By Anne Peterson, Crosswalk.com
Something seemed different. Walking into the Bible study, I saw that Al wasn’t leading as usual. He and Jeanie must be visiting their baby, I thought. Still, there was a quietness that hung over the room. One that made me uneasy.
A friend reached over and whispered, “Did you hear about Erin Lynn?”
I wanted to stop her right there. Maybe if I stopped her then I wouldn’t have to hear what she might say, that Erin had died. But it was too late. Erin Lynn had survived five major surgeries in her short eight months. And she died of crib death.
I remember watching carefully as my friends worked through their grief. I took mental notes, hoping I’d never need them.
When people we love are grieving, we hurt for them. We want to somehow stop their pain.
So we offer the griever words intended to help but sometimes they don’t. And even when we say things perfectly, we don’t know how they are processing it with their broken hearts.
Job’s comforters were doing okay until they spoke.
So how can we help those who grieve?
Give them your presence.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked his disciples for one thing. Read Mark 14:37. He wanted them to wait with him.
Being with someone in grief is a gift to the griever.
We’re tempted to let them know they are not alone, that we know how they feel, we understand. But fight that temptation. They’ll know they’re not alone when you show up.
And even if we’ve experienced similar losses, we don’t know how they feel. We’re not them.
The moment we start sharing that we understand is the moment true communication stops. The focus shifts from them to us. We don’t do this consciously, it’s just that we don’t want them to feel alone.
Sometimes we’re afraid if they talk about their loved one they will hurt. The truth is, they do hurt. It’s always on their minds.
Jeanie shared how much it hurt when some of her friends backed away following her baby’s death. Their distance intensified her pain.
One of the biggest fears a griever has is that their loved one will be forgotten. We can alleviate that fear just by listening to stories. It’s one way they can keep honoring their loved one. By listening, we also honor both the griever and the one they lost.
And sometimes we can share on a deeper level. We can do what it tells us in Romans 12:15.
Jesus didn’t just give us advice that he didn’t experience himself. Read John 11:35; he shared tears with his friends who were hurting. Jesus, who knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, wept. His tears showed he was in it with them.
Give them patience.
Grief takes time. Lots of time. Let them be where they are, not where you wish they’d be. We can’t decide how long someone’s grief should last.
Countless books are written about grief. They define the different stages of grief that people go through, describing each one as if it were a sort of road map. But grief isn’t so cut and dry.
Each person is different. Some grieve outwardly, talking freely about their lost loved one. Others are more quiet. Their feelings are just as real but how they express them is different.
Sometimes your griever will say things they don’t mean. Sometimes they will pull back from you. At those times they need your understanding. Ask God for grace to extend to them over and over. God never runs out.
Give them your prayers.
We don’t know exactly how our griever feels, but God knows. He’s sovereign. He holds the keys of life and death, knowing exactly when we’ll breathe our last breath.
We are in the best position to lift our grieving person in prayer. Every time the griever is on your mind, lift them to the Father, just like it says in 1 Peter 5:7. God cares about what concerns us.
And when the griever shares that his heart is broken, or how he feels raw, pray to the One who heals broken hearts, the only One who can restore them.
You can even be silently praying while you are with them. For as much as you love your griever, God loves them more.
Fight the temptation to give them a verse. And please hear me. I’m not saying God’s Word is not helpful. I’m just saying they may not be in a place where they can receive it. And you don’t want them feeling guilty because they’re not ready.
With every fiber of his being, the person in grief is fighting to just hang on. While your heart means well in sharing verses, he knows the verses. But he’s in survival mode, trying to learn how to breathe without his loved one.
Pray the verses. Tell the Lord you want him to show the griever his peace as in Isaiah 26:3.
That you want him to comfort your friend like it says in 2 Corinthians 1:4.
What not to say:
If you are tempted to use words as a source of comfort, try not to say the following:
“Your loved one is not suffering any more.”
“At least they are in heaven.”
“You’re gonna see them again some day.”
In fact don’t start with any statement that says, “At least…” These statements tend to minimize where the griever is, which invalidates them.
And while these statements are all true, the grief is so excruciating all the griever wants is one thing. They want their loved one back.
They know their loved one is no longer suffering. They know they’ll see them again. But they are stuck in now. Eternity is a long way off.
Death is a real part of life. And one day we’ll be reunited with those we’ve lost. But until then, we will all experience losing a loved one.
In March, I stood at the grave of my infant granddaughter. We released white balloons against the blue sky. My heart is still broken. My grief is still fresh.
If you really want to help those in grief, acknowledge they are on a journey. Maybe you can take it with them.
Anne Peterson knows what it’s like to feel like giving up. Anne is a regular contributor to Crosswalk and a poet, speaker and published author of 15 books.One of her books: Broken: A Story of Abuse, Survival, and Hope. Sign up for anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.comand click on free Ebooks to choose one.Connect with Anne on Facebook. Follow her, and you’ll hear about her latest book, Always There: Finding God’s Comfort Through Loss.
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