By Bethany Pitman
Since the Fall into sin, death has been a part of humans’ everyday reality. In the past two years, death has brazenly stared us in the face as COVID-19’s vicious ability to snatch life away has flooded the headlines. Although we know death is a part of life and we expect it, it is still a punch in the gut when we read that a teenager was the victim of a car crash, a beloved famous person passed away unexpectedly, an expectant mother gave birth to a stillborn baby, or our best friend’s family member died. Regardless of how often it happens, death never seems right.
When friends, relatives, and neighbors lose a loved one, it can be difficult to know what to say or how to act. The sympathy cards never quite convey the right message, and it is easy to feel helpless when supporting someone through grief. Below are some thoughts and tangible ideas to consider when offering support to a grieving person.
1. Respond in empathy instead of sympathy: Sympathy is saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Empathy is saying, “You must be shattered. Can I sit with you in the darkness? I’m here to listen and absorb anything right now.”
2. Replace cliche phrases:
- “At least the suffering is over.” Instead: “You were such a comfort to her as she battled her illness. Your love is so obvious.”
- “Heaven gained an angel today.” Instead: If you know the person was a Christian you could say, “She is safe with Jesus. I know Jesus is holding your hand today walking you through every step. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to walk with you, too.” If the person was not a Christian, you can say, “This is heartbreaking.”
- “I know exactly how you feel.” Instead: “I can only imagine how you are feeling today.”
- “It was his (or her) time.” Instead: “It feels like there’s never enough time with people we love very much.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.” Instead: “I don’t know why this happened. Death is so painful.”
3. Provide in a tangible way:
- It is so natural to say, “Please let me know if I can do anything.” People are genuine when they say this. However, when someone is in the depths of grief or the shock of loss, it is hard to know exactly what they need, and most people do not like to ask for help.
Work to identify a tangible need for
- When you are gone for the funeral, I will house-sit and take care of your
- I’d like to bring you a meal. Which day this week works best? I will drop it on the porch unless you would welcome the company.
- I’d like to take your kids this week to give you a moment to Is Wednesday or Thursday better?
- Do you have something to wear to the funeral? If not, please let me find some options for you. You can keep what works, and I’ll return the rest.
- I would love to do your laundry for a while. Just leave it on your porch and text me. I’ll pick it up, take care of it, and return it.
- I don’t always have the right words to say, but my ears and heart listen well. Can I join you for a walk or to just sit together?
4. Continue to check in after the immediate crisis has passed:
- After a death, the rest of the world moves on, but the person who lost someone continues to live each day in grief. Continue to check in during the weeks, months, and years following a death.
- People still appreciate meals, flowers, invitations to get together, and acts of kindness after the initial outpouring of support.
- Often, people want to talk about the person they lost. Ask questions about their loved one and listen to their stories.
Editor’s note: Would you like a tangible ministry tool full of Scripture and hope for those walking through grief? A CTA bestseller—Grieving with Hope: Leaning on Jesus—has been updated and features a brand-new design!