Bind up the Brokenhearted Ones

A few weeks ago at church we sang the hymn Arise, Your Light is Come! Verse 3 had the most wonderful phrase, “bind up the brokenhearted ones and comfort those who mourn.” This isn’t the point of this post but I would just like to state, for the record, that had we not sung all of the verses we would have missed this phrase. The actual point of this post is that that phrase got me thinking, what does it mean to bind up the brokenhearted ones.

Bind has multiple meanings, but I think this hymn is referencing the imagery of binding something up, aka wrapping it tightly, making it secure. I especially love this in relationship to grief. In early grief I felt completely shattered, like I was in pieces. I needed to be bound up-held together. But what does that look like? Yes it sounds nice to sing “bind up the brokenhearted ones” but how do we actually do that in real life?

Sketches from the Cave is an Instagram account that, among other excellent content, has a delightful series called, “things that legit help with grief” and they have an edition for each letter of the alphabet. Those suggestions range from gelato to quilts to counseling. Or even early morning walks, vacuuming, and mojitos. Nobody will be shocked to hear I fell more in the gelato, mojito, counseling camp and pretty far from the vacuuming camp. At this point you can see that binding up can look like basically anything.

All of those classic things that people know to do when confronted with someone in grief are good. I felt bound up when people came to my husbands funeral. I was bound up when a meal train was set up and food was delivered to my house. The seemingly endless delivery of cards, people who donated to organizations I cared about-all of that was good and helpful. The problem is that all of these things take place before and during the funeral and grief…lasts a lot longer than that. So what do you do next?

This is the part where we reiterate that everyone is different. I’m going to share some things that worked for me but let’s remember I am just me and definitely not representative of the general population. For example, one of the best things people could do for me was leave me alone. I needed to be alone to let myself fully feel what I was feeling, have a little, ok a big, breakdown (a necessary component of grief-in my opinion), and I needed to be alone to process everything. But I know many people who would not feel bound up by being left alone-in fact they would be pretty offended if you tried. Nobody needs to worry about me I wasn’t abandoned, I was simply given the space that I needed.

I’m not a particularly sappy person, I don’t love talking about my emotions-I prefer writing about them (hence the blog), so I didn’t want to talk about how I was feeling in different situations. But what was helpful was a simple acknowledgement-with no pressure to elaborate. For example, every year on family vacation the cousins take a couple hours one afternoon to visit a local brewery. The year after my husband died family vacation was especially difficult. I saw all of the other couples with their young babies and it was a very tangible reminder of a life I no longer had. One of my cousins leaned over to me and said something like, “I don’t know how much or how little you want to talk about it but we really miss him too.” A small, matter of fact reminder that you are seen and your pain isn’t forgotten.

A hallmark of my enneagram 8 self is that I have no problem being direct. Now I can acknowledge that sometimes it’s a little inappropriate. For example, a few weeks after my husband died my mom and I went to visit a friend and her newborn baby. I probably could’ve just said, “I would like a few more baby snuggles could I please hold the baby again.” Instead I went with, “I have a dead husband, I get more baby time now.” But my friends know that I appreciate directness so when my college friends got together for brunch one turned to me and said, ‘I’d like to ask the hard questions now, are you ready?” Other people may have volunteered that information, others would appreciate a more gradual lead in to the hard topics. But I appreciated the hard right turn followed by a series of rapid fire questions about how I was really doing.

At the end of her delightful book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler provides an appendix of things to say to people who are experiencing a tough time. I’d say they are appropriate for early or lingering grief. Here are some of her suggestions.

  1. “I’d love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?”
  2. “You are a beautiful person.”
  3. “I am so grateful to hear about how you’re doing and just know that I’m on your team.”
  4. Can I give you a hug?”
  5. “Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.”
  6. ***Silence***

When you felt broken hearted, what helped you feel bound up?

One thought on “Bind up the Brokenhearted Ones

  1. My great grandmother Kelso on my mothers side was a typical 19th century Pa. farm girl. Married at 15. And from about age 16 through to almost 40 had baby’s. Out of her 11 live births, only 3 lived last age 8. Again typical for the time. One of those my grandmother, thank God. Point being all those writers of the old favorite church hymns we all love singing were products of the times and culture and faith they lived in. And for them death, grief, mourning, death work, bereavement was a reality and given of daily life. Their faith and hymns reflected such. Today, for the vast majority of us, death is both rare, and clinical, all clean and sanitized. Removed to the places we tend to ware house people who are dying or close to it, out of sight and mind. No fuss or muss.

    Its when death is sudden, shocking, repulsive, just plane messy that we moderns want to flee, pay others to clean it up, or get along in life because our youth and sex obsessed culture pushes us along such paths. The real hard, hard, hard of grief and death work is pushed to the margins of life. In essence the church, the culture, our friends and community let us pretty much in your own in such stuff. And best of luck. Many times I wonder how Mary Miller Kelso (1863-1909) would have thought of us today and what wisdom on death and grief would she want to share with us.

    I find the modern church of very little value or aid in walking beside those who grieve and mourn. On the Protestant side you either have the Evangelical praise sets who are into celebrations, all happiness all day, or on the Mainline older Protestants, its social justice race narratives 24/7, guilt and sack cloth whatever. Let alone the church and culture wars of masks, shots and singing, no singing. Remote, live Whatever.

    On her stone at Pine Grove cemetery in Canonsburg Pa. My great grandmother inscribed, “In death and life The Lord be praised”. Again visit any old burial grounds and you will find plenty of those sentiments. Today we just find a nice spot in the garden to spread the ashes and that is that. Reception, wine and cheese to follow. Our ancestors and the faith do not let us off the hook so easily. In the old hymns we are called back to life, to faith, to hope, and the realization this life is not the end. In fact real life does not really start until this moral coil is put aside. Not a very popular message in this day and age. But those who have gone before us await us, and they have stories to tell. Some already have.

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