When a 19-year-old college student from our church went missing, our entire community sprang into action. Search parties were assembled, prayer teams were gathered, and social media campaigns were launched. Hundreds showed their support, and together we mourned when she was found dead some weeks later. The letters, prayers, condolences, and casseroles poured in. Her family's grief was massive, and we knew that their need for support would not be short-lived. Less obvious was the pain suffered by others who knew her closely and led the rescue efforts, like her Bible study leader and college campus director.
This happens so often when illness, accidents, or trauma strikes. Our focus on the immediate needs of the people most affected can lead us to overlook their close supporters, who bore their grief through the tragedy. Sometimes they themselves don't realize it until months later.
In their helpful article "How Not to Say the Wrong Thing," Barry Gold and Susan Silk suggest a way to discern what is appropriate to do or say in a traumatic event by situating the people involved in a series of concentric rings. The person suffering the most is in the middle, and those closest to them—spouse or parent, for instance—are in the rings immediately after. The further out the ring, the further the person is from the tragedy. These rings establish a Kvetching Order: those in the inner rings can complain about anything or say anything about the crisis—as long as they voice their remarks to someone in an outer ring. In other words, the person in the center can complain to anyone. But someone 3 rings out should not say, "It's so hard to see you like this," or "I don't know ...1
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