once again for our daughter.
The message I would give to those trying to comfort those who mourn is this. Since the mourner is hyper-sensitive, you need to be extra sensitive to where they are in the process of healing. Just as you would not poke your finger into someone’s open wound in order to let them know you know their hurting, so it’s important to pause, think, reflect, before you decide what to say or do around the bereaved.
In the next and final post in this series, I will leave you with my pastor Dr. Mike Power’s moving sermon that he preached at our Christy’s Celebration (aka Funeral). Be prepared for something good.
Click Blog Link to view Dr. Witherington’s blog.
This whole series with additional material is available as an e-book called Good Grief published by Christianity Today and accessible on Kindle in due course. A sample was made available in the April print issue of Christianity Today. Finally, all profits from this book are going to be donated to a worthy charitable cause that Christy would have supported.