When Can I Forget Someone Else's Tragedy?
My best friend’s newborn baby girl died last year.
The amount of love and support she and her husband received so quickly was astounding. Their church body set up an online campaign to pay for her medical expenses and another site where people could sign up to bring them meals.
But as the weeks, months, and years passed, they stopped receiving food and gifts, and we stopped asking them how they’re holding up or even mentioning their baby Nolah’s name.
The morning Nolah died, it was difficult to comprehend that it was only day one of a great sorrow that will never truly dissipate. I think I expect my friends to eventually move on after this loss, to look back on a time that once caused them immense sadness as a thing of the past that no longer affects them greatly. Once I’ve moved on from their tragedy, shouldn’t they?
David Brooks wrote an article for The New York Times titled “The Art of Presence”, which featured the Woodiwiss family. The elder daughter, Ann, died in a freak horseback riding accident. Five years later, her younger sister Catherine was biking to work when she was hit by a car, enduring severe injuries and an arduous recovery. Brooks shared the responses to grief the Woodiwisses found helpful and unhelpful after enduring these two tragedies.
The Woodiwisses identified two types of people in response to their grief: builders and firefighters. “Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.”
Romans 12:15 tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; and mourn with those who mourn.” I want to encourage you to mourn with those who mourn, even if it seems like they are no longer mourning. Whether it has been weeks, months, or years, be a builder for someone you care about. Show them that they are loved and their pain hasn’t been forgotten, because they assuredly haven’t forgotten it either.
It is never too late to be a builder. Even if you feel awkward or comforting doesn’t come naturally to you, step out for their sake.
As Catharine Woodiwiss wrote in her post, “It is a much lighter burden to say, ‘Thanks for your love, but please go away,’ than to say, ‘I was hurting and no one cared for me.’ Err on the side of presence.”
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