When Introverts Grieve

“Whatever you would want done to you, do so unto others” – Jesus, according to Matthew

OK, I could go out on a heretical limb here and say that Jesus was wrong, but I am more comfortable blaming Matthew, or whoever wrote down Matthew’s recollection. In either case, I think this rule is more gold plate than golden.

Because here is a true thing. Other people aren’t just like you - sometimes they want different things than you do. What I think we ought to do is find out what they want, and try and help them with that if we can.

Grief is very individual; no one can grieve for you. Ultimately, we all grieve solo. Culturally, it is also very corporate. Our rituals and our training tell us to huddle when we are hurt. This is a paradox, and it is likely that one side of it or the other is hard for you.

There is a neurological reality that expresses itself as a personality trait. It is the spectrum of introversion to extroversion.  Extremely simplified, it can be defined thusly:

                Extroverts recharge their emotional batteries in the presence of others. They then spend that energy on activities that require focus and involve individual concentration.

                Introverts recharge their emotional batteries during solitude. They then spend that energy on activities that involve others.
About two thirds of Americans are on the extrovert end of the scale. In churches that percentage will be higher, because many introverts will not be drawn to larger communities. Extroverted church members who are trying to follow the golden rule have a hard time ministering the grieving introverts.

So I am going to lay out some general guidelines, the application will need to be individualized. These suggestions apply to the care of a HEALTHY introvert.
  •   Isolation is not bad for introverts unless they are suicidal. Introverts call isolation solitude – as in Fortress of Solitude – they need to go there – a lot. That is where they heal.
  •   A grieving introvert will have depleted emotional batteries. The public rituals of grieving drain them even more. They need outs, and limits. This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate the rituals – they do.
  •   They want to hear from you. But write – don’t call. Don’t be afraid of saying something stupid – they understand better than anyone how hard it is to find words.
  •   Don’t expect a response - at all. Extroverts like and need feedback, your gift during this time is to forgo your need for a response. Their silence does not mean that you did anything wrong.
  •   Don’t just show up, because that is what you would want people to do. Ask if they want a visit; be willing to be take “no thank you” gracefully and not personally.  If they want to see you, make an appointment, with a start and end time, and leave at that time. Keep it brief.
  •   It is good to send food, use the internet to set this up. Bringing food does not give you permission to stay and talk.
  •  They probably don’t want hugs except from their true intimates. If they have not been a hugger before, they aren’t likely to become one now.  If they surprise you and initiate a hug – then ok.
  •   They will not have the capacity to fulfill many or most of their previous efforts to care for anyone else. They have lost the capacity. There is no money in that bank. They feel bad about this, but they will just need to bail. If the introvert has been performing an extroverted job, they may not come back for a while, or at all.
  •   They will probably avoid church for a while, and when they do come back, they may want to come in late, sit in the back, and leave early. This doesn’t mean that they have lost their faith.
  •   They will seek out help in one on one situations like a therapist or spiritual director. They will not likely benefit from a support group.
  •   They probably have a good friend (or even two) to lean on. If you are that person, you will know it. If you aren’t, you probably don’t know who they are.  If the introvert just lost their only, or best, friend, they are indeed in a hard place. But they will want to decide who they are going to move up the roster into that position. It may take a while.
  •   A healthy introvert can ask for what they need, or the person nearest them can ask for them.
  •   If they designate a spokesperson, that is a good sign. Talk to that person about what is needed.

Take these suggestion and extrapolate. Identify the other introverts in your group and let them lead your care of this individual. Love them, and pray for them, and give them space and time. They will revive. It is what humans – all kinds of humans – do.

With love and respectful concern for my friend Mike.