Book Review: A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help by Ginny Callaway

IMG_0587In a gift shop, alongside books about local lore and tourist information, I recently found a book on grief written by an author who practically lives right in my own backyard, so to speak. The book is entitled “A Friend in Grief, Simple Ways to Help” by Ginny Callaway and is a Next Generation Indie Book Award winner. Since I always keep an eye out for helpful books on grieving to read and recommend, I picked it up.

The first thing I look for when reading a book on grief written by a bereaved parent is how much time has passed since the death of the child. In my opinion, a lot of perspective and practical wisdom can be gained with time. If a book is written by an “expert” (as in psychologist, etc.), I look to see whether the author’s experience is clinical or experiential. To me, it makes a lot of difference whether an author has walked in similar shoes and how long he or she walked in those shoes. This book was written by Ms. Callaway in 2011, 22 years after her 10 year-old daughter died in a car accident. She states that the book is written from her “experiences as a grieving mother and from…suggestions of more than 100 people…who have first-hand experience with the death of a loved one.” (p. 15)

IMG_0588A Friend in Grief is a small book which I found to be very well-written and very readable. Each chapter is brief, to the point, and contains specific helpful suggestions. The Content page is also helpful in that it lists each chapter title and briefly states what the reader will find in each chapter.

Ms. Callaway starts off the book with an introduction telling the circumstances of her daughter’s death, followed by the first chapter which tells the reader how this book could help. Ms. Callaway says, “Most people feel ill-equipped and awkward when faced with a friend’s grief. We want to be supportive, but we don’t know how…Our society doesn’t provide us with much guidance on how to go to our neighbor’s door…Instead, we stay behind our own door, peeking out the window, when we really want to reach out.” (p. 14) She then encourages the reader to step forward instead of stepping away. “There is a rewarding aspect in comforting your grieving friend. As you put aside your own fears and self-consciousness and put an arm around someone in need, your fears will drop away and you will feel better about yourself.” (p. 14)

In the chapter on “What to Say that Is Kind and Helpful,” Ms. Callaway says:

I always thought my words to a grieving friend needed to have a certain power, be meaningful and make everything better. I sincerely wanted to say the “right” thing, to be the one with the memorable words of wisdom to make the problem go away…The real question is: Can I really do or say anything that will make my friend feel good and make everything better? The answer is no. There are no magic words…It’s important for us to let go of these unrealistic, self-imposed expectations that keep us from reaching out when we are so needed…Our role is to be the friend, no a counselor. Friends are there without being asked, to help do everyday things and to listen. It’s as simple and as powerful as that. (p. 30)

Just a side note…I’ve pondered this difficult situation many times – that of stepping forward into grief or stepping away when someone we know has lost a dearly loved one – and I’ve sort of settled on the following theory. When someone we know has lost a loved one, we do what we know to do immediately following the death. We send flowers or a a gift or a card. We go to the funeral or memorial service. We tell the bereaved how sorry we are and that we are praying for them or thinking of them. We sign up to make a meal for the bereaved. After that, there are crucial times that set the path for our continued relationship with the griever.

The first crucial time is not long after the first few weeks. Awkwardness steps in, the initial “action” tasks are done, and then we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to say. When the initial activity is done, what do we do then? Do we step forward…or do we step away? Do we walk alongside the griever…or do we cross to the other side of the street (or down the next aisle in the grocery store), hoping we haven’t been seen, to avoid contact? Do we disappear or do we support? It’s not easy to step forward into grief. It’s awkward. It’s not very pretty. It’s fearful. But, I think that once that fear has been conquered and the effort made, the stepping forward on a continual basis becomes a bit easier and, as Ms. Callaway says, becomes rewarding. It takes a lot of guts and it takes a dedication of time, but it can be well worth the effort. We feel better about ourselves and that becomes self-perpetuating. The result is that the griever feels loved and supported.

The opposite is true, too. When we avoid the griever and disappear, we feel guilty and bad about our behavior towards the bereaved. We know we’ve avoided them; they know we’ve avoided them. Then what do we do? We feel even more awkward and fearful, don’t know how to step forward, and that becomes self-perpetuating, too, on our part. As time goes by, it becomes even harder to break the cycle and step forward. The result is that the griever feels hurt, abandoned and alone. Perhaps if we put aside some of our “unrealistic, self-imposed expectations,” it would be easier to step forward.

This becomes self-perpetuating on the part of the bereaved, too. I’ve written extensively about how many people disappeared and how little support we had following Jason’s death. For me, I had a hard time believing that the person who called me once every three or six months to “see how I was doing” (when I didn’t hear from him or her at all in between) actually cared. I felt like I was free-falling into a pitch-black pit and there was no one there to reach out and help stop my fall. I quit trusting in friendships very much and built walls around my heart to protect it from further hurt, and I would periodically peek out from behind those walls. I think I realized those walls were not healthy, and I tried reaching out. When I did try to reach out to people I knew, it was not always successful. I sometimes felt like I got my hand slapped. I felt rejected because of my grief…and the other person’s fear and awkwardness. I would then pull back behind my walls to protect myself and my heart. It’s a hard cycle to break once it’s set.

There are other crucial times when we can choose to step forward. As I said above, I realized the walls I had put up to protect my heart were not healthy for me. When the bereaved reaches out at a later time, we once again have an opportunity to choose whether to step forward or step back. I had one friend who, months after Jason died, sent me an email to apologize for disappearing. I was so relieved that someone finally “got it” that it was hard to see people disappear from our lives. But, then I didn’t hear from her again for a long time, and that was really hard for me. I also got a letter from a gal about a year after Jason died, apologizing for avoiding me because she didn’t know what to say. I appreciated the apology, but I didn’t hear anything else from her. With so many people in the same boat – awkward and avoiding us – who was there to step forward?

Another crucial time is down the road. You have walked with your friend for a while. You are getting tired of your friend being so sad all the time, are tired of hearing the same old stories over and over again as your friend tries to work through her grief, and feel like it’s time for her to move on…or maybe you feel like it’s time for you to move on. What do you do? I ran into a fellow bereaved parent ten years after Jason died. I felt like she had adequate support following the death of her child, both immediately and the continued years. I was surprised when she told me that, now that she was ready to “do things,” there was no one left. The people that had offered support initially grew weary and tired of waiting for her to “move on,” so they had moved on themselves. Her support base had moved on without her, and she didn’t have friends to do anything with. It’s hard to be there for the long haul. If some people feel like they need to move one, hopefully there will be others who step forward.

Back to the book review…Each chapter is concise, giving helpful suggestions on what to do and what not to do in order to help the bereaved. Ms. Callaway dedicates chapters on helping a returning co-worker and how the medical community can be supportive. Some chapters, such as the one entitled “Immediately After The Death,” give a checklist of helpful suggestions, and the Resources section at the back of the book not only lists groups to contact, but also repeats these checklists.

Ms. Callaway dedicates a chapter to ways to help during the first year. She points out obvious days, such as the deceased’s birthday or a holiday, but also makes suggestions to think of the less obvious times. “Other days may be more subtle, like your friend’s birthday. Often the few days before an anniversary date or special day can be especially taxing, sometimes more than the actual day itself.” (p. 71)

The chapter on “In the Future: Holidays and Anniversary Dates” is only two pages long, but encourages the reader to be the one who notices and remembers.

For the person in pain…the grief remains…Life is still difficult and support is still needed. The year of firsts will pass, but every year thereafter, the same birthdays, death dates, anniversaries and holidays will happen again. Though the punch they pack will gradually lessen, these “special” days will always be there to be remembered and acknowledged. (p. 72-73)

Remember. Remember. Remember. Keep remembering. Tell your friend what you remember. Write down what your memories to give to your friend if you aren’t comfortable talking about them. Give your friend pictures of her child that she may not have. It makes a lot of difference. One gal sent me a card on the anniversary of Jason’s death. It meant so much to me, and I realized one year I was looking forward to getting her card. Unfortunately, that was the year she quit sending them.

Ms. Callaway’s husband, musician David Holt, finishes the book by writing a chapter for the bereaved, entitled “A Roadmap for the Grieving.” He offers some helpful suggestions to the bereaved on what to expect and how to help oneself during this time. It also is concise, but offers some good things to remember.

I would recommend this book to both the bereaved and friends. As I said at the beginning, it’s short, well-written and easily readable in one sitting. It encourages proactive behavior, giving the reader specific suggestions and reasons to step forward instead of away. I think the premise of the book can be summarized in the last paragraph in the chapter on “In the Future”: “Reaching out can feel infinitely difficult. But if you stop and think for one minute what a hard time your friend is having, it will seem easy for you to pick up a pen, make a call, or pay a visit.” (p. 73) It bears repeating: As difficult a time as you are having, it pales by comparison to what your friend is going through. Stepping forward can make all the difference in the world. If not you, then who???

© 2013 Rebecca R. Carney

Work Cited:
Callaway, Ginny. A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help. Fairview, NC: High Windy Press, 2011.

Being present for those who deeply grieve

In the years since Jason died, I’ve read many “do’s and don’ts” lists in articles and books written concerning how to help the grieving. I’ve even written about how to help those who deeply grieve. Without a doubt, I think all of these lists and writings help and give understanding and insight.

As I read a blog this morning about being present for those who grieve, though, I started thinking that if I had to state how to help a person who is deeply grieving in only two sentences, this is what I would say: Be short on words, long on presence and compassion. Don’t offer an explanation; offer your heart.

That is the essence, the distillation, the easy-to-remember nugget, the “advice in a nutshell” for helping those who deeply grieve. If someone is in the situation of needing/wanting to help someone who is grieving, I hope s/he will take time to fully read the helpful “do and don’t” lists, but will use these two short sentences as a trigger or reminder of how to help.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Why I’m thankful that the cyberworld is at my fingertips

A mere click of a button...
(image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/)

This morning, as I was reading a blog concerning grief following the death of a loved one, I realized that I was feeling thankful for the cyberworld that is now available at my fingertips. The amount of information that can be reached by a mere click of a button is amazing. I’m probably dating myself quite a bit here, but sometimes I find the internet a truly interesting phenomenon.

After Jason died, I reached a point where I wanted answers – answers to my questions, answers to what “typical” or “normal” grieving looked like, answers to why I felt the way I did and how long my grief would last. I did what I knew how to do and in the way it was done at the time.

I scoured the shelves at the local libraries (to check out) and at our local Barnes & Noble (to purchase) for books on grief and on the death of a child, even though I was acutely aware that I was physically a mess, that my eyes were red and puffy from crying, and that I might break into tears at the drop of a hat while reading a book synopsis. I searched the library archives for magazine articles. I tried to find a grief support group that was a good fit (never did find one). I tried to reach out to others who had lost a child by talking about what I was feeling, by writing emails and making phone calls – all in an effort to find encouragement that I would make it through and that I would survive this horrible loss. I tried to create whatever type of support I could find. I wrote an article for our homeschool newsletter in an effort to encourage/promote understanding and support for bereaved parents.

All in all, it took a lot of physical, trial-and-error searching for helpful resources when I didn’t have a lot of energy (truly, I was a mess!) Although there were some books written on grief that I would consider excellent resources, it was generally not a topic about which much was written in comparison to the need.

A world at my fingertips
(Image from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images)

Now, there are many more resources so easily available without even leaving the comfort of our homes. A bereaved parent (or those who wish to support a bereaved parent) can go online to find information, book reviews, helpful resources, download “how to help” booklets, or order resources shipped right to the front door. A bereaved parent can find a virtual community of support and encouragement where there may be none presently available in his or her own backyard. (I’m certainly not suggesting the cyberworld replace the real world when it comes to truly supporting a bereaved parent, just that it can be a resource should none be available.)

The Compassionate Friends has a wonderful website full of helpful resources. Libraries have links to extensive electronic resources (with a library card) that can be accessed from home. Amazon and other sites have extensive book reviews and suggested further reading lists. If I had a Kindle or Nook, I could instantly download a book on grief from wherever I happened to be. I can Google “death of a child” (or whatever the topic may be) and find many, many articles to read until I find something that applies to my given situation.

There are many wonderfully written and insightful blogs by bereaved parents, giving those “outside” an “inside” view of the world of lost children. I am so thankful for the bereaved parents who take the time and make the effort to write about their experiences online. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing to do, especially about something so personal. These blogs contain a wealth of information and encouragement for those who will take the time to read. Sure, you may have to sift through stuff (books, blogs, articles etc.) sometimes to find the gems, but I am thankful for the increasing awareness on the topic of grief because of these resources. I am thankful that so many have the courage to speak up, to no longer allow grief to be swept under the carpet as a taboo topic.

Yep. I’m of a certain age where the cyberworld can still amaze me…and I am thankful for this electronic resource, education tool, and connector to others who grieve.

And I am especially thankful to each of you “out there” who enrich my life by your writing.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

Blog Recommendation – Cora’s Story

As a bereaved parent, especially one trying to promote understanding of what it’s like to be “on this side of the fence,” I notice and appreciate helpful resources. I’d like to recommend taking a look at Kristine Brite McCormick’s blog, Cora’s Story. Kristine has written a free eBook, When a Friend’s Baby Dies, that contains not only helpful suggestions following the death of baby, but also contains suggestions applicable following the death of a child. I highly recommend downloading and reading her eBook and her entries.

© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney

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

Hope

Our pastor preached on hope this past Sunday. I like our pastor. He’s funny. He gets his message across without condemning. He’s real. He’s also a bereaved parent, and that carries some weight with me.

But, it got me to thinking about hope. It’s what all of us, especially as bereaved parents, want. We want the “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” that old hymn talks about.

There are many things I believe and know. I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe that Jesus was born, died, and was raised again so that I could have eternal life. I know that Jason was a Christian and that I will see him again. I know that all of my questions will be answered when I see God. I know that, although I see through a dark glass now, someday I will understand. Someday all my tears will be wiped away.

Here on earth, though, sometimes I struggle. I have had a long struggle with my faith since Jason died. Research has shown that many bereaved parents question and examine their spiritual beliefs following the death of a child. I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason after I had prayed and prayed for our kids, their lives, and their protection. I don’t know why we’ve had to walk this long, lonely, difficult path. I have had a long struggle believing the validity of fellow Christians actually being the hands and feet of God on this earth and getting into the trenches to help those who deeply grieve. I have questioned the concept of the church as a hospital for the wounded. I didn’t go to church for a while. It was just too hard. It’s taken me a long time to allow myself to “hope” again.

I can’t deny what we have experienced or what we have seen with our own eyes. It’s been a rough journey; that’s a fact. I would have to acknowledge that, for the most part, fellow Christians and the church failed us miserably after Jason died. On my part, I was extremely hurt and reacted by pulling even farther away. I built up a protective wall around my heart and hunkered down behind it.

Was that the right thing to do? I don’t know. In retrospect, probably not. There are many things I would do differently if I had to do them again. I did what I knew how to do  and what I had the energy to do at the time. That’s all any of us can do.

But, I don’t want to convey a hopelessness to others who may be early on in their grief. My experiences are not be the same as yours. There is so much more information available for helping those who deeply grieve. You are not alone. You will make it through. You are stronger than you know. Reach out to others. You may be surprised who reaches back. Others have walked a similar path before you. Those who have suffered a great loss generally have a deeper, more empathetic outlook on life. They survived; you will, too.

More than anything, though, I want to encourage those surrounding grievers to be proactive. Do something! You can make a difference! I want to encourage those in the church to look outside of their own group of friends or acquaintances to see if there is someone new or someone who is hurting. Someone may need more than your shaking their hand “good morning.” You can give hope by small acts of kindness…but you have to be involved with them beyond a perfunctory smile to do that.

It’s easy to stay within our comfort zones. We are creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same place at church or hang out with the same friends. We like to be around people we know. We go to lunch with the same people, go to the same Bible studies, attend the same social events. But maybe there is someone new who needs a friend or just a kind word. Maybe there is someone right in front of you who needs some hope. Are you unintentionally excluding someone who may need a glimmer of hope?

My dad used to joke about people who would pray, “God bless me, my wife, my son John and his wife. Us four, no more. Amen.” He wanted to encourage others (and especially “us kids”) to realize that there are more people that God wants to bless besides those within our own little circles…and he may want to use you to do it.

I have long contemplated how I can best help those who grieve. I have a “helper” personality and am strongly empathetic. How can I best help? I’m still trying to figure that out. Maybe this blog is one of my attempts to do just that.

I realize friendships and relationships take a while to grow. It takes time to connect. But there has to be a reciprocal desire by both parties. I may have a need to reach out to you and I may make the effort to do that; but if you don’t see me reaching out and reach back, there’s no chance for a connection. There’s no chance for a relationship. There’s no chance to encourage or give hope to someone who may need it.

Does that make sense?

There may be people around us reaching out for friendship, for hope, for encouragement. Do we see them? Do we take the time to notice? Do we take time to share some hope?

I subscribe to GriefShare and receive “A Season of Grief” daily emails from them. The last few have encouraged those who grieve to find support in a local church. Are we, as a church, prepared to do that? There are people, in their deep grief, looking to us for hope. Are we ready to show them hope – “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow”? Are we, by our actions, ready to show them the God of all hope?

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:14-18)

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

I don’t want to be so heavenly minded I’m no earthly good

From my journal dated October 5, 2002:

Janice M. stopped by the other day before heading up to Whistler for a few days with their son and three of Jason’s other friends. The last time they went up skiing Jason went with them. She told us she is concerned that a lot of the “kids” still haven’t dealt with Jason’s and Alina’s deaths.

I talked to Jenna some about that today. She said that she is aware that she hasn’t dealt with Jason’s death, either, and that she distracts herself from dealing with it by staying busy with school, work, dance. I guess I see it as a good sign that she’s aware that she does it. I guess I do the same thing to some extent…I just don’t have as much to keep me busy. I don’t know how to deal with it, so I just keep on walking and doing what I know how to do.

Jenna’s theory is this: Christians don’t handle bad around them as well as non-Christians. She said that Christians feel like no bad should happen to them and that they should always be happy. They don’t know what to do when something horrendous like Jason’s and Alina’s deaths happen. They have to mostly ignore it. She said non-Christians are more used to bad things happening so they are better equipped and less afraid to deal with it.

Maybe her perception comes from the lack of support from Christians we know or the fact that non-Christians have done more (like arranging the Westin getaway), said more compassionate things to us now and then, or avoided us less when they see us. The Christians we know have caused her a lot of heartache on top of Jason’s death. It’s no wonder she’s questioning her faith.

I know there’s a general feeling that Christians put on a “show” sometimes that everything is okay even if it’s not…and that Christians sometimes shoot their wounded. We don’t want people to know we struggle…we don’t want to be judged for a lack of faith. We get tired of other people struggling…can’t they just move on already?

But Christians shouldn’t be so insulated from the world or things that happen here, within the Christian community, should we? Should we be so insulated from how things affect people, both Christian and non-Christian, that we are impotent when “bad” things happen? We don’t know what to do so we ignore it…and them.

If we expect God to heal the hearts of the grieving and brokenhearted (especially when it’s over an extended period of time) and that lets us off the hook, then what are we here for?? If we stand back and adopt the attitude that it’s all up to God and we aren’t really required to do anything to meet the needs of the grieving and brokenhearted, then what good are we to this hurting world? If God is supposed to take care of it all, then He wouldn’t need us to witness, to pray for others, to feed the poor, to help the hurting. He wouldn’t need us for anything!

Do we think of the “mission field” – of those needing help or ministry – as some far off land where we probably will never go? Those poor people over there somewhere. What about those within our acquaintance and sphere of influence that we are supposed to be helping…those we have the ability to help if we only made the time? What about those right in our line of sight who are bent over with burdens or grief? Who comes along side of them and holds up their hands until the battle is won?

Are we so concerned, as Christians, about insulating ourselves and our families against the influence of the world that we are no influence in it?? Are we so focused on making sure we are blessed – that God is helping us, protecting us, guiding us, whatever we want Him to do for us – that we are ignoring those around us? Are we so heavenly minded we’re no earthly good, as the saying goes?

This whole lack of support thing has bothered me, and I have struggled with it a lot. I have felt abandoned and alone. But it bothers me a whole lot more to see how it’s affected my family – Joe, Jenna, Eric. It’s like a physical pain to see my family hurting. It bothers me when Debra* proudly tells me how her daughter used Jason’s death as a platform for speaking on a youth mission trip…and yet the daughter (who has known Jenna since they were 1) does nothing for my precious daughter. I hate to see Eric (who hasn’t been to church in a long time) reaching out to a Christian mentor…only to have a “too busy” schedule take precedence.

Oh, God! Forgive me when I’ve responded that way. Help me to remember, to notice, to act, to help! I don’t want to be like that any more.