Mourn with Those Who Mourn

A friend of mine always offers a profound perspective on mourning. Just more than a year ago, he lost his wife to a rare form of cancer. His strength, wisdom, and faith through the journey have been incredible. In the video link here, he shares some of the process he’s been through. Below is an excerpt from his blog, Crossroads. He shares a practical and powerful “how-to” mourn with those who are suffering. I encourage you to check it out.

Mourn with those who mourn

By Jordan Rice

The other day, I was in the hallway at my office building and a man was walking in with severe difficulty. He has polio, and as his metal arm and leg braces supported his weight, he walked gingerly and assuredly. As timing would have it, the floor was recently mopped and still wet. I cringed as he walked, fearing the worst and I went to his side to make sure that he wouldn’t fall, and he told me perhaps the most profound thing I’ve heard all year. “If I fall, let me fall, you’ll do more harm than good by trying to stop it.”

As soon as he said it, it hit me like a ton of bricks…this is what happens over and over again when people deal with other hurting people. With the greatest of intentions, we try to stop people from falling into pain, and unknowingly cause more pain in the process.

When Paul says to mourn with those who mourn, he’s saying don’t try and stop them from falling into pain, the best thing you can do is walk beside them and help them up.

How can you do that? Here’s what I’ve gathered in the last 16 months of conversations with hurting people.

DO
Be physically available and present with people hurting.
Facebook likes and ReTweets are nice, text messages are even better, but people overestimate what a cliché will accomplish and greatly underestimate what just sitting around with someone will do. NOTHING says I’m here with you like actually being with them. If you’re trying to solve people’s pain, this’ll be uncomfortable for you, because the first thing you’ll think about is that you don’t know what to say. If that happens, realize that you being there is the best message you’ll ever preach.

DON’T
Don’t don’t don’t reach out to a person and get deep. Christians have this problem more than non-Christians in my experience, but its still a pervasive problem. What people want is their loved one back or for their suffering to stop, not a well thought out statement. What do you say to the husband whose wife just hung herself? Or what should you say to the parent whose child died of a brain tumor at 7 years old? Better yet, what do you say to the man who just got diagnosed with AIDS? I hope you’re drawing blanks, because you should. You shouldn’t know what to say, because there isn’t anything profound that can be said. If I broke my shin and went to the E.R., I’m not going to hear the doctor tell me what happened to my bone, I’m going to get it set, so the healing can begin. For you its the same, be a part of the process, nothing more.

DO
Make definitive requests to hang out or do something for them. Most people that are hurting are in such a fog that they have no idea in the world what they want to do or should do. I get that you don’t want to burden them, and you shouldn’t, but it helps tremendously when people didn’t make me think of what I wanted to do, they presented definite options and gave me a lot of space to accept or reject it.

Simply sending a text and asking could you come over at 6 p.m. on Thursday is great. One of the best things someone did for me was taking me out to dinner two weeks after my wife died. He invited me out at a specific date to a specific place and didn’t make me think about too much. I could’ve said no, and I’ve said no to a million things, but I didn’t have to think.

DON’T
Please don’t try and make someone feel better faster. They’ll feel better when they can process what happened, not a second sooner. I had a lady that told me that I should just think about how good God was and then I’d feel better. Statements like that or “snap out of it” type of attitudes are incredibly damaging.

DO
Be committed to them. It’s a new place for them, and they need friends, old and new. Make some sacrifices to be available to them. It’ll go a very very long way.

DON’T
Bite off more than you can chew. They need you, but so does your family and you need yourself. If you overcommit you’ll end up burning yourself out and be no good for them or you.

 

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Nothing to Lose

nothing to lose

By Kevin Howell

Everybody Hates Chris is one of my favorite TV shows. I didn’t start watching it until it went into syndication, and I really didn’t know what I was missing. It’s hilarious, which you’d figure since it’s created and narrated by Chris Rock.

I recall one episode when Mr. Omar, the funeral home director who is a tenant of Chris’ family, gets a misdiagnosis for an illness and he’s told he only has a few weeks to live. With nothing to lose, Mr. Omar — played by Roger from What’s Happening by the way — begins to give away his possessions, and starts to speak his mind without reservation. He starts to live without fear, and takes risks because, well, when you’re about to die, nothing is really risky. Ultimately Mr. Omar finds out that his illness isn’t terminal and he changes his ways — no longer living as carefree as he did when faced with mortality.

Death has that affect on us. Steve Jobs once said that death is the greatest motivator in life because it forces us to focus on the things we love most and that matter most. I believe that. I also believe death has a liberating factor. The thought of it frees us from insecurities, fears, and most limitations. It helps us realize, with a better perspective, that we have nothing to lose.

About a year ago, when my friend’s wife died, I remember a shift in my focus. I didn’t know her well at all, but I empathized with his loss. And subconsciously, some of my fears and insecurities became insignificant. I began to speak up when I’d normally stay quiet. I began take risks that I wouldn’t dare to take previously. I spoke more candidly than I did in the past. It was like an invisible restraint fell off me and I began to function freely. Life was put into a clearer perspective for me.

I don’t think it takes a death in the family or a terminal diagnosis for this shift to happen. Even a figurative “death” can shake our perspective and relieve us of our restraints. A few years ago, after a relationship I was in ended, a similar shift happened. I think after we lose something we love, when something we could always grasp in our hands is taken from us, we realize we have nothing to lose. We start to evaluate other things that we are holding onto, wondering if they are worth the grip. In light of what we just lost, is our reputation, pride, image, status, fear, worry or any reservation worth holding onto? When someone or something we cared about is gone, we look at our other cares, and they usually pale in comparison. We see them as they really are: insignificant.

It doesn’t have to take a death to change our perspective. We can discover it in life. We can take an inventory of our cares and concerns. Look at the things that make you come alive, that bring happiness and meaning to your life. These are the things you’d grieve if you lost them. Value and appreciate those things. Now look at the other things you hold onto. Those things that are expendable. Those things that would become meaningless if you lost the meaningful things. Let them go. Let them die. You have nothing to lose.

 

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The Real Tragedy of Dan Wheldon’s Death

Dan Wheldon

By Kevin Howell

I’ve been thinking about the death of race car drive Dan Wheldon recently. It was such a horrific scene on that Las Vegas racetrack Sunday, and so sad that someone so young and so talented lost his life. Wheldon was a two-time Indy 500 winner, one of the most famous and prestigious events in all of auto racing. He won the race earlier this year.

Obviously in the aftermath of this tragedy, there is a lot of talk about the safety of the sport, and the conditions of the track that day. And with any loss of life, thoughts go to the family of the victim. In this case, a wife and two young children are left behind. But as I was thinking Sunday about Wheldon’s death, I was a little conflicted within. The fact that a guy died at 33 is quite tragic. But was it tragic how he died? I mean, I thought that no one should die that way. Yes, it’s a dangerous sport, and drivers know the inherent risks involved with it. I can’t fault the activity for Wheldon’s death. And honestly, though his life was indeed cut short, just maybe it wasn’t tragic how he died. Maybe Dan Wheldon died doing what he loved. Maybe he died doing his passion. Is that tragic?

My thoughts were somewhat confirmed the day after the crash when Wheldon’s father, Clive, said: “Daniel was born to be a racer and left us doing what he loved to do.”

Whenever someone dies, we are faced with those soul-searching questions of life. It makes us think of our own mortality, and puts things in perspective. As the late Steve Jobs once said: “Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

If there’s one lesson we can learn from Dan Wheldon’s death, it’s that the greatest tragedy wasn’t the fatal accident on the track Sunday. It’s that thousands of people watched the news of the accident, thinking they just witnessed a tragedy, but the truth is many of them are living a tragedy every day. The tragedy of not doing what they love, following their hearts, and living a meaningful, passionate life. Dan Wheldon died doing what he loved. It should be a reminder to us to live, doing what we love.

 

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”                                                                                                                              – W.H. Murray

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Searching for Answers Amid Tragedy

answers amid tragedy

By Kevin Howell

Here’s some of my reflections from the Tucson, Ariz., shooting tragedy.

During times of inexplicable tragedy, people naturally have questions running through their minds. Whether it’s something we deem natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, or the recent floods and mudslides in Brazil, or something caused by man, such as the Arizona shooting, we are all looking for answers. Typically, since there are no reasonable answers in the human mind for matters of this magnitude, people tend to question or blame God. And honestly, I can’t fault them for that, because I question God.

It’s difficult not to when a 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, is killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t blame God because I know it’s not in His character to cause such a thing, but as far as how it was allowed to happen, I wrestle with understanding the ideas of sovereignty, free will, evil, a fallen world and providence. Truthfully, it’s just too great for my mind to comprehend, and too complex for theologians to surmise. As President Obama put it in his address at the Tucson memorial: “Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”

The truth is, there are no simple explanations. It’s just something we can’t wrap our limited minds around. With something tragic happens that’s beyond our power, we look to the higher power for comfort, understanding, and unfortunately to place blame. However, it’s ironic that when things are going quite well, in times of prosperity, and when man does exceptional feats, we have simple and acceptable answers. We rarely look above to give credit, nor for explanations. Rather, we heap praise on human accomplishment. We applaud ourselves for our skill, work ethic, mental fortitude, and knowledge, not even considering that the triumph, achievement, joy, or success had something to do with the same One we question during our lowest moments.

I speak of our nation in general, of course, and not every individual. But I believe we all fall into that category in some way. I know I do. Maybe I do thank God during great accomplishments, but in times of peace and happiness, when life is simply wonderful, do I celebrate Him with gratitude as much as I seek Him for assistance when life stings? Unfortunately not.

Therefore, tragedy serves as a lesson for us. It’s a reminder, not just of our finitude, but also of our need to always live in gratitude.

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Making Each Day Your Masterpiece

make each day your masterpiece

After following coverage of the memorial service for the Arizona shooting victims, I was left impacted by the words and ideas expressed. Here’s just a collection thoughts that mingled in my mind from the memorial.

By Kevin Howell

When tragedy hits, we all have different reactions, different coping mechanisms and different ways of reasoning. When a tragedy happens in public and has a wide impact, such as the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., we call it a national tragedy. On our televisions and the internet, we all live through it. Though death and tragedy are painful, beauty can arise from it… as long as we arise from our mourning, changed.

Death and tragedy remind us of our own mortality. They remind us that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, this week, or even the rest of this day. It doesn’t mean we should live in fear, but we should live more circumspectly, more aware of our frailty. When we do that, we pay less mind to inane matters and tasks, and focus on what matters. Essentially, we care less about things, and more about people. As President Obama said during his speech at the memorial: “We are reminded that in our fleeting time on earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame — but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

Unfortunately it isn’t until we lose someone that we realize how worthy they were of our time and love. In that sense, tragedy is a wake-up call to embrace those family members and friends who are still with us. We realize that, ultimately, they belong to God, and we just get to borrow them for their lifetime. With that in mind, we become more grateful for every moment we get with them, and look past petty differences and dislikes that may keep us away from them.

The late John Wooden, a legendary basketball coach who later in his life was more of a beloved teacher/philosopher than a hoops guru, said that his father often told him to “make each day your masterpiece.” I believe we are capable of doing that, but only when we have an incentive. Our mortality is an incentive. It gives us a sense of urgency… or more so the reality that life is urgent. Making each day your masterpiece isn’t about accomplishing as much as you can in one day. It’s simply looking inward and being the best you that you can be today, and remembering, each moment, to do what you are here to do: love, unconditionally.

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