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Before Lev died, when I didn’t know what to say or do, I stayed away. I went to the service. I sent flowers or a donation. I wrote a note. But I learned the hard way that the ministry of presence is the greatest gift that one can give someone who is grieving. Just be there. Give a hug. Lend a hand. Share a meal. Listen. Don’t give advice. Don’t tell a grieving person how to grieve or when to move on. Each person’s grief is unique, and that person is the only expert.

In the past six years, I have realized that so much of what I assumed about grief simply isn’t true. I had new, experiential understanding of the whole grief process; but I was in search of something more factual, scientific, analytical. As I have been writing this last year, I have conducted many Google searches. I stumbled upon the terms uncomplicated and complicated grief. I had lots of questions, so I sat down to talk with Dr. Helen Harris, a grief specialist, a few weeks ago.

She explained that uncomplicated grief is when death is expected, when the relationship is good, when you had a chance to say goodbye. And recovery takes two to five years. When death is sudden, unexpected, traumatic, when it’s a child, when the relationship is disrupted, recovery is five to seven years.

At least in white, Protestant America, we have few rituals for mourning after the first month to six weeks. After the service, the flowers, the notes and the casseroles, everyone else moves on. Just as the shock and numbness wear off, you’re terribly, terribly alone. Everything about every day is different. You need people.

Grief is not a simple, one-dimensional experience. According to Dr. Charles A. Corr, it has at least four dimensions:

  • Physical—The immune system is compromised. Wellness matters.
  • Psychological—Cognition is often impaired for weeks or even months, and you’re on an emotional roller-coaster. I remember too well the haziness and craziness of that first year.
  • Social—Friendships are altered. People you counted on aren’t there for you.
  • Spiritual—There are the questions: Where is God when I’m hurting? Why, God?

You and I may not have the words to say. Just being there is enough.