In my previous blog I wrote about mistakes I see people make when they grieve. As a pastor, I also get to see lots of painful mistakes people make when they are helping another person who is grieving. Here are 5 tips to help others well during a time of loss:
1. Don’t use foolish platitudes. People say things like “It will be ok.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Be strong. It will get easier.” “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” These things are not helpful in grief. First, they are not totally true. Time does not heal all wounds. Some wounds are with you for your whole life. Also, I think God often gives people more than they can handle so they have to rely on God for help. Beyond that, these phrases often only serve to make people feel bad about how bad they feel and feel guilty that they are not handling things well. Instead, say things like “I am sorry” and “I care about you.”
2. Offer specific help. I often hear people say (and I have said) to people in grief, “Whatever you need just call me.” Here is the problem with that: they don’t know what they need. What they really need is their child, parent, spouse, or friend back. You can’t do that for them.
I suggest that you offer something specific. Say something like, “I am going to bring dinner over on Tuesday. Do you like pasta?” They may say no but this makes it a little easier for them to deal with the question. Instead of asking a huge question like “What do you need?” you have asked a simple question about if they like pasta.
3. When in doubt, don’t say anything at all. Pastors call this “a ministry of presence.” I know as a pastor that when I show up at a funeral home or a hospital waiting room at least 95% of my work is done. When I am there, I say that I care about them, I represent that God is with them, and I become a living reminder that the church is there for them.
This is the same thing that happens when you are with someone in grief. If you fill the room with conversation it is likely because of your own insecurities and not because the grieving family actually needs your distraction. So don’t fill space with empty conversation. Don’t try to distract the person from their grief. Just be present and be quiet.
4. Use the deceased person’s name after the service is over. I have witnessed so many times when people are careful not to mention the name of the person who has died around the family. I understand where the thought process comes from. You don’t want to hurt the other persons feeling by bringing them up. But in my experience it can hurt even more to pretend like that person was never here in the first place. Use the person’s name. Tell the mourners that you miss them too.
5. Share your experience with loss, but don’t claim to know what they are going through. I see people say at funerals way too often that they know what the person is going through. That is simply not true. You may have both lost a grandmother, but you did not lose their grandmother. You did not lose their relationship with their grandmother. You may have even both lost the same person, but you each had a different relationship with that person. This is always more true of siblings than they realize.
Every death is a unique wound. Be respectful of that and don’t assume to know exactly what they are going through. But each death is not totally unique. There are often similarities and shared feelings. Rather than claim to know what they are going through, simply share the story of your loss. Your story can help heal another’s wound. Assuming the story is the same can make them feel incorrect about what they are feeling.
To hear my sermon titled Death, Where is Your Sting? CLICK HERE.