A minister told me of his entering his church one morning and coming upon the janitor. They exchanged greetings. The pastor asked him how things were with him . . . and stayed to hear the answer!
The janitor told how his wife had taken his dog away the day before to have it ‘put to sleep.’ It was old and blind, he said, but still, every day, he and the dog had taken a walk together. They always followed the same path so that the old, blind dog could find her way. "But now she's gone," he bemoaned.
My friend, the minister, told me how he listened, heard, and felt this man's loss. They prayed together, standing in the middle of the church basement, about the new emptiness in this man's life.
How many parents and friends have failed to respond to situations like that, and have offered only words such as, "What's the matter with you? It's only a dog." Realizing that the death of a human is not the only loss that can bring real grief can help us to be more understanding and helpful.
Think for a minute and you will realize that there are a lot of other grief experiences that happen to us and to others (grief, here, means a significant change):
loss of a job
a child leaving home
changing to a different line of work
a change in health
All of these are losses; all of these bring grief.
Being sensitive to the loss experiences of others and 'walking with them' is also a beautiful opportunity for us as we realize the wide scope of grief-like events in people's lives. You, who are my long-time readers, know what I mean by 'walking with them'. It includes not talking when you should be listening; offering understanding responses to their hurt, instead of asking for details about what happened; touching or hugging, or just being there with them as they grieve.
As you look at the list above of various losses, think about how you can be sensitive to your friends' feelings instead of yielding to your natural instinct to try to fix it, or offer advice, or cheer them up so that they won't feel so bad. The fact is that they DO feel bad. They need time to go through those emotions. And they're not ready to hear about fixing anything.
Be there for your friends and family when they face a loss. Walk with them. Love them. Support them. Be kind to them by giving them your heartfelt concern.