Losing a loved one is one of the most painful losses anyone can ever go through.
All pain is the same, there is no contest. The loss of a child, a parent, a spouse have their own manifestations, each one a different journey, all of them life-changing in their own ways.
I’ve often been asked what are the best ways to comfort the bereaved. To answer this, let me take inspiration from Warren and David Wiersbe’s Commandments for Comforters.
1. Go to those who are bereaved IMMEDIATELY, even if it is inconvenient for you. In the days immediately following a loss, the bereaved need to remember that they are not alone. There is such great comfort in knowing that you are cared for and loved when you have just lost someone whom you love. In the days following my son’s death, I wanted to meet up with people who had gone through something similar to see for myself that it was possible to survive even after such a devastating loss.
2. Be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to react to words and feelings that may appear “un-Christian.” The newly bereaved person’s first stage is shock, and often, what initial words are said may be in the spirit of anguish or anger. Do not judge or lecture, or worse, figure things out. Be there to listen, to provide a safe space to vent and to allow the grief work to begin unhampered by judgment.
3. Do not try to explain everything. There must be no room for speculation, and guilt is something very common during the early days. Again, just be there for the person, to patiently listen and give assurance. Blaming is never helpful and truly, there are many things that are allowed to happen that have no answers.
4. Words fail, so express yourself through a loving hug, handshake, even a simple touch. Just being there is enough. When you are not sure of what you want to say, more often than not, to someone who has just lost a loved one, a hug carries with it more care and comfort than what words can say.
5. Remember that grieving is a difficult process that takes time and a lot of energy. Try to avoid saying, “Aren’t you over it yet?” Unless you have been through the loss of a child, a spouse, or a parent, you will not know the depth of the experience. There is no set timetable for grieving and every case is unique. We each heal on our own timetable through prayer, processing, and by the grace of God.
6. Remember the bereaved long after the wake and funeral. The loneliest and most difficult times for the bereaved come after everyone is gone, and the person or the family is trying to go back to the routine of daily living. A phone call every now and then, a visit, or even a message, weeks and months later will be very much appreciated. Initially, they may want to have time alone; however, never tire of offering help, of making your presence felt especially during all the firsts that come in the first year after a loss – birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays are all triggers, so to be there is always such a comfort and a gift to the bereaved.