Monday, December 10, 2018

In Grief: When Church Community Support Is Lacking

[Reviewed and updated March 18, 2021]

With all of the books, articles, videos and seminars available in the world, ignorance on the part of the church or the clergy is no longer defensible. They should know what to say. 
~ Doug Manning

A reader writes: I’m not sure if my feelings are valid or not and I need an outside source to help me with this. To make a long story short, our family has attended a church for around 5 years; this church runs an average attendance of between 500 – 600 people every week. We are very active with the youth group. My problem is that when my father died two months ago, I received only three cards (one very generic from the church, one emailed and one hand delivered), one phone call (from the pastor which was left on the answering machine) and the only two people who attended the viewing or the funeral (the pastor and youth pastor). No flower, food or any other kind of support was offered to us at all. My question is should I be hurt by this…because I am!!!!!!!!!!

I am having a very hard time with this…especially when I see others post thank you notes for all the wonderful support they have received when a loved one of theirs has passed away. It has been very hard for me to attend on Sunday mornings and youth activities on Sunday evenings since all this has taken place. I have been told to “let it go”, but I am having a real hard time with that.  I want to shout to anyone that will listen that I am hurting and in need of support, but the sad thing is…I don’t think they would care or even listen if I did.
Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. Thank you for listening.

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the death of your beloved father; please accept my deepest sympathy. I know how I felt when my own father died, and I can only imagine the depth of your pain. 

I'm also very sorry that your church community has not "been there" for you in your time of sorrow and need. You say you're not sure if your feelings about this are valid, and you ask if you should be hurt by this. Let me assure you that whatever you are feeling is valid, most especially when you are in mourning. As to whether you "should" or "shouldn't" feel the way you do, know that feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad ~ they just are ~ and we can't always help how we feel. I hasten to add that, if I were in your shoes, I would feel exactly the same way you are feeling now.

It may interest you to know that you are not alone in feeling let down by your church community at a time like this. See, for example, the outstanding article by Doug Manning, Why Don't They Know What to Say? I've also devoted an entire Links page to this topic on my Grief Healing website; there you'll find many articles that relate to this very issue. Just click on Helping Someone Who's Grieving, and follow some of the links that are listed there.

At some point when you feel more in control of your emotions, you may wish to write a letter to your pastor or youth pastor and say how you feel about all of this. Using some of the material you'll find in these articles, you might also include some suggestions as to what your church could have done / could do differently in the future, so that this won't happen to anyone else. Who knows? Perhaps one day you yourself could be the one to start a bereavement ministry / outreach program at your church. But right now, I think it's far too early in your grief journey to think about that.

For now, I encourage you to just tune in to how you are feeling about this; give yourself permission to express and sort out your feelings by finding someone you trust with whom you can talk about it (e.g., your spouse, friend, neighbor, fellow church member, grief support group); and do some reading to reassure yourself that you are not "crazy," you're not being petty or selfish, and you are absolutely right on to be feeling the way that you do.

You might try participating in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups for a while, just to put yourself among others whose experiences so closely match your own. This service is available to you at no cost, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and it includes a forum for Loss of a Parent. (I can assure you that you won't find a more caring, compassionate group of people anywhere.) Another alternative is to do some reading about grief as a process and see what others have written about mourning the death of a parent. I'm a firm believer in learning all you can about what is normal in grief, so you'll know better what to expect in the weeks and months ahead, and you'll know how better to manage your reactions. You'll find links to many related resources embedded in and listed at the base of the articles I've suggested below.

I hope this information proves helpful to you, my dear.  Please know that I am thinking of you at this sad and difficult time.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here


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