Amitai Etzioni on Grief and the Amish on Forgiveness

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni writes of his
grief at the loss of his spouse years ago and more recently, of his son who left
behind a two-year-old son and a spouse who is carrying their second
child.
(Revised October 7, 2006)

Grief is one of the most emotionally powerful experiences we endure. There is no “proper way” to grieve. Those who offer advice about grief can do more harm than good because the grieving need companionship and understanding, more than advice about how to mourn the loss of someone we love.

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni writes of his grief at losing his son recently. Etzioni’s son left behind his own 2-year-old son and his spouse who is carrying their second child. Etizioni also lost his wife a few years ago in an auto accident. He struggles with the meaning of these deaths. Yet, in profound loss there is no making sense of tragic events, no matter how hard we try. And this reality makes it risky, even offensive, to hear from well-meaning friends how to grieve and how to feel. Etizioni received some advice like this and he is repelled by it, not comforted.

No matter how much is written and taught about grief, it remains an emotional experience that we must go through individually, and, hopefully, with the help of mature faith and a supportive community. What comforts me might not comfort you. Perhaps the most useful thing we can do to be helpful to those in grief is to provide companionship and be willing to listen without judgment or advice.

Etzioni is finding his way daily, as we all must do when life throws us into the totally disorienting experience of grief. His honesty is instructive.

Also instructive was the way the Amish families in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania handled the school shooting tragedy. Family members related to the children who were shot called on the family of the shooter and told them they forgave him and prayed with them. This was a remarkable expression of their faithfulness. The Amish community has always been close-knit, and in this tragedy it demonstrated how valuable community support is in a time of great tragedy. And they instructed the wider society about forgiveness. Their way of coping, as well as the dignity they displayed in this act of forgiveness, is something we all could learn from.

As the Christian Science Monitor editorialized, “Forgiveness helps resist the impression that humans can act like animals. It spreads a sensitivity to the needs of others, especially those whose inner torments might lead to shootings.”

The Amish not only preserved their dignity under God, they taught us something about our dignity as well. Even in grief, they found meaning and offered the world an example of deep faithfulness through forgiveness.

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