Easter Mourning — Grief and Belief

What should you say to a grieving friend at Easter*?

Here’s how to support grieving friends at Easter — or any time: 

(photo by Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com)

  • “I’m thinking of you (and your family).” This simple expression of caring is always appropriate.
  • Send something (a card or another tangible token) expressing your awareness.
  • Bring edibles (snacks, groceries or ready meals).
  • Invite them to eat with you (at home or out).
  • Listen. Let them reminisce, rage, and roar their grief. Laugh along at great memories. Mourners need to share their feelings.

If you wish to share Easter-related (or other religious-themed) thoughts of comfort with your mourning friends, think carefully before and while speaking. Their grief is valid, and your words should acknowledge that.

Never make assumptions — or admonitions — about what the bereaved should do, feel, or believe. If you express how you feel about your own faith, only speak in relation to your feelings — not in relation to their loss.

How can you express your own belief near religious holidays without diminishing the loss your friends feel?

  • “I’m thinking of you and your family this Easter.”
  • “You and your family are in my prayers as I celebrate Easter this year.”
  • “Sending you loving thoughts at Easter time.”
  • “I miss your mother, too, and I look forward to one day seeing her again. But it’s hard to not have her with us. Thinking of you during my Easter commemoration.”
  • “I take comfort in the joy of the resurrection to come, but I realize this is your first Easter season alone.”

If your beliefs are vastly different from your grieving friends, you might say something like:

  • “Even though I don’t celebrate Easter, I know it’s been important to you, and I know you’re mourning. I’m thinking of you.”

I hope you’ll adapt such positive statements in reaching out to your mourning friends.

Now, having said all this, please let me delve a bit deeper.

I continue feeling conflicted about Easter. It still brings me blister and balm, solace and sorrow. Community and isolation. Heartache. Hope. (I wrote more on this in Easter Grief:  Life and Death and Loss and Hope.)

(photo by Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com)

I miss my own (and my daughters’) childhood Easter observations — chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, children with parents at church.

I dislike dwelling on the graphic horrors of what Good Friday inflicted, but I daily ponder my gratitude for the empty grave Easter morning revealed. I believe that because Jesus Christ was resurrected from that grave,  I’ll therefore be reunited in the hereafter with the loved ones I’ve lost.

And I take comfort in knowing — within the perspective of eternity — our till-death-did-us-part separation is temporary.

But I didn’t, I don’t (and I perhaps never will) take comfort from others telling me to feel that same hope I already embrace.

  • Don’t admonish mourners to remember the reason for the season. (You might think you’re saying something positive, but what they hear is that you’d rather preach to them than acknowledge the depth of their sorrow.)
  • Don’t tell the bereaved they should be “happy” for the faraway, future fulfillment of their faith. (They’re grieving lost loved ones now — and throughout the rest of what they foresee as long, lonely lifetimes. Future hope doesn’t restore or negate ongoing absence.)
  • Don’t assert or assume that devotion to Deity makes grief go away. (It can lighten the weight of mourning — it did/does for me! — but grief and love are connected. Let mourners mourn as they will, and let them also worship as they will — or won’t.)

When a mourning friend asks what comforts you in your faith, by all means, share the beliefs which offer you consolation. If a bereaved coworker asks what speaks peace to your heart, testify to that source of solace. When one who has lost loved ones worries over their own soul, witness what strengthens yours.

Six-plus years after my husband’s death, I still feel ambivalent about hearing “happy Easter.” But it always feels good to hear someone say, “I’m thinking of you.”

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*Many of your faith traditions differ from mine. Please understand, I mean no disrespect or disregard toward yours. Please adapt and apply these suggestions to the religious holiday observations and practices sacred to you and to your grieving friends.

I try to make this site relevant to helping everyone learn ways to support their mourning friends — regardless of their faith traditions. Belief doesn’t banish bereavement. 

But because my faith plays such a formative role in my life and worldview, it sometimes features in what I write about, including topics like this Easter-inspired post.

For those of you who celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter — and beyond — I hope you will enjoy this brief Easter video: #PrinceOfPeace

Easter Grief: Life and Death and Loss and Hope

At Easter time, what should you say to a grieving friend whose loved one has died? My perspective may surprise you.*

I love Easter, but I don’t like it. I’m grateful for Easter, but it’s painful. I take comfort in Easter, but it’s not comforting.

Confusing enough?

When I was little, reading of Good Friday made me sad. My great-aunt Sarah used to say, “What’s so good about Good Friday? It’s horrible” revisiting the crucifixion story. As I grew older and learned more about the physical afflictions inflicted by that practice when Jesus Christ walked the earth among men, it became harder to sit through sermons about that day.

And yet …

For those of us who believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ (and future resurrection of all mankind), the message and reason for Easter celebrations offers hope for eventual reunions with long-gone (or recently departed) loved ones. My earliest memory of that hope centers on my mother’s reverence toward Easter, especially in the years following her mother’s death. Mom knew she would see Grandma again someday, and she acknowledged her gratitude that God, in his mercy, provided for that gift.

But she wouldn’t buy (or make) Easter dresses. She wanted our focus on why we were there rather than on what we wore. For similar reasons, she gently steered my friends and me from including “pretend Sacrament” (our name for Communion) when we “played church.” I was five or six years old, but I still remember Mom bending down to our eye level. She was glad we enjoyed church enough to include it in our playtime, but that part, she said, was “about Jesus dying for us, so it’s too sacred” to play about.

Coloring eggs, hiding and finding them, and nibbling chocolate bunnies figured into my family’s annual Easter traditions, but my parents made it clear those were merely fun, shiny wrappings around the real Gift of the season. My husband and I tried to do the same with our kids.

sun-blooms-in-snow-TLBRUCE-20150415

Sun Blooms in Snow (photo by Teresa TL Bruce, TealAshes.com)

My appreciation for the significance of Easter deepened after the deaths of my mother, cousin, remaining grandparents, and my husband.  I knew then, as I know now, that our separation is temporary — at least where eternity is concerned. I took (and still do take) solace in that.

However …

It’s one thing for me to say, “I’m grateful I’ll see Mom again. I’m grateful that, because of Jesus Christ, we’ll be reunited.” It’s uplifting when friends agree with me. It’s even nurturing when friends whose views differ acknowledge they’re glad for my sake that my stated beliefs give me comfort (even though they disagree).

It’s entirely different when others tell me to “take comfort” in similar statements. How dare they tell me what I “should” feel about my losses? How dare they tell me what “should” lessen my bereavement? For those already experiencing anger (with God in particular or the universe in general) over loved ones’ deaths, such assertions increase mourners’ feelings of isolation.

When my losses were new, I did NOT want people reminding me of the hope I “should” feel for the future. I did NOT take comfort in platitudes about eventual reunions. I did NOT feel uplifted by efforts to “make” me feel better by reminding me of “the reason for the season.” Such expressions ignored the sorrow of my grief. 

I didn’t (and sometimes still don’t) want to be told “Happy Easter.” I wasn’t happy about my mother’s death, or my husband’s (or my Savior’s either, for that matter). Yes, I rejoice that I will see them again. But looking forward to anticipated reunions makes mourning in the here-and-now all the more painful. Future hope doesn’t erase current absence.

Here are ways to support your grieving friends this Easter, no matter what their faith (or yours) may be:

  • “I’m thinking of you (and your family).” Period. No matter the mourner’s faith (or yours), this will always show that you are aware. You can’t go wrong with this, and you can repeat it often.
  • Drop off a card (or some other tangible sign of your concern) they will see long after your visit.
  • Bring them a treat, a snack, or a bag of groceries. Better yet, invite them over to eat with you.

I also feel comfort when friends acknowledge my faith and my loss together:

  • “I’m thinking of you and your family this Easter.”
  • “You and your family are in my prayers as we celebrate Easter.”
  • “Sending you loving thoughts at Easter time.”
  • “I miss your mother, too, and I look forward to one day seeing her again. Thinking of you and your family at Easter.” (This states the person’s faith and hopes, without imposing them on the mourner.)
  • “I take comfort in the joy of the resurrection to come, but I know you’re missing your husband this Easter season.” (Again, this expression of a friend’s faith acknowledges the current sorrow without imposing that faith on the bereaved.)

If you haven’t yet known what to say to a grieving friend, now’s a great time to reach out.

___

*Please note: My intention isn’t to preach here, but due to the nature of the Easter holiday, I can’t express what I think you should (or shouldn’t) say to mourners at this time of year without referencing elements of my faith. Although faith colors my perspective and shapes my day-to-day life, I respect others’ beliefs. (I’ve never intended to make this a “religious” blog. There are many, many writers who do a beautiful job of that.) My goal has always been to make this a place where people can learn to help grieving friends from any (or no) faith tradition. In most posts, references to my faith and/or my church family do appear, not because I’m trying to proselytize but because they’re as much a part of my life as being a widow with three daughters who has worn bifocals since seventh grade.

Having said that, for those who do share my faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

#BecauseHeLives

(Part 2) Grief Can’t Tell Time, but It Obsesses over Calendars

As I said in part one, grief can’t tell time, but it  can — and does — obsess over calendars.

Some calendar-activated grief triggers are predictable and public, like holidays and other annual events. No matter which of the 365 days begins a mourner’s first year of grief, your friend who has lost a loved one will soon ache through the first holidays in mourning.

Notice I didn’t say “the first holiday in mourning”? No, I said “the first holidays in mourning.” Plural.

Whether your friend mourns someone who died on January one, Leap Day, the Fourth of July, or New Year’s Eve, for the next year, every first holiday without the loved one will be difficult.* Whether it’s a national holiday or less celebrated annual observance, if the day is highlighted on calendars or merchandised in stores, chances are the days leading up to it will be filled with anticipatory pain.

As each holiday approaches throughout the year, acknowledge your awareness of the loved one’s absence. It’s easy to do. Make a phone call, write a brief note, send an IM,  email, or text. It can be simple: “I know this is your first Christmas without John. You’re in my thoughts and I’d love to hear yours. I’m here for you.”

Then follow through. Be there. Call or text, asking for the opportunity to hear memories about the deceased or their holiday traditions.

There will be private calendar triggers for your friend’s bereavement, too. Annual family events like birthdays and  anniversaries or family reunions can be unbearable to the newly bereaved. As much as I needed and craved time with extended family after my mother’s death and then again after my husband’s, it also hurt to be around them. It didn’t feel right without Mom or Hubby. Family dynamics had shifted. Nothing felt the same.

A couple from church visited one day with a long question that surprised me. “Will you tell us your birthday, your [late] husband’s birthday, your children’s birthdays, and your what day is your anniversary?” The wife pulled a 3×5 card and a pencil from her purse and she wrote each date.

A couple of months later, one of my out-of-state daughters called to say she’d gotten a birthday card from the couple, and I recalled their earlier question. Since then, they have sent each of our children a birthday greeting, and they’ve acknowledged my wedding anniversary. They have texted awareness of holidays, too.

“Little” gestures such as these offer big comfort and consolation all year.

___

*[This doesn’t mean the same holidays will be “fine” once the first year has passed. Sometimes the second year — when shock has faded and the survivors’ new reality has set in — can be as hard as (or harder than) the first year. Holidays — whenever they fall — are hard. Remember: For your friend who lost a loved one, all of life’s celebrations have been forever altered.]