As a certified Christian counselor who has counseled several clients on grief, depression, marriage, and engagements, (and a former GriefShare facilitator), I completely understand the need to focus on the feelings that are presented to me. I listened. I sought to understand where they were coming from and even focused on what they were NOT saying. Most of my clients were eager to hear a kind word or two. In my case, I loved to hug and hug I did. They needed to feel and be comforted by someone who could provide some form of solace during their time of mourning. If not properly counseled, grief and death can have an everlasting impact on loved ones to the point of no return.
Although there is no set time period for grief, death is final and thus, our ‘grief alarms’ commences (my self-definition of a reminder of an event, place or action from your loved one that occurred in a certain setting or location).
It took me a while before I could walk through the men’s clothing aisle at Belk, let alone shop at Walmart. So, imagine hearing a rather familiar and popular voice relay an unexpected and unsympathetic form of condolence during a time of mourning. I could only imagine the potential grief alarms that have now been inaugurated into the minds of Mrs. Myeshia Johnson, her children and her family during such an impactful and high-profile moment while grieving the loss of her husband, Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
The phone call.
Serving our country matters. Why? Although a choice, we need soldiers and officers to go to battle for us on and off the field to fight the enemy and to act as responders to natural calamities.
Death matters. Why? Because it’s the finality of someone’s life; they can’t be brought back. So we have to cope with the memories, the counseling, the tears and the various stages of grief as it affects our well-being just to get us by until we see them again.
The delivery of condolences matter. Why? We are in a fragile state during mourning, and you never know what response you will receive as a result of your crushing words. Reactions such as – a cold shoulder, a cursing out or a full-fledged explosion of tears and moaning could take off at any given time. Your compassion matters.
As the founder of Black Women Widows Empowered, a nonprofit organization serving online and face-to-face support groups, I hear and see it all. I hear the stories of how living without their beloved husbands changes their life completely. I see the raw, unfiltered emotions, and I have to act accordingly, whether online, offline, in private or in a group setting. Compassion matters.
I posed a simple question to my online support group and asked their opinion of what would they have done if they were in Mrs. Johnson’s shoes. These are some of the responses that I received:
"Our sister shouldn't have to deal with this so publicly. It's just wrong on so many levels. But, the fact that folks think they can say any ole’ thing and get a pass steams my peas."
"At that moment, he would have found out how extensive my vocabulary is. Then, I would have cried my eyes out."
"I’ve been thinking of this ALL morning! That was very disrespectful. Also, I have a son who serves this country as an officer in the Air Force, and I AM heated!"
"I would have declined his call."
"My son is in the military, so I can imagine what Mrs. Johnson felt. My response would’ve been this: Yes. My son knew what he signed up for. He knew that in serving his country, he could die...Unlike you, whose privilege got you multiple deferments so you would not have to serve in Vietnam and possibly die for your country. Yes; my son knew what he signed up for. It’s too bad you do NOT.”
"I don't have any words."
"I would have just hung up."
"He didn't even say his name."