It was George Eliot who said, “She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”
Grief is natural, although it is never fun. It signals the loss of something that will probably never be recovered. Any kind of loss will invoke grief, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a move to a new community, or even the end of a ministry. However, it is usually within the context of death that we most expect to encounter grief.
Unfortunately, many of us have never had to face death as our forefathers did. One hundred years ago, death was a part of daily life. When a family member died, they were laid out in the parlor for viewing by family and friends. It was these family and friends who helped the mortician clean and dress the body. People knew what death looked liked and how to process it.
Today, the dead are removed at once to the mortuary where all the preparations are done for the family. The viewing is often formal as family and friends meet in a strange place to look at someone who, in death, appears unlike the loved one.
As a result, many of us do not know how to process death or walk with someone through the process of grieving. Yet, this is one of our highest callings—to weep with those who weep. The following are guidelines for helping someone deal with bereavement:
Allow the person to express their emotions. Do not pressure them to express their feelings if they are not comfortable with doing so. Expect intermittent outpouring of crying, anger, or withdrawal.
Come out of your own personal comfort zone and be available to listen, talk, baby-sit, or send meals and cards on a regular basis throughout the first year of grieving. Be sensitive to their need to be touched or hugged.
Be a ready listener both for adults and children. People need to talk about their feelings, the details of the death and funeral, memories of the deceased, and the reasons for dying. Gently challenge irrational conclusions. Avoid preaching or using clichés.
Pray for and with the bereaved, and comfort them with the promises of Scripture or words of a song or poem. The promises of God are what often sustain us, and others, through the hard times. Hebrews 6:17–20 tells us that they are the anchor of hope that holds our ship stable through the storms of life.
Do not say things like, “Well, he led a full life. It’s not as though he were dying young,” or, “I know just how you feel,” or “Time will heal.” Remember, every grief is a very personal agony. Refrain from such comments as, “She died because she was in rebellion toward God,” or “It was God’s will.”
Keep in mind the stages of the grieving process to aid in your understanding of what a person might be going through: (1) shock over the death, (2) denial of the death, (3) anger at God, the deceased, others, and self, (4) guilt, (5) bargaining with God, (6) withdrawal, (7) searching, and (8) acceptance of the death.
Knowing how to help someone through the process of grief comes through practice. What have you found to be beneficial, or detrimental, when you have lost a loved one or walked with a friend through grief?
(This post is adapted from Help, I’m Stuck With These People For the Rest of Eternity.)
In Him together, Susan Gaddis