What to Do When Someone is Grieving
What do you say when an acquaintance, friend or relative loses a family member, particularly a child? The less, the better. I was a pastor for almost 15 years. I saw a lot of people in deep grief. Pastors are among the first people called when life is at its toughest.
I heard a lot of damaging and downright stupid things from very well-meaning people.
In the early stages of grief, there is really nothing you can say that will help. Think about it. Are you wise enough to come up with the perfect words that will suddenly transport someone out of deep grief? No. And even if you could, you shouldn’t. Grief is a necessary part of healing. Don’t want to heal? Don’t grieve. You cannot go around this process. You have to go through it.
Saying things like ‘God just needed another angel’ are stupid and insensitive. First of all, the deceased is not turning into an angel in heaven. Angels are angels. People are people. We will be in the presence of God and His angels, but we will not be angels.
But that’s a theological discussion for another day.
What is helpful when someone is grieving? The best thing you can do is say that you’re sorry and embrace them. They might want to hang on to you for awhile. Let them. Don’t put words in God’s mouth. Death sucks. God thinks it sucks too. It wasn’t part of the original plan. God is not sitting in heaven waiting for the opportune moment to take someone out of this world in a car wreck or workplace accident or illness. Bad things just happen, everyday, because we live in a fallen world.
Offer to help with chores, errands, driving the other children to school, or meals. If you have the means, offer to pay for some grief counseling, or put the family who is grieving in touch with a compassionate minister that you trust.
Don’t use the ‘opportunity’ of grief for evangelism. Say as little as possible and do as much as necessary. This is a time to serve the grieving. If you want to talk to them about their relationship with God, do that later.
Don’t say ‘I understand how you feel’. You don’t. Even if you’ve gone through the exact same thing in the past, your wounds are not fresh.
If they ask ‘why did this happen?’ don’t start getting all theological on them. The answer to that question is ‘I don’t know’, because you don’t. I know you want to answer this question to be helpful, but by taking a stab at it in ignorance, you can only make things worse. There is an old gospel standard that says, “Farther along we'll know all about it, farther along we'll understand why…”
You’re not there to provide answers, so take that pressure off of yourself.
Say as little as possible. Listen. Embrace. Cry. Serve. Love.