Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his twenty-five-year-old son, Eric, in a mountain climbing accident in Austria. In the classic memoir Lament for a Son, he points out that part of the pain grief entails is the profound loneliness it produces.
“I have been daily grateful,” he says, “for the friend who remarked that grief isolates. He did not mean only that I, grieving, am isolated from you, happy. He meant also that shared grief isolates the sharers from each other. Though united in that we are grieving, we grieve differently. As each death has its own character, so too each grief over a death has its own character—its own inscape. The dynamics of each person’s sorrow must be allowed to work themselves out without judgment. . . .
“There’s something more: I must struggle so hard to regain life that I cannot reach out to you. Nor you to me. The one not grieving must touch us both.”1
I remember losing my sixteen-year-old sister many years ago. She died instantly in an automobile crash. I realize now that neither my parents nor my brothers were able to comfort me because they were crushed by the burden of their own grief. What helped me most were friends who came alongside, offering small gifts, invitations to go out, and ears to listen when I felt ready to speak.
If you have suffered a traumatic loss, whether a death, an illness, or the loss of your livelihood, be patient with those around you who are also grieving, realizing that their way of dealing with loss may be different from yours.
If you know someone who is suffering right now, ask God to show you how to be the “one not grieving” who is able to touch them in a way that brings his peace.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 56, 26.