When we have the opportunity to support those who suffer or grieve, our words and actions (the things we do) can either be soothing or a source of pain.
Things to avoid (what not to say) as someone grieves:
(1) “Is there anything I can do to help?” or “Let me know if I can do anything.” People flooded with grief may not know what they need or want. It takes too much energy to ask. They don’t want to bother you.
(2) Trite comments that try to fix the problem. Trying to minimize their pain with comments such as, “You’re strong, you’ll get over it soon,” or “God must love you a lot to trust you with such a trial,” or “Won’t heaven be a wonderful place.” Although there may be truth to these statements, they make the person feel as if their personal feelings are not important. They need to have their pain acknowledged.
(3) “Should have” and “could have” statements. Using statements that have “should” or “shouldn’t”….”You shouldn’t feel that way,” or, “You should be glad he was in your life at all,” do not help. This is a punishing way to talk to people who are grieving.
(4) Offering spiritual clichés or quotes. Don’t remind the griever of how much stronger they’ll be as a result of this experience. Just let it be the tragedy it is. This is not a time to create a “teachable moment.”
Things to Offer (what to do and say) as someone grieves:
(1) Silence…..is often the best gift of all.
(2) Kind words of compassion. Understanding statements such as, “This must be very hard for you,” “I hurt for you during this very difficult time;” “I’ll miss him too;” “I know how special he was to you.” If you’re not sure what to say, it’s better to be honest and say, “I honestly don’t know what to say, but I want to be here for you.”
(3) Affirm the griever’s perceptions. Comfort the griever by saying, ’….you’re right, life is unfair, and what happened to you doesn’t make sense.” Your perception of this sad event will not be the same as theirs. Even their own perception will change over time. You don’t have to agree with someone to offer support and comfort. You can share what was comforting and strengthening to you at a challenging time in your life. This offers a vision of hope.
(4) Pray with those who hurt. Rather than say, “I’ll pray for you,” offer to pray WITH them. But ask it in a non-threatening way that gives a choice such as, “Would a prayer be helpful?” We must never impose our beliefs on another or bring an agenda to our helping experience. Stay with the griever, and provide what is most needed at the time. They may need the space to be angry with God. There is a quote I read that says, “We can beat on His chest from within the circle of His arms.” (anonymous)
(5) Focus on specific things you can do to help. Look around for something that needs to be done, then jump in and do it. You might want to organize a team effort. Ideas include: providing meals, housecleaning, yard work, help with transportation, watch children, care for pets, run errands, temporary financial assistance, etc.
(6) Help implement a commemorative project. Trevor was in first grade when he died, and the school planted a young tree in his memory. It stands tall today in front of the school. Make a memory scrapbook; create a video compilation…
(7) Have a plan to send a card or note frequently. Write each week for a month, then each month for a year, then on anniversary dates. When people have been asked what was most comforting, one of the answers is that people remembered into the future…
(8) Talk with the griever about the one who died. Grieving people love to hear the name of the one who is gone. You will not make them sadder by talking about it. They are thinking about it every day!
(9) Be patient! You’ll hear the same story over and over again from the grieving person. It will have the same details, the same tears. This is necessary for them to re-frame a new “normal” and keep moving forward. Most literature suggests it takes basically 18-24 months for someone to feel like they have the energy to put into life again. But even then, they are not “over it.” There is no such thing. There is living with it and choosing to let it enlarge our life rather than diminish us.
(10) Give the hurting space to grieve. It is not a lack of faith or loss of faith when the griever does not initially come to church after a significant loss or life transition. Grieving is exhausting and draining. Let the person know you care but give them the space to replenish in their own way.
(11) Give the gift of touch. Clinical studies have shown that caring touch lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Be sensitive to the fact that not everyone may be comfortable with the measure of touch you give. Watch for the cues.
The Purpose of Grief
Grief is the tax we pay on loving. We hurt much because we love much. There’s a statement I heard that I have found to be true. “Death can never take away more than love leaves behind.” When we have experienced profound loss, there is so much that remains. As we lean into the experience of loss, the purpose of grief is to help us sort through what we need to hold on to and what we need to let go of.
We were created to need one another in the sorrowful journeys as well as the joyous ones. If we want to know the appropriate response to suffering and observe the greatest need of those in pain, we only need to look to Jesus Christ Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He agonized and wept deeply over his impending tribulation. Then, in His hour of greatest need, He had the courage to let his closest three friends know how they could best support Him.
Stay and Watch
Mark 14:34 says, “As they came to a place which was named Gethsemane, He said to His disciples, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful unto death (is crushed with anguish and ready to break with grief) – STAY AND WATCH WITH ME.” He came to the time of wrestling and surrendering to the Divine Plan, and His greatest need was revealed in the request, “Stay and watch with me.” The creator of the universe wanted—needed—His friends to stand by, to pray with Him, to BE with Him in His time of distress.
God knows what it is to hurt. He knows what is most helpful. He promises His presence, and His greatest joy is in transposing His compassion into you and me so we can be His arms and hands extended to others.
May God bless you as you continue to reach out and let Him love through you.
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