Romans 15:1-2 – We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. (NRSV)
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) buried his wife and two children in 1840. Grief paralyzed him. He gave up composing. The days were dark, and the nights were worse. Visits from his music agent did not help. As one of his visits was ending and not knowing what to do, the agent left with Verdi a manuscript about the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Verdi ignored the manuscript for some time. Slowly, the vision of a new opera began to take shape. Verdi described the process: "One day one verse, one day another, one time a note, another time a phrase, and little by little the opera was written."*
This story illustrates two skills that are essential for anyone grieving a significant loss or wanting to offer support. First, there is the support of family, friends, and professionals. The most helpful aspect of support is listening. When words are spoken, they must be non-judgmental and must not compare one loss against another.
The second grief skill is not to rush. Take time. Do what seems possible. The break with a loved one has to be incorporated into one's thinking and behaviour. The break in the relationship has to heal before reinvestment is possible. Healing takes time and effort. Verdi was lonely and lost. At some point he gave himself permission to look at the manuscript. The simple step led to two, then to three, and to more. The effort resulted in Verdi the composer finding a new life. The new fame did not take away the pain of the loss of his wife and children or memories of them, but it did keep him from joining them.
I recall hearing a presenter say that we do not need more grief therapists. What we need are more people willing to listen to grieving people. A man said to me, "My mother did not want someone to tell her how to feel. She wanted to tell someone how she was feeling."
Acts 6:1 – Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. (NRSV)
But the neglect was more than food. A husband and wife who deliver meals to widows, invalids, and needy persons told me that delivering the box containing the warm meal is only ten per cent of what they do. The remaining ninety per cent is the visiting that takes place and the informal inquiry as to the health and safety of the recipients.
An important date in the life cycle of grief is the one-year anniversary of the loss. It is a day that seems unreal — how could a whole year have passed? It is a day when a visit, a telephone call, or being with friends is helpful and healing. It is not a day to ignore the grieving.
Prayer: Gracious God, as we join the circle of prayer, we pray for those who mourn. Reveal Your presence to them. Comfort them in this time of change and sorrow. Give us the courage to be listening neighbours. May our presence be unspoken words of sympathy, strength, and love. Amen.
* Cavanaugh, Patrick. Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995, page 147.
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