It has been almost 12 years since the death of my husband, and I learned a lot walking the road of grief. Perhaps my biggest lesson, though, was the discovery of how little I actually knew of loss, grief and how to comfort the bereaved.
So many times in the past, I had sought to comfort others, and in retrospect, realized how little of comfort I actually had to offer. I meant well; but I didn’t know. That is not to discourage anyone from offering help and comfort. Please offer comfort! But may I offer you a few guidelines to consider:
Don’t feel compelled to say something. I have chuckled over a verse in Job in which one of his comforters says, “My anxious thoughts make me answer” (20:2, NKJV). Yeah. I’ve done that, too! On my journey there were always four things that truly comforted me.
- “I love you.” Paul writes simply, “Love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1).
- “I’m so sorry.” Scripture exhorts us to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), but we’re not usually comfortable with that activity. In the case of loss, compassion and sympathy go a long way.
- “I’m praying for you.” Colossians 1:9 encourages us to “not cease to pray” for one another. Believe me when I say … the prayers of the body of Christ are what got me through every day for a very long time.
- A memory. In the days following his death, it always made me happy and proud to hear other people’s loving memories of Scott.
Let the bereaved guide the conversation. I found my stamina—physically and emotionally—so limited in the first year, and when that day’s quota was up, I had to go home. Period. Let the bereaved guide the conversation—in both topic and length. They know what they can handle.
The process takes longer than we think. Life moves on quickly for those who have not suffered the loss; it can move incredibly slowly for those who are in it. Put reminders on your calendar to keep the bereaved close in your hearts, in your prayers and in actual contact.
Respect their loss. Probably the most difficult thing is that every journey of loss is different. What comforted one person may or may not comfort someone else … even if the loss looks the same.
One of the kindest things that anyone said to me was from a woman whose husband died exactly the same way that mine did—from a brain aneurysm. The difference was that she and her husband had been married 56 years, while Scott and I had shared only 27. Though from the outside the circumstances looked identical, Gladys wrote in a card, “I have no idea how this would have felt … and it has grieved me for you that you only got to have him for 27 years.”
In my heart I have thanked her many times for that comment. She didn’t just “lump me in” with everyone else who had lost a spouse. She acknowledged it specifically—Rebecca, Scott, 27 years. Her comments validated and respected my loss.
And so dear comforter: May the Lord bless you as you seek to comfort your friend or family member. May He pour out upon you the wisdom of the Comforter. May He give you the grace to know when to speak and when to be silent. May He give you hands to help, memories to share and endurance in the process. In the name of Jesus, Amen.