Mourning with those who mourn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  Romans 12:15

Tomorrow I will be conducting another funeral.  That seems to come with the territory when you are a hospice chaplain.  And no doubt there will be tears shed at the service.  There should be.  God created us with emotions and the ability to grieve.  I believe that is one of His gifts to us.

But have you ever stood beside someone who was grieving and didn’t quite know what to say our do?  These are just a few suggestions that I would pass on from my experiences in the past few months.

1.  You don’t need to say anything; you just need to be there.

2.  Don’t tell them that time will heal and that they will feel better down the road.  While that is probably true, a person who is grieving really isn’t concerned about 6 months from now.  He’s just trying to make it through today.  This is not the time to find the proverbial silver lining.  This is the time to agree with them that sometimes life stinks.

3.  Encourage them to talk.  Most people need to express themselves – and no, they really aren’t complaining.  They’re just trying to verbally work through the angst that they are feeling.  And they may say the same things day after day.  Just listen.  And then listen again.

4.  Check back with them in a month.  At first family and friends surround people with lots of support, but then they return to their routine and forget about the person who is still grieving.  Refuse to lose track of them.  (In hospice we follow up with families for another 13 months.)

5.  Give the person time.  Grieving is not a quick process for most.  It’s a lot of “3 steps forward; 2 steps back” type of progress.  And when you are working with a grieving person you might want to let them know that relapses are normal and not to get frustrated.

6.  Be a part of their “new normal.”  Their lives will never, ever be the same again.  They might be better; maybe not.  They will certainly be different.  I call it their “new normal.”  At first they may not let you be a part, but patiently hang in there.  They may need you.

7.  Realize that grieving is the result of a loss.  In hospice that loss is generally a death, but people can grieve other things as well – the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a dream, the loss of an ability.  People who experience extreme loss of any type will likely grieve.  Don’t let them grieve alone.

8.  Pray for them – and tell them that you are.  But don’t say it unless you really are.  The words “I have been praying for you” mean more than most people realize.

9.  If a person has lost a loved one, encourage them to talk about that loved one.  Maybe they have pictures they can show you.  Maybe they have some favorite memories that they can relate.  Help them keep the memories alive.  Maybe you have a memory yourself that you can share.

10.  Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right.  Just communicate that you care.  And then communicate it again.


What about the change?

Change is at the same time one of the most welcome and unwelcome parts of life.  We love change because of the variety it brings.  We hate change because it upsets our familiar routines.  We love change because it offers us a better way to do things.  We hate change because just when we learn how to do something we find ourselves having to learn a new way.  But all in all, change is good.

Organizations thrive on change. While the status quo may feel comfortable, the truth is that the world is changing, and if the organization is going to be relevant, it will have to change as well.

From my vantage point there are three types of change.

1.  Core change.  This involves changes at the bottom level.  They may be changes that affect systems or values or identity, but these changes will redirect the course of the organization, program or project.

2.  Cosmetic change.  This involves change on the surface level.  And often these are good changes as they make something better without requiring too much risk or investment.  These are small adjustments that while they may not change the DNA do change the way that people feel about things.

3.  Unnecessary change.  This involves changing things simply for the sake of changing things.  Nothing is broken, but for some reason someone feels the need to fix it.

Core changes are the hardest to make.  They require providing ample time for people to sort through their thinking and feelings on a matter.  Communication becomes vital as people must be convinced of the vision before they will embrace taking an action that will create a “new normal” for them.  The process is delicate and the stakes are high – but these changes also have the most potential for high impact.  If you want to make a core change you had better do your homework AND get the bulk of the people on board.

Cosmetic changes are much easier to make.  In any situation some simple improvements can usually be found and implemented. And these provide both good feelings and a sense of momentum.  Things feel new and fresh.  People are energized and excited.  This is a great place to build some positive buzz.

Unnecessary changes typically look like cosmetic changes – but they have the opposite effect.  They don’t excite people; rather they tend to annoy people as the change feels more like an inconvenience than a good idea.  When people don’t feel like something is amiss they’re usually not particularly pumped about fixing it.  Unnecessary changes on a core level can be devastating.

The challenge of leadership is to know what kind of change you are talking about.  If it is core change, proceed with care.  If it is cosmetic change, get after it – but just make sure that you haven’t miscalculated.  If the followers see the change as unnecessary, it’s going to cost the leader.

Mornings at Panera

This is my new morning routine.

1.  I get up, shower, get dressed.
2.  I eat a couple of bowls of cereal, then pack my lunch.
3.  I pray with Kelly (most mornings).
4.  I drive 50 miles to work and use that time to think about…well, not much of anything (it’s too early to think).
5.  I stop at Panera on the “Hill.”

The “Hill” is the nickname of the shopping plaza down the street from my office.      I try to get started early enough to weather the traffic and still make it for my Panera time.

I’ve become a regular – like the older couple who always sit at the table right next to the counter; I guess it’s so that they can see everyone who comes in.  He always wears a tie.  I think it’s their big event of the morning. They can make a bagel and a coffee last a long time.

There are other regulars.  There’s a woman who usually sleeps in the middle booth on the one side.  There are the father and son (I’m assuming here) who meet every morning for their coffee and conversation.  And there’s me.

I don’t come for the coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker (that’s a bit of a sore spot with my wife, too).   And since I come with two bowls of cereal under my belt, I don’t ever buy a bagel.  It seems that I’m just a free loader taking advantage of a place to hang out in the space.  But the real reason I come is to meet someone.

Panera is now the place where God and I get together in the morning.  After an hour in the car and bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-96, I’m pretty much awake.  So I’m ready to have some serious conversation with the Father.  Usually I write a few notes in my journal.  Then I pray.  And I read my Bible some.  And I try to listen.

As of now we don’t have a favorite booth – but still it’s our place.   And I love having a place.  It used to be the living room couch (there was no Panera on my used-to-be 1-mile commute); now it’s the bread store.  And I look forward to getting there every morning.  When the traffic is light – that’s even better.  That means a few extra minutes to spend with God.  I walk in the door and feel like God is waiting there for me.

Have you ever noticed how people in the Bible seemed to find places where they connected with God?  Abraham found a place on Mount Moriah.  Jacob?  His place was Bethel.  Moses had his desert place and his burning bush.  Jesus seemed to have his places, too, like the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love the idea of having a rendezvous with God.  A place where we can just sit down and visit.  A place that can be ours.  A place that reminds me that I have a God who loves to spend time with me.

Saying goodbye

Yesterday thousands of people traveled to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.  But they didn’t go to see a game – they went to say good bye.  To Ernie Harwell.

To anyone who is a sports fan, particularly a baseball fan, Ernie Harwell is likely a familiar name.  But he was not a player.  He was the broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.  For over 50 years he called their games on radio and TV.  Chances are you have probably heard his voice even though most of his work was on a local and not a national basis.

Ernie Harwell was a great baseball announcer, but other great broadcasters have passed on without the outpouring of affection that Harwell received.  But I think that’s because he wasn’t just a great announcer, he was a great person.  Everybody respected him.  Everybody liked him.   No one had anything bad to say about him.  It wasn’t what he did that made him so popular; it was who he was.

Ernie Harwell was also a man of faith, a Christ-follower.

The Detroit News offered this quote:

[Tiger General Manager] Dombrowski said Harwell and team officials met in September about a viewing or memorial. Dombrowski said he has never seen a man so comfortable talking about his own death.

“I think it was because he knew where he was going,” Dombrowski joked during what was an otherwise somber press conference.

I’m not sure whether or not there’s baseball in heaven, but if there is I”m thinking Ernie Harwell might be calling his first game today.

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