Mourn With Those That Mourn

April 24, 2006    By: Kristen J @ 8:44 pm   Category: Life

Dealing with the death of my father has definitely changed me as a person. This type of experience really helps you to focus on the things that really matter in life, at least for a little while. I’m sure that I will go back to taking things for granted sooner or later. I also came to appreciate friends and family that gave me and my family support during this trying time.

I think that I’ve learned some of the good things and some of the bad things people do to offer their comfort to those who mourn. I will say that everyone deals with grief in different ways and so the things that I write in this post will not apply to everyone.

First, I’m going to note some of the things that didn’t go over so well with me. The number one thing that I found to be annoying was when people said, “It was all for the best. He was in a lot of pain.” I really hated that. I’ve had three miscarriages in my life and people always wanted to say that to me after each miscarriage too. I understand that the best thing did happen in each of these situations but it still sucks. I still want my dad here and I wanted each of those babies that I miscarried.

I also noticed that people really wanted my family to relive the whole traumatic experience over and over again with them. It was as if some people wanted to hear every gory detail. That or they wanted to go through a big emotional crying experience over how sad they were at the death of my father. I understand that my family wasn’t alone in grieving over my dad. A lot of people loved him and wanted to let us know how they cared for him. It was just a very emotionally exhausting experience to have to go over these things with so many people.

Now I want to tell you about some of the wonderful things people did for my family. People sent lovely cards and flowers. This is something I didn’t really appreciate until dealing with death up close. I came to love getting a beautiful card in the mail from friends or family who just wanted me to know they were thinking of me.

The food was also appreciated. There was one sister in my mom’s ward who kept bringing meals over to us. People would ask if we needed meals and we would say, “Oh no, we’re fine. Don’t worry about it.” It was the people who ignored that and brought the food over anyway that I appreciated. We actually ended up needing the food to feed all of the people who came over to visit with my father before he died and my family after he passed away. At the end of it all my mom and I decided that one of the best things you can do for someone who is in mourning is to hand them some cinnamon rolls (or any kind of food) and say, “If there’s anything you need please let me know.”

I was grateful for the simple sentiments expressed to me. People would say things like, “I loved your dad, he was great and I’ll really miss him.” Even a simple “God bless you” or “You’re in our prayers” is very nice.

Those people who chipped in to help with the funeral and the luncheon afterwards were great. They worked so hard and they did it with out expecting a big pat on the back. A couple of my uncles came over and painted the shed in my parent’s backyard because they wanted to help out in anyway they could. It was a big help. I’m sure there were many people who helped out in ways I don’t even know about. Thanks to all of you!

Again, I don’t want to offend anyone. This was such a learning experience for me and I thought I’d share some of those lessons with you. What are some things that you’ve found to be comforting during times of mourning?

27 Comments »

  1. I was fifteen when my mom died, and everyone I knew began walking on eggshells around me. They were all so solemn, all so sympathetic, long after I wanted to try to act normally again. And then finally, a week after I’d returned to school, one of my friends made an exceptionally tasteless joke about a hearse. It was a great relief. I started laughing while several other friends began yelling at her for her “cruelty”. She spent the rest of the day pointedly making jokes, all of them either morbid or dirty, and I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Finally everyone else gave in and stopped treating me like china; I don’t think they’d have done so, had she not persisted.

    That was one of the kindest things anyone did for me.

    Comment by Serenity Valley — April 24, 2006 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Thanks Serenity. One of the things that I’ve worried about is if I’m acting appropriately. People will ask me in a solemn voice how I’m doing. I’ll reply that I’m fine but in my mind I worry that I’m not acting sad enough for the situation. It’s a weird thing.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 24, 2006 @ 11:37 pm

  3. I think death is a very uncomfortable thing for people who’ve never had to deal with it.

    “It’s for the best” is an unfortunate choice of words, but I understand the sentiment. When my brother died of cancer, it was a relief to at least know he wasn’t in pain anymore. When my sister died unexpectedly of unexplained but natural causes (they had to do an autopsy to rule out suicide), it was much tougher to deal with. (But it was also just 7 months after my brother died.)

    My family isn’t LDS, and I didn’t let anyone in my ward know that either of them had died, so I never really had to deal with (or receive support from) anyone other than family.

    For me it’s nice just to be able to talk about them. I rarely mention them when I’m with my family because it’s obviously so painful for my mom.

    Comment by Susan M — April 25, 2006 @ 6:54 am

  4. Where I come from, the ward always got together and put on a meal for the family after a funeral. When my son died, the new bishop and his wife came over and told us that we would have to pay to feed anyone who wanted to stay after the funeral to eat. Our hospital bills alone were about $850,000. We hadn’t yet received the doctor’s bills. I had taken two months unpaid Family Medical Leave to be with my son as he battled leukemia. I told the bishop that we really couldn’t afford it at this time and respectfully declined. He said that that was the way they did things here and that we needed to do it. I reiterated that we couldn’t. His wife piped up that we weren’t in Utah (we aren’t from Utah either) and that this was how the church did things here. We were told that if we expected to have a funeral in the church that we would pay for a dinner. I was ready to tell the bishop that a funeral dinner was not a priesthood ordinance and therefore not required for my son’s salvation, but the look in my wife’s eye was unmistakable. She wanted my son to have a church funeral. I gave in realizing that my family might not be able to eat next week, but that this bishop would have his momentary victory.

    Then after the funeral, the ward showed that they did not know how to mourn with those who mourn. After my son was buried, no one in the ward would even say “Hi” to me in the hall way. It was too painful to talk to someone whose son had just died. What will we say? What if I ask how he’s doing and he really tells me? How could I handle that? If all I had known of the church was this ward, I would have to have concluded that Mormons were not Christians. Well, the members of this ward were not, but those I knew from past wards were.

    My priesthood leaders never asked how we were doing. My home teacher stopped coming over. Then after several months he stopped me in church and asked if I was over it yet. Thinking he was referring to an illness that was going around the ward that I wasn’t aware of, I asked what he was referring to. He said he wanted to know if I was over my son’s death yet. I told him that he must think that I loved my son very little to be “over” his death so quickly. I told him that I would not be over my son’s death until I could hold him in my arms again.

    I vowed then that no one in my ward would be treated like that again. I told the Stake President that my family had been forced to pay for a dinner as a condition of holding a funeral in the chapel. (The sister in charge was instructed by the bishop’s wife to rent china, linen, and silver service and send us the bill!!!) He had a talk with the bishop and the next funeral had a charitable dinner for the family. Just seems like the Christian thing to do.

    The next death in the ward was a sister’s non-member husband. The bishop got up in Priesthood and asked what we could do for the widow. I told him that they could talk to her when she comes to church, not just this week, but next week and next month, so she doesn’t feel lonely. He thought that the ward could fulfill it’s obligation to a widow with a one time effort easily accomplished and quickly checked off the “to-do” list, like raking her yard or cleaning her gutters. My wife and I made it a point to greet that sister every week and call her if she wasn’t at church. Rather than tell her that her husband was in a better place (after all a better place would be with her) or any of those empty sentiments, I would tell her that I loved her and give her a hug.

    We did the same for a sister whose grown son who lived elsewhere died. Then, a widow whose member husband died. She went inactive because she couldn’t understand why Father would take her husband. She slid back into her gentile ways and looked for consolation in alcohol. The unrighteous bishop and I both saw her drunk at different times. He gave her hell fire and brimstone and threatened to have her excommunicated. I told her that this was not how her husband would want her to act and offered her a priesthood blessing. We had an interesting discussion about whether it was more difficult to lose a child or a spouse. Each of us felt that the other had suffered more. She threw the bishop out of her house and her home teacher too. She told the HT that I was the only member welcome in her home.

    After a series of complaints about the bishop, he’s been released. I learned from his wife that Doctrine and Covenants 121:39 applies to the fairer sex also. The new bishop is working to make Christians out of this ward. He hasn’t been in the ward long and is really stunned by the real lack of compassion and devotion. I’ve found that the members here rather than striving to become sanctified seek to become Pharisified, to coin a phrase. “I will do a monthly HT or VT visit, but I won’t love those I serve. I will attend the funeral, but I won’t morn with those that morn. I will find fault with the way they cry (too much too little), with the speakers (too many, too few, too long, too short).” We need to realize that we each mourn differently and that grief comes to full growth at different speeds for each of us. They may need your support more in a month than today. They may need you to listen as they talk of cherished memories. Some have faulted us because we still talk of our son “as though he were still a member of the family”. A ludicrous thing for a person with a testimony of the temple to say. Of course my son is still a member of my family. He was so eager to serve his mission that the Lord arraigned it so he could leave a year early. I always told him that he would go on an exotic mission, but I thought it would be more like Mongolia, rather than the spirit world. I just wish he would write his mother more often.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — April 25, 2006 @ 7:04 am

  5. Thanks for this post, Kristen. I really haven’t dealt much with the deaths of people very close to me. I have, however, been in circumstances where two people I home teach (and am reasonably close to) have had people very close to them die, which put me in a position to offer sympathy. (I blogged a little about it at my own site, coincidentally.) After thinking about things to say, I’m glad that my conclusions were pretty close to what you report as good examples. I wondered if I could do much better than I did, but it sounds like “I’m thinking about you and your family” and “I’ll miss him” are about as good as you can do.

    Comment by Logan — April 25, 2006 @ 7:04 am

  6. Um, okay, check that. It sounds like Floyd can do better after all. I’ll keep working on it, and realize that whatever words I choose should just be one way of showing love and support more fully.

    Comment by Logan — April 25, 2006 @ 7:09 am

  7. I’m sorry to hear about that difficult and lonely situation you were placed in, Floyd. That is the sort of experience that often drives people from the church entirely. I am also glad to hear that you were working hard to improve things.

    Other than a few minor fumbles by a some new leaders and new people in Kristen’s parents lives, I was almost shocked at the beautiful and Christlike charity that was poured out to her family in that funeral week. Not only were their own ward members and old friends and extended family members gracious and gentle and caring, but there was a beautifully catered luncheon hosted largely by the sisters in another ward in a nearby stake! I came away thinking that if you are Mormon, the general Puyallup WA area must be a great place to be — they seem to really understand charity and Christlike service there. Of course I know Kristen’s parents have given that very same kind of charity and Christ-like service to others in their area for many decades so I shouldn’t be too surprised…

    Comment by Geoff J — April 25, 2006 @ 8:37 am

  8. I think it depends on the person being comforted. When my mother died, I just wanted to be left alone, I didn’t want to really hear any platitudes–I mean, what can you say in that situation? So, even being through it, I have no idea how to help/act around others, because I dealt with the grief on my own, by myself.

    Comment by Pris — April 25, 2006 @ 8:37 am

  9. I’ve never lost a close family member, so I have no first-hand experience. However, a friend of mine once told me of something that happened to her. She was a teenager when her father unexpectedly died. The day after his death, a family friend took her and her siblings out to a movie. She said it was the kindest thing that could have been done because it provided a couple hours of escape from everything. She was so appreciative for that break. I’m not sure it would be something all would appreciate, but her and her family it was what they needed.

    Comment by Tanya Spackman — April 25, 2006 @ 8:38 am

  10. Floyd- I think you have been sent to that ward for a reason. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that but it sounds like you are making lemonade out of lemons not just for you but for anyone else in your ward who may lose someone close to them.

    Susan- I know what you mean about just wanting to talk about the loved ones who have died. I don’t want to talk about it with everyone but sometimes, with just the right person, it’s nice be able to reminisce (sp) and not worry that you’re not acting the right way.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 25, 2006 @ 9:09 am

  11. The problem is that all of these comforting strategies work best for some people, while hurting others, and there’s really no way to know which is which in advance. ‘It’s probably for the best, she’s in a happier place now’ drove me up the wall, but I know people who got a lot of comfort out of that.

    Probably the best thing you can do is *something*, while being sensitive to how it goes over.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — April 25, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

  12. I agree with you Adam everyone finds comfort in different ways. I too think you should be sensitive and read the cues the person is giving you as to what they find comforting.

    If you are trying to comfort someone you should try and remember that it’s not about your feelings, it’s about theirs.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 25, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  13. Where I come from, the ward always got together and put on a meal for the family after a funeral. When my son died, the new bishop and his wife came over and told us that we would have to pay to feed anyone who wanted to stay after the funeral to eat.

    That still irritates me beyond words. Do you have that ex-bishop’s name and address? I still want to write about him.

    If you are trying to comfort someone you should try and remember that it’s not about your feelings, it’s about theirs.

    Well said. I still remember a radiologist whose idea of comforting was to tell me that his life was worse than mine since his narcisism was driving his wives crazy and I was just burying children.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 25, 2006 @ 4:12 pm

  14. I still remember a radiologist whose idea of comforting was to tell me that his life was worse than mine since his narcisism was driving his wives crazy and I was just burying children.

    Well, at least you can be sure he was telling the truth; his behavior seems like surefire proof of narcisism to me.

    Comment by Serenity Valley — April 25, 2006 @ 5:06 pm

  15. That whole paying for the dinner (renting linens, etc)is pretty galling.

    Thanks Stephen. The thing that drives me nuts is when you say, “My dad has cancer.”

    Then the person you’re talking to says, “Oh, I knew this guy who had that same kind of cancer and he died like 2 hours after he was diagnosed and it was incredibly painful, yadda, yadda, yadda”. Not only was in not comforting, it freaked me out!

    Comment by Kristen J — April 25, 2006 @ 6:32 pm

  16. Stephen M- No need to write the ex-bishop. While on a business trip a piece of luggage fell from the overhead bin and knocked him out. He’s had serious brain damage. I don’t say this gloating or anything, but he’s suffering enough. The Stake President dressed him down pretty well over how he treated us, but he never apologized to us, which is why I feel a need to vent on blogs sometimes.

    I wonder about the ex-bishop’s injuries sometimes though. Not the cause, but how they explain it. You see, after my son’s death, the ex-bishop’s wife told people in the ward that if my son were living right, he wouldn’t have died. I wonder how she explains her husband’s injuries?

    How to deal with those who mourn? Just tell them what Christ would if He were there; tell them that you love them.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — April 26, 2006 @ 5:39 am

  17. Thank you Kristen for giving us voice. Those who have lost dear ones have seen it all. Heard it all and experienced the blessings of love and (as Floyd has illustrated so well) the ignorance of others. Death has been a frequent visitor in my family and each has been different. The best thing anyone ever did for me (and I suggest it for anyone) was to send a card to me expressing their love for the one I lost. I was a sister. My brother had a wife and children he left behind and therefore the focus was with them. I did not feel slighted by any of it and the note to me let me know that others knew there were others suffering also. The note went above and beyond and lifted me in so many ways.

    Comment by chronicler — April 26, 2006 @ 7:05 am

  18. I loved the cards too. Just a simple yet meaningful way of showing the grieving that you care.

    It seems that so many of us have dealt with some very sorrowful situations and I’m finding it very interesting how people have been treated, in both the good and the bad ways.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 26, 2006 @ 7:40 am

  19. Floyd, as for getting knocked out by flying luggage…Check out this post.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 26, 2006 @ 7:43 am

  20. Floyd said:

    While on a business trip a piece of luggage fell from the overhead bin and knocked him out. … the ex-bishop’s wife told people in the ward that if my son were living right, he wouldn’t have died. I wonder how she explains her husband’s injuries?

    Well, as the flight attendants always remind us, shift happens.

    Comment by Dan Richards — April 26, 2006 @ 9:40 am

  21. Unfortunately, our experience in our last branch was similar to Floyd’s. When my father died, I received one card from a branch member. Nothing else, and we thought we were surrounded by friends. A year later, when my wife’s mother died, she got a couple of cards about two months later. When her father died a year after that, the only thing that happened was a card from the RS presidency after I suggested to the branch president that a card would be the least the church could do. In the meantime, the floral arrangement my office sent for my Dad’s funeral was the largest at the ceremony, and people from work showered us with cards and brought in meals after both of my wife’s parents’ deaths.

    I do not wonder that attendance at that branch has dropped significantly over the past few years. We count it as a blessing that I was able to find a good job in another state to get away from the church in that area. The ward here has its struggles, but people here at least try.

    The best thing that happened when my father died was that an old college friend spotted my Dad’s obituary, and we were able to reconnect after nearly twenty years. I feel bad that I missed news of his father’s death and was unable to reciprocate.

    So, what did I expect? Even a simple “I’m sorry” would have been nice–an acknowledgment that we had experienced a loss. We are fairly private people anyway, but the church pushed us out rather than try to take us in. The one thing most likely to keep me from entering the highest kingdom when I go is the bitterness I still feel towards the church leadership in that area.

    Comment by CS Eric — April 26, 2006 @ 11:43 am

  22. One time I told my mom that I was having difficulty dealing with some church leadership and she said, “Sometimes I think church leadership is sent to test us.”

    “You mean you’ve been less than thrilled with church leadership at times,” I asked.

    “Oh yeah,” she replied.

    I think everyone will get tried by leadership at some point in their lives, it’s just how you deal with it. Not that forgiveness is a quick and simple thing. It might take you years before you can get to a place of peace.

    I should mention that my ward here has been great. They want to bring in meals if you stub your toe. Even the High Priests gave us a sympathey card. I’ve never heard of a High Priest group ever doing something like that before. It was very sweet.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 26, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

  23. (#4) Floyd, as I was reading, I wondered if that was you. You took a real injustice and you used it to bless others, to keep it from happening. To you I say, way to go.

    Hey, Stephen, sign my name on that letter. You know what it is.

    And then I got to #16, and I’m sorry, I laughed. Not on purpose, it just burst out of me. And then I got to #20.

    My good friend said to me today about a lot of people in our ward, “All their righteous endeavors are kinda smothering.”

    A couple of things, Kristen, a year after James’ suicide, I got a card from a girl who’d been friends with him. It was such a wonderful letter and spoke of her love (platonic) for him. I so appreciated those kinds of cards. She’d been afraid to write me, for a year. I love it when people mention him, remember him, tell me stories about him. Few do.

    I’ve lost so many friends to cancer and I mourn them. I helped care for some of them. Usually I ask, what kind of cancer? Then, depending on the answer, I know what they’re in for. I don’t usually say much, just “I’m sorry.” But if it’s a bad kind, I keep an eye out.

    “It’s for the best” is insensitive, I’ve never said it, but I’ve thought it. When my young friend, who I’d cared for daily for 6 months, finally died, 60 pounds, at the age of 25, I praised God. It took awhile for me to get there, her mother never did, and I don’t blame her, but I was so grateful Stacie wasn’t suffering. So grateful.

    Today, just today, my best friend told me about a dream she’d had a few days ago. She dreamed she was talking to my son. This year two people have told me that. One was afraid to tell me. I drank it up. And I ached, I agonize at the same time.

    When my older son died, at the age of 2, from drowning, people told me it was for the best because he was brain damaged. I know people who’ve dealt with brain damaged children from accidents. And I will tell you, to this day, I do not think it was for the best. I miss that child. That was 33 years ago.

    Anyway, sorry, I’m on one today. I need a valium or something stronger. Maybe horse tranquilizer.

    Comment by annegb — April 26, 2006 @ 4:11 pm

  24. Ha! I know what you mean about the horse tranquilizer.

    I guess one of the things I’m learning about myself is that I want to talk about my dad’s life and remember the things that he did. Funny stories, serious stories but I don’t want to dwell on the cancer and how awful it was and how awful it’s going to be. Sheesh, I hope I’m makeing sense.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 26, 2006 @ 10:16 pm

  25. Kristen I love the post about the potter. You must certainly have more stories to tell. Please share them. One thing I love about blogging is connecting with real people. Not expounding and exploring, but learning the stories of the lives of others. Each has so many stories to tell.

    I once heard a statement, that I took to heart: “When a person dies, a library burns down.” That of course means, all their learning and experience is gone. Unless someone else tells their history or shares their wisdom it is gone.

    I will read anything you write about those you love, kids, husband, parents, cousins, all those wonderful people that make us who we are. And, I thank you in advance for sharing the stories.

    Comment by chronicler — April 27, 2006 @ 7:07 pm

  26. Thank you so much Chronicler! That has been one of the many sad things about losing my dad. He was a great teacher, artist, and spiritualist. There have been many times in the past month when I’ve felt sorrow at not being able to ask for his wisdom.

    I love to hear stories about the lives of other people too. When ever we’ve looked for houses I’ve found that my favorite part is getting a chance to see how other people live.

    Comment by Kristen J — April 27, 2006 @ 11:09 pm

  27. annegb- I’m glad in a way to know that my experience is unique. I’d hate to know that others in the church were suffering such a level of unrighteous dominion.

    I home teach a sister whose fiancĂ©e died in a head-on collision a few weeks before Christmas. I woke up Good Friday with the distinct impression that I needed to tell her that Father loves her and that none of this happened because He hates her. I told her I know that she may not be thinking that right now, but that I also know the kind of thoughts that come late at night, when we’re tired and lonely. I promised her (actually Father promised her through the Spirit) that if she were faithful that no blessing would be withheld, just delayed.

    She says it is all the sweeter because she knows that I really know how it feels. We need to remember that Christ’s suffering allows Him to really know how we feel and so that He can better comfort us in our trials and suffering.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — April 28, 2006 @ 10:26 am

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