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Asking the clergy about coping with grief

For so many reasons, January can be a difficult month. Cold, dark days combined with the residuals of a difficult year can bear down in almost a physical way. Our clergy address the feelings of despair, pain and helplessness some may be feeling.

The Rev. Vincent Williams, Heritage Baptist Church, Bay Shore:

It is a matter of perspective. You need to understand that the grief you're feeling is appropriate. Nothing you can do can expunge it. It is

normal, natural and necessary. It is the sense of despair and hope-

lessness you need to deal with differently.

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that the Lord is not going to allow us to suffer more than we can bear. There will be hurt and tears, but if we trust in him, he will not allow the despair to overtake us.

If you feel you're at the end of your rope, God doesn't just tie a knot at the end and tell you to hold on. He actually gives us more rope. He does not just comfort us, but empowers us through his promise to never put more on us than we can bear.

If you fear that you have grief overload, don't focus on everything, but on one thing, one person. Pray for comfort for the family of one victim.

If you feel yourself becoming numb after all the pain of last year, allow yourself to cry, to wash the pain away. Tears are healing. They help you remember to have respect for every single human life, from the victim to the perpetrator to the surviving family of each.

Rabbi Zev Schostak, director of pastoral care, Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Commack:

As a chaplain, I believe the most important thing we can do is simply to listen to their woes -- empathetically, without interruption or comment, and hear them with a sensitive ear and loving heart. It is hard for most of us to listen to a painful litany of tragedy without "doing something," in a concrete way, to relieve their distress. But what we seem to forget is that by listening with unconditional love and acceptance, those who are suffering realize we are there for them and truly care. Remember the words of the 23rd Psalm: "I fear no evil for thou art with me." It doesn't say: I fear no evil for thou will heal or save me. God doesn't promise us a miracle, but rather that no matter what happens, he will walk the path with each of us. We are never alone. He's there. He cares.

Finally, for those who are in the midst of what seems like endless crises and tragedies and are forever waiting for the other shoe to drop, I counsel: As hard as it may be for you, try not to dwell on what may happen tomorrow. We have no crystal ball. Focus on the present. Live in the moment and make it as meaningful as possible. For I truly believe that those who spend their days worrying about tomorrow, may not only have lost tomorrow -- they have lost today.

The Rev. Yuri Ando, Gestalt pastoral care associate, The First United Methodist Church, East Hampton:

First, I'd let the person express whatever he or she needs to express, whatever he or she is experiencing. I would suggest that we offer victims' names, their presence, to God in prayer. If you try to carry them -- and their pain -- with you, it will be too much for an individual to handle. Offer them up to God's mercy and care.

Next, take a deep breath. You may have to go through that process again and again. But remember, God knows what each one needs.

By offering them up to God, Mary, Allah or whatever entity your prefer, you make room in yourself so you're not saturated with despair. When you make the room, some other ideas may come to you.

Do you want to send a card to the survivors? Do you want to volunteer your time? Do you want to send a donation? By making room, you allow God to help you find something you can do to make things better.

For example, we have congregants who volunteered to help in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. Those who couldn't physically go out helped to make flood buckets containing things you could immediately use when there is flooding in your house. We took up donations for tools to help work on damaged houses.

Offering (handing over) to God those people who are suffering to be in God's presence, comfort and hope in prayer helps us not to be overwhelmed by disasters and prevents us from becoming numb to tragedies we hear about.

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