Grief Skills

Sunday, August 18, 2019
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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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Richard Worden <>
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Thanks, Richard, for your words of wisdom.

    So true and well written, thank you. God bless!

    Thank you, Richard, – a very well said, and helpful devotional today.

    Your words are so true. I did not know the opera story. Thank you for writing.

    Hello Richard
    Thank you for this powerful and meaningful devotional. Really enjoyed it!!
    God bless.

    Beautiful message of comfort and hope! Please continue to make your soul to pour out more inspiring insights.
    (New Jersey, USA)

    Grateful for your writing some simple and should-be-obvious-but-aren’t-truths that will help all who read them today. And there are so many of us! What a blessing your words are today. Grateful for your inspiration and understanding.

    Greetings Richard,
    Thank you for this most thoughtful and meaningful devotional. May the love and comfort we receive from our Lord, instill in us listening ears and kind hearts to give comfort to others during a time of grieving.
    Blessings to you.

    Bless you, Richard Worden:
    Your wonderful Devotional spoke to my heart and brought tears to mine old eyes (I am 84). I lost my beloved wife last year who went to Glory to be with the Lord.
    Btw, I love classical music…. have loved it all my life. Bach is my very favourite composer, also love Verdi’s magnificent, stirring operas.

    Oh Richard, I don’t believe it’s a co-incidence that your devotional was printed today!! It was a few months ago that my husband died of a heart! These words are so helpful and encouraging …take one step and then 2!! I had been writing in my prayer journal just before I read this devo…crying (literally) to the Lord asking Him what was wrong with me…loneliness and emptiness??? BUT in your prayer, it jumped out at me: “Comfort them/me in this time of ‘change and sorrow'”!
    I know He’s with me but your prayer also asking Him to reveal His presence is now my prayer as well.
    Thank you for writing these thoughts and submitting them. I sure needed them today!!!!

    HI Richard,
    Thank you for these comforting words!

    Hi Richard,
    Very good words indeed, I agree, we don’t need more grief counselors, your mother was right on. I visit with people who have lost a loved one occasion and one time when I visited a lady who had just lost a daughter, she talked for one and a half hours about her daughter and her life and she reminisced about the past. I did not say much, I just listened. I could tell that is what she needed to do.
    Thank you for writing.

    Well said, indeed.

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