Charlie Walton wrote this book some time after the tragic deaths of two of his three sons and begins by saying, “Someone who loves you a lot wants desperately to lesson your pain. They are yearning for some magic words..for a few concise, over-the-counter phrases…that can encapsulate all of human wisdom and explain away the pain you are feeling since part of you has been ripped away without benefit of anesthesia. But….there are no words.“
He shares that saying “I am so sorry” is the truth and it’s direct, but it makes the speaker feel as if what they said is not effective. What someone who has not been in your shoes does not realize is that their words don’t register in your mind anyway. What is most important to the ones who are grieving is that they came. No words are necessary and all that needs to be said can be communicated in the presence of the comforter, the look, the touch, and yes, the shared silence.
To the one who is grieving a loss Charlie writes, “You might as well know that you’re going to have to carry the full weight of this load. There is a sense in which others will do what they can to bear your burden….but you are the only person on the earth who can carry this one. You’re the only one who is going to deal with it twenty-four hours a day. When the others have cried themselves to sleep, you’ll still be awake. When they are beginning to sigh and shake their heads and return to their lives, you’ll still be searching for someone in charge……” You have to carry the whole load. The straps on this pack fit your shoulders only. You are going to have to carry your burden the full distance. No short cuts. No magic slogans from posters or bumper stickers to suddenly ‘snap you out of it’ “.
One of the things that I read in this book that was very, very freeing to me was that my natural response to grief is the right response for me. It doesn’t matter what other people are thinking about the way that I am grieving. It’s my grief and my grief alone and whatever works for me is right. I don’t have to try to do what others expect of me or what others would considerate appropriate.
Charlie talks about the invisible hands of grief that hang a pair of invisible blocks on your shoulders that make it possible to breathe, but not to breathe deeply. Your legs and your lungs are heavy and you tire easily.
The author encourages you to allow people to do things for you because there really are no words that they can say. They need to be busy doing something for you. He discusses how the most blessed assignment people and even family members were given generations ago was to go to the cemetery and dig the grave and how very healing that was.
Chapter seven deals with the dumb things that people say to us not realizing how those words affect us – especially the group who rush forward with spiritual advice and cliches – “….it is insensitive and unrealistic for a well-wisher to propose to a grieving person that..because God is all powerful…they should not continue to grieve. Sadness, despair, rage, loneliness–even moments of vengeful fantasies–are as natural as God’s creation. The best thing you can do for yourself..and for your long-term relationship with those who seek to comfort…is to turn off the sound…..consciously decide to hear what they were trying to communicate…rather than what they say.”
One method of communication that worked the best with Charlie during his time of grief was the hug. Several people gave him big, long hugs that totally engulfed him and let him know that they knew there were no words to say, but they wanted him to know how very deeply they felt for him in his grief.
There are so many more great things in this book, but it ends with the several things the author prays for the reader: “that you will be honest with yourself…letting out what is within you..and refusing to govern your ways of grieving by what you think others might be expecting that you ought to do; that you will allow your loved ones the same right to their own ways of grieving…never assuming that they should want to cry when you feel like crying…or talk when you feel like talking…or sit and stare when you want to, etc.”
I would have to say that this is one of the best guide books for those who want to comfort those who are grieving as well as for those who are going through their own grief journey. It’s very concise, yet easy to read when you are in that grief fog.
Thank you, Charlie, for saying what I haven’t been able to say to others and for sharing your own grief with us.