Look for the Silver Lining

Look for the Silver Lining

I’m an optimist. Truly I am. I am a person who sees both sides of a coin (in most situations) and, more often than not, tends give the positive side of the coin more weight than the negative. I like looking at the positive side.

I think my kids would tell you that, after going on a field trip, one of my first questions would be “What did you like best?” about that particular experience. Even if it had been less-than-ideal, there was always something positive to note and discuss. It’s the “Look for the Silver Lining” way of thinking that is engrained inside of me.

I’m a naturally positive person, but I was also raised on gospel music and teaching that emphasized a positive Christian outlook. God would take care of everything. As a kid, my sister, mom, and I used to sing a trios recorded by The White Sisters and other Christian musicians of the 1960’s – “Brighten the Corner,” “When There’s a Rainbow in the Sky,” “Count your Blessings,” and many more similar songs with similar sentiments. I believed them; I truly expected the “clouds of frown to go smiling by.”

When there’s a rainbow in the sky

The clouds of frown go smiling by

There’s a promise written there

Of our Father’s love and care

When there’s a rainbow in the sky.

(John W. Peterson; Copyright 1964 by Singspiration)

Secular music from my growing-up era – at least music that was allowed in our home – also echoed the “look for the positive” attitude (although “Look for the Silver Lining” was written in 1919, it was popularized in the 1950’s and 1960’s). The “right thing to do” was to look for a silver lining and tears were out of place.

Look for the Silver Lining

Please don’t be offended if I preach to you awhile,
Tears are out of place in eyes that were meant to smile.
There’s a way to make your very biggest troubles small,
Here’s the happy secret of it all.

Look for the silver lining
Whene’er a cloud appears in the blue
Remember somewhere the sun is shining
And so the right thing to do
Is make it shine for you

A heart full of joy and gladness
Will always banish sadness and strife
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life

(music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by B.G. DeSylva, 1919)

After Jason died, however, I would have to say that the “Look for the Silver Lining” platitudes and attitudes just didn’t work for me. The “God will carry you” bereavement Bible quotes or “it’s time to move on” books – especially given to us by people who disappeared and did nothing at all beyond that to walk with us – were not what we really needed at that time. After a while, even the “we’re praying for you” statements – by those who did nothing else – sometimes hit us the wrong way.

One time we had a Christian lady we barely knew tell us that God may have allowed Jason to die to prevent something worse down the road. Huh?? What does that mean??? Was that her reminder to me to look for a silver lining or God’s greater purpose in Jason’s death? We had various people tell us that God had a purpose in Jason’s death. We had people tell us Jason wouldn’t want us to be sad. (In reality, with his huge, empathetic heart, he probably would have understood.) At the time, I felt like I had been thrown out into the middle of a category 5 hurricane, like wave after wave of grief threatened to drown me. I felt like was swallowing salt water and gasping for air, going down for the third time, so exhausted from trying to keep my head above water, lost in an ocean of grief with all familiar landmarks gone. I didn’t need a platitude. I didn’t need someone telling me that the “right thing to do” was to look for a silver lining.  I needed a friend!! I needed to know that someone cared!

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that a rainbow is a reminder of God’s love and care for us. I do believe there are many things we will never understand until we get to heaven. I also firmly believe that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) no matter what the circumstances. I don’t have any problem with looking for a silver lining, taking time to smell the roses, and looking for the beauty in each day. (I remember the first time after Jason died that I noticed the flowers were blooming. At a time when my grief was so deep that my outlook more closely echoed W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” than anything else, I was amazed that beautiful flowers were blooming – and that I actually noticed how beautiful they were.)

I had no problem with gentle encouragement from the few people who stayed in my life; I knew it was given with love. (I’m afraid I can’t say the same for people who weren’t around and whose sole “support” consisted of sending me a book, suggestions of book that might help me “move on,” or emails or notes containing Bible verses. That was a real struggle for me.) I had no problem with someone telling us s/he was praying for us (as long as s/he actually was).  For a while, I could actually tell people were praying for us; I could also tell when the prayers diminished.

The fact of the matter is that we were left alone by most everyone we knew at the time to walk a long, difficult, lonely walk. I can’t begin to describe how alone we were and how awful it was. I believe that we are the hands and feet of God on this earth, and that He expects us to put action to our faith. Yes, God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. But, does that let us all off the hook? Does that mean we have to do nothing because we expect God to do it all? In my opinion (just my opinion – I don’t mean to sound harsh or judgmental), for a Christian to tell a bereaved person that God will carry him or her – and then for the Christian promptly disappear and do nothing – fits more into the “faith without works is dead” category (James 2:17) than the “love one another” category (John 15:12-15).

What we needed was more along the lines of Josh Groban’s release “You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up), Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me,” or Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”

You’ve Got a Friend

When you’re down and troubled
And you need some loving care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend

(Lyrics and Music: Carole King, 1971)


Lean on Me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

(Music by: Bill Withers, 1972)

We needed friends! We needed people to tell us and to SHOW US by their actions – and continue to show us by their actions over the years – that they loved us, that they cared Jason died, that they cared about us, and that we were not alone. We needed kindness, hugs, love, support. We needed practical help – help with the yard (our yard had been torn up because of septic system overhaul, and Joe ended up doing the work all alone), help with cleaning the house, and help with the laundry. We needed people to talk about Jason and to write/tell us things they remembered about Jason. We needed assurance that we were not pariah; rather, that we were loved and that we would continue to be loved and supported.

What we didn’t need was someone to tell us that the “right thing to do” was to look for the silver lining.

(There are many good resources on how to help a bereaved parent: Helping the Grieving, Compassionate Friends, Supporting a Grieving Person, and many others)

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

33 thoughts on “Look for the Silver Lining

  1. Rebecca, I know how you feel. Since my Jason was a baby when he passed away and I was still young, the comment was made to me that “you can have more children”. Really????? I could have a million more children, but none would ever “replace” Jason! I truly do not think that others can understand the loss of a child. There is nothing that compares especially to a mother. In reflection, the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life is doing exactly what others told me to do….get on with your life. My ex and I should have gone to counseling. I became a changed person as I was “getting on with my life”. No longer was my love for other people open and unquestioning. I’ve continued through the years to have a wall up to protect myself.

    I leave Wednesday for SE Asia for three months. After that, I’m heading to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James. I’ve read so many stories about this magnificent walk and the healing that it can do while walking 500 miles. I’m looking forward to a time of peace, solitude, and reflection. At one point in the journey, there is a rock pile that contains rocks that people bring from their homeland. They either write on the rock or attach a paper to it and place the rock at the foot of the cross. I will write on mine to help me, you and others heal with the deal of a child. I know it’s a simple gesture, but maybe just knowing that all of us who have lost children are truly thinking of each other will help.

    My thoughts ARE with you Rebecca. I will be thinking of you on the journey!


  2. The piece of ‘advice’ that I dislike the most is, ‘Eventually, things will get better.’ I know people mean well when they say this, and maybe it’s even true, but I hate hearing it. I don’t want things to ‘get better’ — I just want to be sad and for the people around me to empathize.

    • “Get better” like you have the flu. Eventually I got better at living my life without Nick. And I changed, it was inevitable, I was going to be a different person, learning how to live a hugely altered life. The people around me were going to change too. Most of them fell away because what we shared pre Nick’s death wasn’t strong enough to carry us through my grief and their awkwardness.
      I’m not comfortable when first speaking to a newly bereaved parent. It’s a difficult thing even having experienced the unthinkable. I’ve learned to say nothing or very little because there really are no words – just actions. Like you’ve said in this well written post.

  3. A powerful and honest piece of writing. As I’ve said before, i can only imagine what it feels like to lose a child, and then I turn quickly away from that imagining. It’s too horrible to contemplate. But in losing my mother I know of what you speak. A friend said recently that it was taking me a long time to grieve my mother. I defended myself. “She’s been gone 10 months!” I said. I wanted to say, “I’m still trying to get my mother’s ashes buried. Her taxes aren’t paid yet. I haven’t gone through the anniversary of her death.” Bottom line: I trust my process and can’t tolerate people telling me it is taking too long. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt writing.

  4. Rebecca, I have come to know that so many of us are human and truly need help in acknowledging the grief of others. You have given that at the end of your piece here. When my 34 year old baby sister died (quite unexpectedly) my mother was just getting over losing my oldest sister to breast cancer 3 years before. She was positively immobile with grief. It fell to me to bury my sister. I recall a sea of faces some telling me all the thinkg one says at a time like this – there were those who failed to show their faces too. But, there were those (not a lot but enough) who gathered me in their arms (literally and otherwise) and stood with me. They were wonderful in their continued concern for my mom and niece whom I raised. What I learned from my tragedy: Some people just don’t know how to behave with grief. I so treasure the ones who do – for they remain my silver lining.
    Thank you for your blog.

    • Hi, Gwen. I agree with you. People don’t know what to do or say…they don’t know how to behave. You are truly blessed to have those who have been your silver lining. If sharing my experiences from this “side of the fence” can create an awareness in anyone which then encourages him/her to step out of his/her comfort zone to support a bereaved person who may be alone, then I will feel I have succeeded in writing my blog. Thanks for visiting and for writing.

  5. Rebecca: Thank you for writing another honest, personal and revealing post. We could relate to much that you wrote and are saddened that the experiences of so many grievers seem to be consistent. We reflect on our past and realize that we really didn’t know how to appropriately help and support someone who was grieving. Through our experience after the death of our son Isaac, God has taught us much about how to truly love others and to “get in the trenches” with them. We are thankful for the few who have walked this journey with us by providing unconditional love and support. We now have the opportunity to apply what we’ve learned by walking along side other grievers. Thank you for being so vulnerable to write about the pain of your experience – you are helping others.

    Keep on writing as you feel lead. We missed hearing from you!

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  7. Rebecca – again your words capture the journey. It is so encouraging to know that I am not alone. I was told that the names in my address book would change within one year. I questioned that as there were good friends my book. But it is so true. My address book is nearly empty. I understand that others don’t have the words to say . . but the silence. . is deafening. I have reached out, tried to hang on but have come to a place of acceptance and realization that I must begin again in so many way. God has provided me with some close friends during this time . . . people that I barely knew before my husband died . . but who now share my heart.

  8. Thank you for reminding me that although words can help, they’re not the whole response. Maybe at their best they’re more like an open door that we’re responsible for walking through in some helpful way once we’ve opened it. What you wrote reminds me of Doug Manning talking about the power of our presence. He often talked about the idea of “hang around, hug them, and hush”. Silence can be so uncomfortable that even though our intentions may be good, we destroy the power of our presence by trying to calm our anxiety with words just before we run away.

    It’s people like you who are willing to telling us honestly about your experience, that gives those of us who haven’t walked in your shoes the chance to grow into better, more compassionate people.

  9. I have met so many people who have told me that their ‘address books’ changed dramatically following the death of their child. What you wrote is so true; the grieving parents are ‘left alone’. Often I wonder whether people are waiting for us to get over the death of our child or to get better. I was once asked whether I felt better and my reply was that I hadn’t been (and wasn’t) sick. Is that what people think, that grieving is a sickness (and contagious at that)? My friends of 30 years no longer contact me as they cannot face my pain (and their nightmare). But it has been the kindness of strangers that has always amazed me. I feel no comfort from positive platitudes or well meant statements that she is in a better place. The best place for a child is with his or her family. That is where my daughter should be. Thank you for writing this blog Rebecca. I really appreciate being able to read it.

    • One particular “kindness of strangers” stands out in my mind. One of my husband’s business contracts was the Westin Hotel in Seattle. About six months after Jason died, the manager arranged so that we could have the “employee rate” at the Maui Westin. We found really low airfares, and took him up on his offer. After six months of such an excruciatingly difficult walk, I was do depleted and exhausted that I could hardly continue. It felt wrong to be going on a “vacation” to Hawaii without Jason, but we really needed a change of scene – away from all the secondary losses and wounds, away from the in-our-face reminders everywhere we looked that Jason was gone. We needed a respite in a beautiful place…and that’s the wonderful gift those kind strangers gave us. We could not have financially managed something like that on our own. It gave us a chance to renew ourselves at least a little in order to continue on.

  10. Powerful post and rings true for me; Thanks for sharing. Sometimes, I just want people to be honest and say, “I don’t know how to help, or what to do for you.” This is because I would simply reply, “Nor do I.” It is not something you plan to happen, or prepare for. We were never sure if being around others made us more uncomfortable than them. I think they were more uncomfortable, and we would just think, “You can’t “catch” losing a child. Having it happen to us doesn’t mean it will happen to you.”

  11. Hi Rebecca. I just found your blog and so glad that I did. Your writing reflects my feelings and emotions since my son passed away 14 months ago at the age of 22. The emptiness and loneliness are compounded by not getting any support from people who I expected to be there for my family. Not having any extended families nearby we have to try and cope ourselves and find a support group. Through joining the group it helps to feel not so alone and hopefully make new friends. Somehow, I have to rewrite my address book and it taught me who are really my true friends.

  12. Wow. All I can say is 2012 is the year I have been waiting for since 2006. I don’t desire to throw arrows either; but is there room for Truth? I loved your quote of Scripture – “faith without works”; my perfect rendition of our situation as we were faced with the bloodiest, most vicious attack against us, our family of What Would Jesus Do failed us. Our family who never backed up from our $$$ in tithes, donations, hours of volunteer service failed us miserably. It would be the Good Samaritan, the one who we least expected, who we never financially supported that not only supported us during our initial days of tragedy but now 5 1/2 years later still support us. The day our world stood still, they stood still with us. Their positions, crops and prestige was not their focus. Our need, and only our need was their focus. For anyone new to the Grief Journey, please open your arms to those you least expected as they will be your support system for years to come. Richerd’s Mom

  13. I have been amazed at how sensitive I am in grief and what things people say that hurt or annoy me. At least I believe I have learned a little about keeping my own mouth closed and offering others going through grief quiet hugs and my presence.

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