Grief and loss are a part of life. But just because they are a reality does not mean the experience will be any less painful. Inevitably, we will have to minister to someone who has experienced the heartbreaking loss of a loved one, whether through death, separation, or transition. I used to find myself uncertain how to respond to someone else’s grief. I needed to know what my role was in those situations.
As leaders who minister God’s love to others, we want to bear one another’s burden. But just like any other burden, we can only do so much when it comes to helping someone through the grieving process. At the end of the day, we can’t grieve for another person. But we can surely help in tangible ways. In helping someone navigate loss, it never hurts to ASK.
A – Acknowledge the Loss
No matter how small the loss may seem to be, it will be no less painful for the one who grieves. I remember being dismissive once when a small group member lost her pet cat. I wasn’t particularly fond of cats, and I thought losing a pet was easier than losing a family member. But losing someone or something you love is always painful and needs to be acknowledged.
Sometimes, we may also feel uncomfortable or uncertain in mentioning something that surely brings up painful memories. I often find myself unsure of what to say exactly. In those moments, it is enough to send your condolences.
But, if possible, aside from sending condolences, we can also try to honor the one who died. If I didn’t know them personally, I would try to recall a story that my friend had shared about them that was crucial to their personal growth. If I did know them, I would say what I appreciate about them. Also, it would be good to share something that the loved one said about your grieving friend, especially if they were not able to have a farewell conversation.
One of my good friends lost his beloved girlfriend without the chance to say goodbye to one another. He greatly appreciated what her friends shared to him about what she would tell them about him–how he loved and served her so well and how much she loved him. According to him, “All those tiny bits and pieces of information were like golden scraps of paper. They meant a lot to me.”
S – Show them Love
During the first few days of grieving, it would be good to ask outright what you can do to help. There is no limit to the ways that you can help, but those who are grieving especially remember the moments when they are shown love, whether through words, time, comforting touch, acts of service, or thoughtful gifts. If you know the person’s love language, zero in on serving them in that way.
Words of Affirmation. Sending a message that you are praying for them, giving a kind note, or speaking a word of comfort will always be appreciated. Avoid empty platitudes that can make you a “miserable comforter (Job 16:2)” and that can be insensitive or inappropriate. Avoid responding to anything they do or say with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” If words fail to come, your presence, even in silence, can be enough.
Acts of Service. Do they need someone to do errands for them? Can you buy them coffee? Can you get assignments and photocopy notes for them? Can you speak to their teacher or boss on their behalf? Can you recommend a grief counselor or a grief support group for them? There are many, many opportunities to serve. You can start by asking, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Quality Time. Sometimes, spending time with the grieving, just listening and accepting all feelings and expressions without judgment, could be a healing experience for them. Allow them to cry and rant. It’s also common for a grieving person to tell stories about the dead over and over again. It is part of how they come to terms with a loss. Let’s be patient and kind during those moments.
Gifts and Touch. Any small amount of money or even snacks for the wake would be of great help to the grieving family. A tight hug or a tender stroke on their back (when appropriate) can do wonders.
K – Keep in Touch
A few weeks or months after the final rites, people around the grieving may not follow up on them as much. But they still need someone to comfort or encourage them from time to time. I remember one of my leaders sharing to me how she would take note of when the loved one was born and when they died. And she would make sure to message the grieving person during those dates.
She would say something along the lines of, “It’s your dad’s birthday today, and I know he would have been proud of the person that you have become. I remember you telling me how he has taught you . . .” She would specifically zero in on something that the grieving person had shared about the loved one’s legacy. In doing so, the memory of the loved one is honored. Or she would simply say, “I know that today, you may be remembering your dad. Here’s a virtual hug for you.” (Sometimes this can be an actual meet-up where you can personally be there for and listen to the person.)
Of course, praying for the grieving as they go through the process is always a powerful and loving act. Pray for their healing as they move through the dark depths of grief and as they transition from pain to acceptance. Our confidence in prayer is that whatever comfort, assurance, or provision that the grieving still need are in the hands of our loving Father who never leaves us or forsakes us in any circumstance.
Then he broke through and transformed all my wailing
into a whirling dance of ecstatic praise!
He has torn the veil and lifted from me
the sad heaviness of mourning.
He wrapped me in the glory garments of gladness.
Psalm 30:11 (TPT)